Thursday 20 September 2018

Ex-GAA coach jailed for abusing two boys has sentence cut on appeal

Ronan McCormack was found guilty of indecent assault
Ronan McCormack was found guilty of indecent assault

Ruaidhrí Giblin

A former Gaelic football coach jailed for dozens of indecent assaults on two young boys in the 1970s has had his prison sentence cut on appeal.

Ronan McCormack (75), from Cloonloo, Co Sligo, went on to groom and abuse schoolboys as young as ten in the 1980s. In 2014 he received a five-year-and-ten-month jail term for these assaults and, due to publicity surrounding that case, two more victims came forward.

McCormack was subsequently found guilty by a jury at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court of 14 counts of indecently assaulting the two other boys – who had come forward - aged between seven and 13 at various locations between June 1972 and March 1975.

Sentencing him to consecutive terms totalling seven years, Judge Martin Nolan said that by his own conservative estimate, McCormack had abused one of the victims in this case between 60 and 100 times. The victim described the abuse as “a ritual”.

McCormack successfully appealed his sentence today with the Court of Appeal holding that his aggregate sentence for both sets of offences was excessive, disproportionate and not compatible with the totality principle. The three-judge court accordingly reduced his seven year sentence to four.

During the appeal hearing, McCormack's barrister, Patrick Gageby SC, said his client “now accepts the verdict of the jury”.

Mr Gageby said McCormack would be 82 years old by the time he was released. He submitted that a sentence of this length, for this man, at his age, was an error in principle.

While lamentable and deplorable, Mr Gageby said the offences were 45 years in the past. It certainly wasn't irrelevant that there was further offending in the 1980s but one had to be wary of “double counting”.

Mr Gageby referred to an Irish Penal Reform Trust report on “the fear of dying in prison” before adding that the Circuit Court judge imposed a severe sentence on McCormack when he was approaching the end of his life.

Giving jugdment, Mr Justice George Birmingham said the offences were “very serious indeed” directed, as they were, against two young children which had a very serious impact on them.

Mr Justice Birmingham said McCormack's period in custody had to be extended by a “significant extent” and not a “token amount”.

However, considering the extent of the prolongation of McCormack's period in custody, one could not lose sight of the fact the offences occurred many years ago. He said McCormack's relative poor health and the age he was likely to be when he came to be released had to be considered.

The three-judge court felt the aggregate sentence or global sentence for both the 1980s offences and the present matter was excessive, disproportionate and not fully compatible with the totality principle.

Mr Justice Birmingham, who sat with Mr Justice Alan Mahon and Mr Justice John Edwards, said a sentence of four years – for the present offences - rather than seven would have been more appropriate.

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