Calls for review of State response to Traveller rape case

Man jailed for 20 years for raping and sexually abusing sister and seven daughters

Several Traveller groups and abuse survivor organisations have called for a review of the State’s response to a case where eight women were abused and raped over a 23-year period.

On Monday, James O’Reilly (75) was jailed for 20 years for raping and sexually abusing his sister and seven daughters over more than two decades.

O’Reilly, of Ballynonty, Thurles, Co Tipperary, was convicted of 58 counts of rape and nine counts of sexual assault .

In a statement the women asked if the abuse would have been allowed to continue for so long if the women came from a settled family.


“They were vulnerable Traveller children forced to live on the edges of Irish society, already looked down on, discriminated against and denied their basic human rights. Does this denial of their rights also extend to their right to protection as children?

“How could schools, social workers, medical professionals and others who have a so-called duty of care turn their back time after time as the evidence was hitting them in the face,” the statement said.

Systems bias

Clíona Saidléar, executive director of the Rape Crisis Network, said the organisation supported the call for an inquiry . There needed to be an independent review to examine if a "systems bias" had led to failures in the State response, she said.

Dr Sindy Joyce, a sociologist and member of the Traveller community, echoed the call for an inquiry. "We need to look at how this was allowed to happen, and who knew and did nothing about it," she told RTÉ's Drivetime.

Pat Rabbitte, chair of Tusla, the child and family agency, said it was "obvious that the State did not come to the rescue of the young women or children in that particular, terrible case," he said.

“The modern-day Tusla does, at least, have engagement with the Traveller community that doesn’t seem to have been the case 20 or 25 years ago, but nobody can put their hand on their heart and say: ‘I’m satisfied that a case along those lines could never happen again,’” Mr Rabbitte added.

“I would hope it could never happen again, but as I say, the price is eternal vigilance,” he said.

Sandra McDonagh, chair of the National Traveller Women’s Forum, said the group supported the survivors’ calls “for their questions in relation to the failure of State services to intervene to be addressed.”

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is a reporter with The Irish Times

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is a reporter for The Irish Times