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Aaron McKenna: Why do the Irish courts not care about women?

Our courts seem to have affected an uncaring view towards violent and sexual crimes against women – allowing offenders to escape jail sentences by simply giving their victims a payoff. It is horrific and unacceptable.

Aaron McKenna

FOR ALL OUR complaints, being a white man in a first world country is a pretty cushy number compared to some alternatives. We’ve got a fair chance at a healthy upbringing, a decent education, and we get some advantages in our careers for simply showing up.

Being a man in Ireland also imparts some darker privileges that our peers in many other first world countries can only dream of from behind their prison cell doors: it is within our gift to beat and rape women without substantial fear of incarceration and, in some instances, with the comfort of knowing that we probably won’t even suffer all that much reputational damage.

This week a trainee doctor at the Royal College of Surgeons, Rudrumun Gopal, was ordered to pay €10,000 to two charities in restitution for repeatedly beating up his girlfriend. He punched, kicked and bit “the woman of his dreams”, as the court was told. But he is also from “a family of high achievers”, he’s young and “inexperienced with women” and the victim was his first ever girlfriend.

Judge Hugh O’Donnell remarked that he did not believe that the RCSI should expel Mr Gopal from their ranks when they come to hear the case at their own disciplinary hearing. He should be allowed to continue his medical training, the judge said, which presently has him working in a hospital.

Fines range from the paltry to the grand

In response to the case, Colette Browne wrote an interesting column in the Irish Independent wondering if a man without means from a less respectable background would be allowed off with a slap on the wrist. The evidence from court rulings seems to suggest that in actual fact, means has very little to do with it. Instead, courts seem to levy fines on men who commit violent attacks on women (sometimes also known as ‘people’) ranging from the paltry to the grand, depending on their financial circumstances, while letting them off all the same without major custodial sentences.

Judges seem to view financial restitution like a tax. The more money you have, the more you’ll pay. Thomas Finn attacked his neighbour in her front garden, punching her until she was unconscious and kicking her on the ground. When the Gardai arrived he told them he would burn the house down. He got a fine of €3,000 and avoided prison.

Graham Griffiths committed a violent sex attack on a 17-year-old girl, telling Gardai he felt he was “under some magnetic force” and “it must have been the hormones” that caused him to attack. €15,000 was the price of his crime.

A 42-year-old man, who cannot be named to protect the identity of his victim, sexually assaulted a woman while her young son was in the bed beside her walked away with no conviction and no recorded financial penalty.

Mark Jordan assaulted his then-girlfriend, journalist Jane Ruffino, disfiguring her face in the process. €5,000 to be paid in two instalments.

Not good enough

Oftentimes these men, and many others like them, receive suspended sentences that would see them do jail time if they get caught having a second go at someone in the near future. And it’s worthwhile noting that not all those who assault women get off without a custodial sentence, though financial restitution is often a salve applied by the courts that may be seen to be given in lieu of further jail time.

Anthony Lyons was sentenced to six years for a violent sexual assault described by the Judge as being “at the higher end of the scale”, but five-and-a-half years of that sentence were suspended and MrLyons ordered, “as a man of means”, to pay €75,000 to his victim. After a major outcry, the Court of Criminal Appeals has ruled that the sentence was too lenient and has reserved judgement in the case. This is the exception rather than the norm, generated due to the nature of the crime.

In all of the cases I have listed the men in question have been characterised by their defence as decent sorts with no prior criminal background who are terribly remorseful for their crime. In many of the cases the judge presiding has made comment that, given their backgrounds as otherwise law abiding citizens, a custodial sentence would not be appropriate.

It’s not good enough. The law is maintained because people fear the consequences of breaking it; and most of the time when the law breaks down, it is because people do not fear justice for one reason or another. When police forces have gone on strike in places like Baltimore and Montreal there was near instant crime waves in response, which ended promptly when the police returned to work. It’s a fine line between civilization and anarchy at times.

When Graham Griffiths attacked a 17-year-old girl, her friend was with her and desperately attempted to get him off her. He didn’t seem to care at the time, what with all them hormones and all that. I’ll tell you who else tend to travel in pairs: Gardai. Yet, you hear very few cases of otherwise decent, law abiding people attacking Guards, even female ones.

Less vulnerable people don’t get attacked…

Why is that? Well, for one I would suppose it’s because even if you caught a Guard on her own you could expect a bit of a struggle, but more in your mind might be the fact that a bunch of other Guards would likely show up and, to put it delicately, subdue you. Then when you’d go in front of a court, perhaps most chillingly of all, you’d get a sentence like the one handed down to Andrew Freaney: ten years with three suspended pending good behaviour, so seven in all.

Attacks on Gardai are not rare, and should be dealt with more harshly, but in general there is more deterrent in place and most of the people attacking Gardai are criminals rather than first time offenders such as tend to drag young girls into bushes.

Our courts seem to have affected an uncaring view towards violent and sexual crimes against women. Judges seem to be too swayed by well-dressed nice men standing in front of them, showing great remorse for their crime (or, perhaps moreso, the fact that they’re standing in court.) It isn’t good enough.

We’re getting used to hearing of lenient non-custodial sentences for men who attack women in Ireland. It’s almost becoming the cultural norm. We’re nowhere near the kind of disregard given savage and regular crimes against women in countries like India, but are we content to even exist on the ‘nearly acceptable’ fringes of that same scale?

Those who commit these crimes are degenerates, regardless of their prior history in front of the law. They require custodial sentences and mandatory rehabilitation to reintegrate them into proper society. If they ever commit a crime like it again, they should be assessed for permanent detention as unfit for circulation. Who knows when those ‘mysterious forces’, surging hormones, or that bad dose of Lipitor might strike again?

Aaron McKenna is a businessman and a columnist for He is also involved in activism in his local area. You can find out more about him at or follow him on Twitter @aaronmckenna. To read more columns by Aaron click here.

Read: Women’s Aid accepts donation from man who beat up girlfriend

Read: Judges ‘need guidelines’ for sexual assault sentencing

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