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Survivors' groups call for change after suspended sentence in Cork domestic assault case

A convicted murderer was given an 18-month suspended sentence yesterday after pleading guilty to assaulting his wife.

Marius Rucinskas at Cork Circuit Criminal Court where he pleaded guilty to the charge of assault causing harm
Marius Rucinskas at Cork Circuit Criminal Court where he pleaded guilty to the charge of assault causing harm
Image: Provision Photography

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE SERVICES believe a suspended sentence handed down to a convicted murderer who assaulted his wife in Cork is “unduly lenient”.

The services say problems within the courts system need to be tackled to ensure that survivors of abuse can be fully supported.

Support groups have been shaken after 42-year-old Marius Rucinskas was given an 18-month suspended sentence in Cork Circuit Criminal Court yesterday for assaulting his wife in their home last year.

The court heard that Rucinskas repeatedly hit and kicked his wife Renata Rucinskeine, tore clumps of hair from her head, pulled off her eyelash extensions and put her at risk of suffocation in a violent attack over two to three hours.

The case

The 42-year-old has multiple previous convictions in Lithuania, including a 15-year sentence from 2000 for pre-meditated murder and a false imprisonment charge.

Rucinskas pleaded guilty to the charge of assault causing harm after the attack on 1 January 2020 at their home in Castletownbere.

Garda Laura O’Sullivan told the court that he had been drinking from lunchtime on the date of the offence and assaulted his wife that night after a New Year’s party in their home with friends.

Garda O’Sullivan said that he forced Renata’s face down onto a bed and pushed it into the mattress to the point that she was at risk of suffocation.

Rucinskas was remanded in custody for over a year before being released in February earlier this year, when he was ordered to stay out of Castletownbere.

Judge Sean Ó Donnabháin handed down an 18-month sentence suspended for three years on the condition that Rucinskas does not reside in or around Castletownbere.

The judge said it was a “violent assault that went on for a period of time causing great distress to people in the home”.

Ó Donnabháin said he accepted that Ruckinskas had kept out of Castletownbere since his release and that he was a hardworking man employed in a “difficult work environment.”

He said that with “drink or no drink” the case was “very hard to understand.”

Survivors’ groups

Safe Ireland, a network of domestic violence services, believes the suspended sentence was “unduly lenient”.

Speaking to The Journal, Edel Hackett of Safe Ireland said that “even with a suspended sentence, it is still a sentence, but the fact that it has been suspended, we would see as being unduly lenient”.

Hackett said that it is “really important that the victim in this situation or any situation” knows that “nobody is powerless” and that “if they feel that a sentence is lenient, that it can be appealed, or at least that they can write to the Director of Public Prosecutions”.

One of the difficulties for survivors taking a case or seeking a court order, Hackett said, is that the courts “are not uniform across the country”.

“There are vagaries within the system,” she said.

“While generally things work well, there are pockets and locations where things aren’t working as well as they might be.”

Additionally, because of closures in the courts during the pandemic, there are “delays that might not have been there before”.

In Cork, Caithríona O’ Neill of Cuanlee Refuge for women and children says the court system needs “to come into the 21st century”.

Speaking to Newstalk Breakfast, O’ Neill said that the suspended sentence is “one of the many examples out there of how the legal system in Ireland is seriously failing survivors of domestic abuse”.

“In reading the report of it, the judge spoke about how Marius had been drinking and he also noted things like how he works in a difficult work environment in a fish factory and how he stayed away from the village and town since the assault,” O’Neill said.

“I find it very hard and very frustrating because it’s like there’s a rationale and reasoning for this behaviour, and quite frankly, there is no excuse whatsoever for any assault on a partner,” she said.

O’Neill said that she has supported women who have gone to court for a barring order while they have visible injuries, but the orders have been refused.

“Sometimes instead of being awarded a barring order, which requires their partner to leave the house immediately, they’ll be given something like a protection order where the partner can stay in the family home, but for many women, they don’t feel safe with a protection order,” she said. 

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“It’s the court system that has to come into the 21st century. For a long time, domestic abuse was very hidden, it was in the family home and it wasn’t really taken seriously as an assault charge and it seems like the courts are still following that. Not all judges – however a lot of them are still out of date.”

Finding help

“Our advice to people who are survivors or living with abuse is to know that you do not have to live with abuse, you do not have to tolerate it,” Hackett said.

“If it’s safe, contact your local domestic violence service,” she advised.

“There are 38 services across the country in our communities provided by professionals, experts, and people who can support you practically with regards to the legal system and the provision of counselling or accommodation.” 

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Lauren Boland

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