13 Aug 2022

Rapist who abused sister and his seven daughters jailed for 20 years

thurles rap tipperary

A Tipperary man has been jailed for 20 years for the repeated rape and sexual abuse of his younger sister and seven daughters over a 23-year period.

From 1977 to 2000, James O'Reilly (75) subjected the young girls to “horrific” sexual abuse, as well as physical beatings, starvation and degradation, the Central Criminal Court heard on Monday morning, June 15.

O'Reilly of Killeens, Ballynonty, Thurles, Co Tipperary pleaded not guilty to 81 counts of rape and sexual abuse. Last December, after a five week trial, a jury convicted him of 58 counts of rape and nine counts of sexual assault.

O'Reilly's rape of one daughter caused her to become pregnant in late 1988. He continued to rape her during the pregnancy.

At the time O’Reilly told his daughter to allege she had been raped by another man. He continued abusing her and only stopped when she threatened him with a knife.

Later DNA tests confirmed he was the father, a factor which was used to secure his conviction.

One victim said she was starved and forced to beg for food outside while another said she did not know what a Christmas present was until she was an adult.

Caroline Biggs SC, prosecuting, told the court that the victims wished to waive their anonymity, allowed for the naming of their abuser.

Mr Justice Tony Hunt described O'Reilly's actions as horrific and noted the escalating and repetitive nature of the offending.

He noted that O'Reilly continues to deny any wrongdoing and there was no evidence of remorse or regret on his part for his crimes.

He commended the courage of the victims and noted the stoicism as well as the occasional flashes of good humour shown by them throughout the lengthy trial.

He said he was taking into consideration O'Reilly's abuse of his dominant position, the duration of the offending and the incalculable pain and harm caused to the victims.

“It's not clear any of them will ever be free of the adverse effects.”

O'Reilly was aged around 34 when he raped the first victim, his 13 year old younger sister. He abused her for the next three years, attacking her in a van.

He first abused the second victim, his daughter, when her mother was in hospital having suffered a miscarriage. His daughter was aged between four and six.

In 1977, she was aged around eight when he drove her in his van to a bog and raped her. He told her she would be put into foster care if she told anyone.

One victim testified that from the age of ten she was raped in the back of van if it was raining and outside the van in a field if it wasn't.

The trial heard that the family lived at a place in Dublin at one point, living in an old-fashioned horse drawn wagon and later in more modern trailer.

O'Reilly raped another daughter when her mother was in hospital giving birth to another child.

This baby boy died in 1983 and while his partner was grieving, O'Reilly took one girl out and raped her in the pony shed.

O'Reilly moved the children around the country and in the late 80s they were living around at a location in the south where he continued to abuse them.

One victim, who was raped until she was aged 20, said she couldn't tell her husband because “saying you are being raped [as a] Traveller is like being thrown to the side of the road, you'd have to go back to the bog”.

Kathleen O'Driscoll said she could remember her father abusing her form her earliest childhood memories. She said she prayed each night that she would not wake up.

Ms O'Driscoll said her father threatened that if she told anyone about the abuse, he would cut her throat and the throat of any person she told. She said she has put up with being raped, starved and beaten all her life.

Margaret Hutchinson was aged ten in 1981 when her father first began molesting her. A year later he raped in the back of the van.

She testified that during this time he raped her “hundreds, thousands of times”.

A witness at the trial recalled how in 1986 she met this victim in the bog and “she was shaking and crying”. She said she still gets knots in her stomach remembering how the victim told her her father was abusing her.

Another victim recalled having to attend hospital with a head injury from beatings. She was aged ten when her father began raping her and he would rape her up to three times a week for the next six years.

Justice Hunt said a life sentence was the appropriate starting point based on the horrific facts. He said the mitigating factors presented carried little weight and that the main factor submitted in mitigation was O'Reilly's age.

He noted that O'Reilly was in robust good health when he was interviewed four years ago but there was evidence his health has deteriorated since. He said the court was leaving it the executive to engage in any future intervention of the custodial sentence because of infirmity.

He said the difference between a life sentence and a lengthy but finite sentence may be academic given O’Reilly’s age.

He imposed a range of sentences from two years to twenty years. A number of victims sobbed during the sentence hearing and as sentence was passed.

Garnet Orange SC, defending, submitted that his client has no previous convictions and has never been on garda radar. Mr Orange asked the court to have regard for an elderly man facing a lengthy sentence who also has hearing difficulties.

Victim impact statement

The daughter Reilly said she can remember her father abusing her from her earliest childhood memories.

In her victim impact statement, which she read out in court, Philomena Connors said she sometimes thinks why did her mother have her and wishes she had never been born. She said she always had emptiness in her heart and she still has to this day.

Ms Connors said her father had control over her and she could not see how normal people lived. She said she went on thinking what was happening was normal, but she knows now it was not normal.

She said when she was a child, she did not have a choice what happened to her. She said her children have a right to a childhood and she does not want them to have the life she had.

Ms Connors said the abuse affects her every single minute of her life. She said she always thinks why, but knows she will never get an answer.

The victim impact statements of the remaining seven women was read out in court on their behalf by a garda sergeant.

In her victim impact statement, Kathleen O'Driscoll said she can remember her father abusing her from her earliest childhood memories. She said she prayed each night that she would not wake up.

Ms O'Driscoll said her father threatened that if she told anyone about the abuse, he would cut her throat and the throat of the person she told. She said she had watched him cut the throats of goats.

She said that at the time, she had never heard anyone in her community speak about rape and she said that women in her community are expected to be virgins. She said that if the marriage of a Traveller woman ends, she would have to return to her parents.

Ms O'Driscoll said to feel guilty for the actions of another is wrong. She said “the fear kept us silenced”.

Christine Rooney, the accused man's sister, said she felt like her brother had stolen her childhood and education. She said these were things she could never get back.

Ms Rooney said her brother thought he could control her with fear and it worked. She said he would not feed her and she had to beg for food outside.

“He will not beat me,” Ms Rooney said. She said in her view he should never be free to cause the pain and misery he inflicted on her to anyone else.

Helen O'Donoghue said she had no education, no life and her father took everything from her. She said she has put up with being raped, starved and beaten all her life.

Ms O'Donoghue said she feels suicidal at times and it is her kids that keep her going. She said she has never had the love of parents to this day.

She said as a child she did not know what a Christmas present was or what Christmas dinner was. She said she did not even know what age she was until she got married.

Ms O'Donoghue said she had never learned to read or write and would have loved to go to school. She said she could not make a life for herself as she did not know-how.

Margaret Hutchinson said the abuse was a constant part of her life. She said her father told her if she ever told anyone about the abuse he would kill her and her mother.

Ms Hutchinson said her father took her childhood and her innocence. She said she had no friends and only went to school for her Communion and Confirmation.

She said her father threatened that he would make her pregnant and that no one would marry her. She said that when she became pregnant aged 16, she knew the threat he made was now real.

Ms Hutchinson said her father wanted her to give the baby up for adoption. She said her baby was a secret that he wanted to get rid of but she would not let him.

She said that after she gave birth she was “dirty” in the community. She said that other Traveller parents would not let their daughters be friends with her.

Ms Hutchinson said that since this became public, her whole family has been affected. She said she had thought her father could not hurt her anymore, but he is still having a huge effect on her family.

Mary Moran said her life was never ever going to be the same again. She said she struggles to wake up every morning.

Ms Moran said the pain is always in her heart and it never leaves. She said there are times when she does not even want to leave her house.

She said her father destroyed her life and took everything from her. She said she hates her mother more for not stopping him.

Anne Reilly said she loves her children to bits and if she did not have them she would kill herself.

Ms Reilly said when she goes out, she runs everywhere just to get home. She said she would have loved to go to school and could not even write her name until she was aged 16.

She said she has gotten justice in the eyes of the law, but it is never going to be enough justice. She said she cannot put into words how her father has ruined her life.

Bridgette O'Reilly said her whole childhood was taken away from the start. She said she hears her father's voice and has flashbacks daily.

Ms O'Reilly said she is afraid to go to sleep and will stay up for days at a time. She said she locks herself away and goes days without eating.

She said no matter how much she tries, it will never go away. She said if not for the support of her partner, her children, her neighbours and Women's Aid, she does not know where she would be.

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