Rape victim ‘devastated’ at suspended sentence

DPP should appeal decision, says Rape Crisis Centre

Mr Justice Garrett Sheehan suspended a seven-year prison sentence on the rape charges for five years because of the “wholly exceptional” circumstances of the case

Mr Justice Garrett Sheehan suspended a seven-year prison sentence on the rape charges for five years because of the “wholly exceptional” circumstances of the case

Tue, Jun 11, 2013, 01:00

Judith Crosbie and Declan Brennan

A woman who was raped as a 14-year-old has said she is devastated at the suspended sentence handed to her attacker, whom she has named publicly. She said she hoped the Director of Public Prosecutions would appeal the sentence.

Mr Justice Garrett Sheehan on Friday gave Niall Counihan (52) of Springlawns, Longford, a seven-year suspended sentence for rape because he said imprisonment would impose extreme hardship on his family, particularly his two autistic children. Counihan was married to the victim’s sister when the rape occurred. He is now with a different partner.

But the victim said in an interview yesterday Counihan had shown no remorse and should be in jail. “If you commit a crime you should be punished and you shouldn’t get off just because your circumstances have changed. This is not justice,” said the now 41-year-old woman, who is still maintaining her anonymity.

There has been particular criticism of Mr Justice Sheehan’s judgement that Counihan had “self-rehabilitated”.

“He never showed any remorse. He had four years from when I first went to gardaí and he has never admitted what he did or apologised to me,” said the victim.

The victim was raped on two separate occasions when she was staying over to babysit her sister’s children. “What he did to me has affected every aspect of my life. It left me with a pain, trauma, loss and sadness that I continue to feel every day”.

Rape and abuse support groups called on the DPP to appeal the sentence. Cari, which supports abused children, questioned the judge’s refusal to jail Counihan for the rape of a child because he had to look after two vulnerable children. “There must be issues for the HSE whereby a man can be let out of jail to go back to take care of vulnerable children,” said Mary Flaherty, chief executive of Cari.

Fiona Doyle whose father last January was given a 12-year prison sentence, nine of which were suspended, after admitting to raping her over a 10 year period said she was concerned cases such as this could put up “barriers” to people coming forward after abuse. “That poor girl must be devastated, she must be thinking ‘why did I go through with this?’,” she said.

Ms Doyle met Taoiseach Enda Kenny after publicly criticising the sentence in her case but said yesterday concrete reforms such as mandatory sentencing were needed. The DPP, which has 28 days to appeal a sentence after it has been handed down, announced in February it would appeal the sentence in Ms Doyle’s case.

Ellen O’Malley Dunlop, chief executive of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, said the sentence showed the need for training of judiciary on sexual crimes. The man’s family circumstances were sad she said but added that it was “a very strange decision”.

The court heard two of Counihan’s young sons have autism and require 24-hour care and attention. A third child has many health issues.

Mr Justice Sheehan said the offences lay at the top end of the midrange of the scale but there were mitigating factors including the absence of any other convictions and the fact that the defendant had “self-rehabilitated” since the offences were committed 27 years ago.

“The evidence in this case disclosed that the defendant not only has the capacity to remain an effective parent but also that it is in his family’s interest as well as society’s interest that the family unit in this particular case be preserved and supported,” he said.

The Rape Crisis Centre’s national 24-hour hotline is: 1800-778888