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Saturday 20 January 2018

Lise Hand: Dail in unison for once, with sympathy for Fiona's plight

REVULSION, said the Taoiseach repeatedly. That was the word he reached for when he struggled to describe the emotions sparked in everyone who witnessed the broken-hearted bewilderment and bravery of Fiona Doyle on Monday after she watched her rapist father walk free from court.

Enda could've plucked a multitude of alternative words from the subdued air in the Dail chamber. Rage. Frustration. Abhorrence.

Disbelief. Disgust. Disillusionment. Any would've done, and all would've been inadequate.

There was none of the usual hubbub of heckling in the Dail chamber during Leaders' Questions yesterday afternoon. It would take some withered political soul to make political hay amid haunting images of a little girl whose decade of agony began on the eve of her first holy communion.

Prompted by the appalling vista of Fiona's paedophile father Patrick O'Brien walking out of the court after being convicted and sentenced to 12 years with nine suspended, the sentencing laws regarding rape and sexual violence were once again in the dock yesterday.

But the Dail's own arbiter of the chamber's business, the Ceann Comhairle, had a tricky path to tread, between allowing some degree of debate on the case, and ensuring that there would be no overt commentary by the State on the judiciary.

Fianna Fail's Billy Kelleher, who was in the hot-seat for the session, tried to bring up the sentencing decision, but Sean Barrett stepped in with alacrity. "I must interfere, although I do not like doing so," he said. "Decisions of the court are entirely separate."

Billy tried various different tacks. "This State has betrayed children before and apologised but we need to encourage people so that they know if they come forward, they will be listened to, believed and vindicated."

But once again, the Ceann Comhairle intervened. Billy, he pointed out, "has been around long enough" to know that judicial decisions are off-limits.

But the Cork North-Central TD persisted. "We must offer encouragement to people who have been raped and abused in order that they will know that if they come forward, they will be vindicated and fair sentences will be imposed on the perpetrators."

The Taoiseach knew there was a line he couldn't cross without running the risk of starting a constitutional free-for-all. But neither could he simply trot out political platitudes.

He told the chamber he admired the courage of Fiona Doyle.

"This case, which involves the defilement of a child and the continuous rape of that child over a 10-year period, has filled the nation with revulsion," he said.

"I would like to believe that others who are or have been subjected to rape, incest or crimes of this horrific nature will not lose the courage to come forward and say their piece."

But all Enda could do was look at the line and comment that the case had been referred to the Criminal Court of Appeal.

"I trust the court will deal with it as a priority," he added.

Gerry Adams reminded all present that the evil stain of sex abuse and domestic violence seeps under the doors of all sorts of family homes.

"My father was an abuser," he stated.

"Abuse creates in a family devastation that is beyond description. It takes a very strong family to cope. I am blessed that I have one. However, we have a duty to protect actively those who fall victim to abuse. Ms Fiona Doyle deserves the support of the Dail."

The Taoiseach agreed, and promised a Dail debate on reform of the court system. There was no roaring and shouting from either side of the chamber.

It somehow felt as if noisy dissent would have been disrespectful to the sad spirit of a ruined little girl.

Irish Independent

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