A Dublin grandmother who sexually abused an 11-year-old girl in the orphanage she was working in almost 50 years ago told gardaí that she believed she was in a romantic relationship with the girl.
Rita Ryan (69) was in her early twenties and working as a care assistant, when she first began to abuse the child after calling into her bedroom at night-time and asking her if she knew "what French kissing was?". The abuse continued and escalated in severity to include mutual masturbation and oral sex.
The now 60-year-old victim, who lives abroad, made a statement to gardaí in 2014. Ryan was questioned in October 2016 and said she did not think her behaviour amounted to sexual abuse.
She accepted a suggestion by the gardaí that it was instead “a romantic relationship” and acknowledged that it was also “an intimate relationship”.
Ryan of Meadowview Grove, Hillcrest, Lucan, Dublin pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to two charges of indecent assault of the girl at the orphanage in Dublin on dates between December 1971 until October 1974. The abuse came to an end when the victim left Ireland to live with her mother abroad.
Dean Kelly SC, prosecuting, told the court that the pleas were acceptable to the State on the basis that they represent sample charges. He said the victim later told gardaí that Ryan would abuse her "frequently" and "whenever the opportunity arose".
Mr Kelly said the maximum penalty available to the court, due to the law that existed at the time, is two years. He confirmed that had the same abuse occurred today, Ryan would instead be facing a maximum sentence of 14 years, due to a change in legislation.
On Tuesday Judge Martin Nolan sentenced Ryan to a two year term which he suspended in full having heard the evidence on Monday and adjourning the case overnight to consider it. He noted that Ryan had €15,000 in court to offer the victim as a token of remorse and said she must have a further €15,000 for the victim within a year.
He estimated that Ryan had abused the child more than a hundred times and said that Ryan was an adult at the time in a position of trust.
"I have come to the conclusion that she knew what she was doing and to engage in such activities with a child is reprehensible," Judge Nolan said. He also made reference to the "disparity of age" between them.
Judge Nolan noted that a victim impact statement, which was not read out in court, outlined that the woman has been greatly traumatised by the abuse and it has impacted her life. He described the woman as “a great lady”.
He accepted that a psychologist report gave insight into Ryan’s own background and sexual experience and accepted that she is “highly unlikely to re-offend to any degree in the future.”
Judge Nolan took into account Ryan’s admissions, absence of a criminal record, the fact that she has led a productive life, is invaluable to her extended family and has contributed to her local community.
Judge Nolan said what “troubled the court” was “the prolonged nature of the behaviour” and described it as a “particularly important factor” in determining whether Ryan would go to jail or not.
He said he had decided the issue of custody separate to the €15,000 offered as a token of Ryan’s remorse.
“Let nobody say or believe she is buying her way out of prison. That is not the situation. I decide the issue of prison or not independent of any money proffered,” Judge Nolan said.
He addressed Ryan directly and said “what you did was shameful. It is a very long time ago but that doesn’t make it any less shameful”.
Seamus Clarke SC, defending, said his client has a number of children and is now a grandmother.
Detective Garda Brian Davoren accepted that her pleas of guilty saved the victim a trial. He also acknowledged that she had €15,000 in court to offer the women as "a token of her remorse".
He acknowledged that the victim and Ryan stayed in touch over the years and the victim visited Ryan on a number of occasions, including in 2010.
Mr Clarke told the court that his client grew up on a farm in Limerick before being awarded a scholarship to attend boarding school.
He said she “regrets deeply what she has done” and handed in a large number of letters, including ones from herself and her family. He said she has given care to people in her local community.