Harassment left Fine Gael TD with ‘cold sense of dread’

Jennifer Carroll MacNeill says she felt afraid while campaigning for 2020 election

A Fine Gael TD has said that a man’s decision to send her sexually explicit videos left her filled with a “cold sense of dread” and concerns for her safety during the 2020 election campaign.

Jennifer Carroll MacNeill took to the stand to read her victim impact statement during the sentence hearing of Gerard Culhane who sent her three sexually explicit videos and messages.

Mr Culhane (43) of Marian Place, Glin, Co Limerick, pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to harassing the TD at unknown places within the State on dates between January 13th, 2020 and March 26th, 2020. He has no previous convictions.

The court heard that during that time, Mr Culhane sent her 13 messages, including three sexually explicit videos, which he later admitted to gardaí­ he had downloaded from a pornographic website.

Ms Carroll MacNeill said she was in middle of a general election at the time and the harassment was “extremely difficult to deal with”.

“I do not wish to be here,” the TD said, adding that “with every fibre of my being” she didn’t wish to waste the time of the court, the gardaí­ or the Director of Public Prosecutions. But because Mr Culhane sent her “unsolicited images... we all have to be here”, she said.

She said she would rather spend her time more constructively working in the Oireachtas, serving her constituents and spending time with her young son.

“But because some man thought it was okay to invade my life and my mind and my sense of security because of whatever twisted purpose he got out of it, I have to use my time to pursue it,” she said.

“I do not choose to be sexualised in this way, to be in media articles with sexual content. But because some man decided to send me sexually explicit videos, it is there for ever more for everyone to see. All of this is without my consent.”

Ms Carroll MacNeill said she did not wish to be “a victim”.

“I am a private person and I just don’t like it,” the TD said, before adding she was “keen to downplay” the case.

Safety concerns

Ms Carroll MacNeill said at the time, she was worried for her safety because she was in the middle of an election campaign during which time the main objective was to go out and meet as many members of the general public as possible.

She said she got a fright when she received the messages and she did not want to worry about her safety at the time. “We all needed to get on with the job”, she said.

Ms Carroll MacNeill said she was on high alert and her team and close family were more protective of her.

“It greatly impacted me in the process of trying to become an elected representative,” she continued.

She said she felt there was “a real actual risk” to her. “I felt it, and I couldn’t see it.”

She felt didn’t know where the threat was, or what the nature of it was. “Was the person far away from me, crossing the road towards me. What were they going to do? Was I going to be attacked?”

She said at the time she had “a cold sense of dread” and spoke of a reluctance to smile, to put out her hand and engage.

“But in my mind, whether rationally or not, this person, whoever they were, now had every opportunity to simply walk up and see me up close and be near me. And this terrified me. I just didn’t know where it would go and I thought, I’m not putting up with this,” the TD continued.

She said the impact of Mr Culhane sending her these messages had a wider effect on her family, her husband, parents and sister and said “something of this nature” can just “creep into your life” while out walking with her husband and her dogs, having coffee with her mother or sitting watching television with her son.

Judge Patricia Ryan adjourned the case for finalisation to October 21st, after she acknowledged that a previously ordered probation report had not been prepared for the hearing.

She said she did not want to adjourn the case but was reluctant to finalise the case without that report.

Mr Culhane was remanded on continuing bail.