Wednesday 24 October 2018

Rape Crisis group criticises cut in GAA coach's sex abuse sentence

Ronan McCormack has had his sentence reduced from seven years to four
Ronan McCormack has had his sentence reduced from seven years to four

Ian Begley

The Rape Crisis Network of Ireland (RCNI) has slammed a court's decision to cut the jail sentence of a GAA coach who abused two young boys in the 1970s.

Ronan McCormack (75), from Cloonloo, Co Sligo, groomed and abused schoolboys as young as 10 in the 1980s.

In 2014, he received a five-year-and-10-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 yesterday with the Court of Appeal holding 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.

Cliona Saidléar, executive director of RCNI, told the Irish Independent that appeals like these are often very distressing for survivors of sexual abuse.

"It must be incredibly upsetting for survivors who are never afforded the consideration [of an appeal]," she said.

"The abuse they endure is with them for life - they don't get a say in this.

"To have a seven-year sentence reduced on appeal is deeply regrettable."

Ms Saidléar added that reducing sentences of sexual abuse may hinder a survivor's ability to move on.

"We shouldn't be seeing things like this happening because victims are more likely to be retraumatised having their case brought up again.

"The initial conviction may have given [the victims] some room to move on, but now they will have to re-evaluate whether or not this sentence gives them the respect and dignity they were asking for when they first went to the justice system.

"It must be very upsetting for them to see their abuser being granted a reduced sentence," she said.

RCNI is the representative umbrella body for their rape crisis centres around the country who provide free advice, counselling and support for survivors of sexual abuse.

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 by the time he was released. He submitted 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 judgment, 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.

Irish Independent

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