Abuse trial case: 'She slapped me in the face and said "that's your birthday present"'
A mother charged with cruelty and neglect of her eight children stands accused of pouring washing-up liquid down their throats and driving at them in her car as punishment for swearing and spilling ice-cream.
The 39-year-old woman, who cannot be named, faces 44 charges of child cruelty or neglect against the eight children, who ranged in age from teenagers to young toddlers at the time. She denies all charges.
The charges relate to alleged abuses at five different addresses in the west over a five-year period from 2006 to 2011.
At Galway Circuit Court yesterday, Shane Costello for the DPP said it was the State's case the incidents went well beyond parental discipline or reprimanding a child for bad behaviour and constituted nothing short of assault and neglect.
He told the jury they would hear evidence of the children being beaten with wooden spoons, whipped with belts, struck with a piece of bamboo or struck against parts of the house.
It is also alleged some of the children had washing-up liquid poured down their throats when they were accused of uttering dirty words. The case will also hear allegations that their mother put some of her children out of the car after they spilled ice-cream, before driving the vehicle at them, forcing them to jump onto the hedge to avoid the car.
Evidence was heard from the defendant's oldest child, who told how on one occasion she and her sister were found by gardaí in a church late at night while their mother was out drinking.
"Drinking always resulted in violence or she would go off for days and leave us on our own," she said.
The young witness, who gave evidence via videolink, told how on one occasion her mother had punched her in the face for dyeing her hair. She told how her mother had been off drinking for three days, missing her 14th birthday.
When the teenager questioned her mother about it upon her return, the defendant slapped her across the face saying: "There's your birthday present."
She claimed that in front of her younger siblings she was also dragged by the hair from the couch into the kitchen after she was overheard saying a vulgar word.
"She put me face first into the sink and proceeded to choke me while doing it. She proceeded to fill the sink with water to try and drown me, all over one word," she said.
She told the court the defendant "wasn't a proper mother".
Mr Costello told the jury the children's mother had acknowledged she had used physical force on her children but claimed it was no more than what had been done to her personally and was standard in the context of disciplining a child. However, he added that it was the State's case that "it was so grossly above and beyond the ordinary level of reprimanding children as to be nowhere in the vicinity of discipline but to amount to assault".
Mr Costello said the State would present evidence of abuse of the children, saying some of the children had gone without food and other basic necessities of life. He added that on occasion, they had been left completely on their own or with adults who were not related to them.
The alleged neglect and abuse came to light after all the children were taken into care following an unannounced visit by social workers in May 2011. They found the children alone with adults who appeared to be intoxicated. Their mother was not present.
Mr Costello said it was while in various foster places that the children began to recount their life and set out their experiences. He said evidence would be heard from the children involved, neighbours, the HSE, gardaí and other professionals.
The case continues.