Saturday 7 December 2019

Victim support group urges change to rape sentence rules after daughter abuser walks free

Lyndsey Telford

THE Government is facing renewed calls to introduce sentencing guidelines for sex offences after a man who raped his daughter for 10 years walked free.

The Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) is writing to Justice Minister Alan Shatter calling for measures to ensure consistent sentencing of convicted sex offenders.

Fiona Doyle said she was devastated after her 72-year-old father Patrick was handed a 12-year sentence with nine years suspended but allowed to walk free from court to await an appeal on the jail term.

She had been raped once a week for a decade from the age of eight.

RCNI spokeswoman Cliona Saidlear described the sentencing as dreadful.

"The minister can't interfere with the sentencing being imposed in these cases," she said.

"So we are calling for sentencing guidelines in sexual offence cases and a consistency in sentencing."

The RCNI is in contact with the Department of Justice on a regular basis and has called for such guidelines in the past.

But the spokesman said yesterday's sentencing at Dublin's Central Criminal Court revealed a more urgent need than ever.

"There is deep hurt and outrage out there," she said.

"Every time there is a sentence like this, it has a lasting impact in terms of a survivor's confidence and their vindication, of survivor's rights, and a survivor going forward and feeling they will be taken seriously."

Ms Saidlear said there were so few sex offence cases that go to court and get convictions - making it all the more important to get the sentencing right.

Rape victim Ms Doyle, who waved her right to anonymity in the case against her father, from Bray, Co Wicklow, said she felt abused by the justice system.

The abuse began on the night before her First Holy Communion in 1973 and continued to 1982.

O'Brien pleaded guilty to 16 charges of the rape and indecent assault of his daughter.

Mr Justice Paul Carney suspended nine years of his sentence and remanded him on bail, with regard to his poor health, as he awaits the appeal.

"We have seen case on case where the sentences just don't make sense," Ms Saidlear said.

"It's becoming obvious that we really need guidelines. There are too many inconsistencies and the Government needs to start sending the right message to the public."

Ms Saidlear added that while the O'Brien case remains in the hands of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the network has been inundated with calls from the public offering support to Ms Doyle.

"People feel so helpless after this case and its dreadful outcome," she said.

Fianna Fail has announced plans to publish a Bill in the coming days calling for the establishment of a Sentencing Council.

The party's justice spokesman, Niall Collins, said it was in the public's interest to promote greater consistency in criminal sentencing following the O'Brien case.

"I believe that our criminal justice system would be well served by setting down guidelines on sentencing in criminal cases," Mr Collins said.

"As well as promoting greater consistency, this would also enhance public confidence in the system and help people understand the decisions judges make and why."

Sinn Fein justice spokesman Padraig Mac Lochlainn called for sentencing guidelines to be put into law.

"Last year, two different judges made rulings that resulted in convicted sex attackers walking free," Mr Mac Lochlainn said.

"This is now a deeply worrying pattern. The minister now urgently needs to prepare fresh legislation on sentencing guidelines. There has to be full transparency and accountability on court rulings by judges. And there must be consistency."


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