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Dáil to close 21-year-old legal ‘loophole’ on incest

Under current law, a man can face up to life imprisonment if convicted, whereas a woman can only be sentenced to a maximum of seven years.

Updated 10am

THE GOVERNMENT HAS accepted a bill aimed at closing a 21-year-old legal ‘loophole’ that allowed women a more lenient sentence than men for the offence of incest.

TD Denis Naughten moved a new law in the Dáil today which is aimed at closing off the loophole, and said that he has welcomed the Government’s decision to accept his legislation.

The new law, the Criminal Law (Incest) Amendment Bill 2013, will ensure equality of treatment for men and women in sentencing in incest cases.

However, Deputy Naughten said that he is disappointed that the enactment of the law will be ‘dragged out’ by its incorporation into the forthcoming Criminal Justice Sexual Offences Bill.

I believe that five years is far too long to wait for this loophole to be closed off. However I will work closely with the Justice Minister, Alan Shatter TD, to have this law enacted as soon as possible.

Current law

Under the current law, which will soon be changed, a man faces up to life imprisonment if convicted of incest, but a woman can only be sentenced to a maximum of seven years for the same crime.

Deputy Naughten said that the bill “will increase the penalties for incest committed by females in line with the existing penalties for males”.

Prison term

Deputy Naughten commented:

This discrepancy came to the fore during the sentencing of a woman in January 2009 who was convicted of incest and sentenced to the maximum seven years by Roscommon Circuit Court. At the time the judge in that case pointed to the need for legislative intervention to remedy this discrepancy and there was a public call from legal experts to have equal sentencing for men and women convicted of incest.

Naughten said that the purpose of this bill is to have the option of life imprisonment open to judges upon conviction of either a man or woman.


The law was previously amended in relation to males in 1993, following the Kilkenny incest case, where a man who abused his daughter received the maximum seven year sentence upon conviction.

“At the time the maximum term of imprisonment was raised from seven years to 20 years. This was amended again in 1995 when the maximum term for a male was increased to life imprisonment,” said Naughten.

He added that he believes this bill “highlights the State’s failure to actively review and modernise legislation in the area of sexual crimes as well as other areas”.

He described it as “galling to see that while the law has been changed twice since the Kilkenny incest case”, in the Roscommon situation the perpetrator will be released in advance of any change in the law.

While this has no bearing on the sentence served by those already convicted, it does at least help the victims who can see that their tragedy is being taken seriously by lawmakers with the view to ensuring that no-one can receive such a light sentence in future.

First published 6.15am

Read: Australia shocked by extreme case of incest, sex abuse and child neglect>

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