A 45-year-old Galway man has been sentenced to five years in prison with the final two years suspended for sexually assaulting his daughter’s best friend during a Hallowe’en sleep-over at his home.
Gerry Hopkins, 8 Pairc na gCaor, Moycullen, pleaded guilty when he first appeared before Galway Circuit Criminal Court in October, 2016 to sexually assaulting the then 6-years-old victim on the night of October 27, 2015. The case was adjourned to May 2017 for the preparation of reports.
The girl’s father read his and his wife’s victim impact statement to the court last year in which he said Hopkins had shown their daughter no mercy during the 30-minute attack.
The little girl had been at a Hallowe’en party in Hopkins’ home and was allowed to sleep over with her best friend as both sets of parents had been good friends prior to the incident.
The girls were asleep in bed that night when Hopkins got into the bed beside them, leaned over his own daughter and subjected the victim to a prolonged sexual assault.
The little girl woke and then pretended to be asleep while Hopkins sexually assaulted her.
“She cried out in pain when he began to hurt her. He waited for her to stop crying before continuing to again assault her forcefully. The assault lasted 30 minutes,” Garda Paul Duffy told the court last year. He described Hopkins as “a bit of a loner who had no friends”.
The child told her mother about the assault when she was getting her ready for bed the following night.
Hopkins initially denied assaulting the child during two Garda interviews. He said his memory was vague due to his intoxication on the night but he finally admitted he could see no reason why the child would make up the allegation.
The child’s father became upset when he recalled how his daughter had to suffer the added trauma of being stripped naked and examined and questioned by strangers after the complaint was made.
“He reached over his own sleeping daughter to sexually assault our child. He showed her no sympathy or mercy and when she stopped crying he abused her again,” the tearful father said.
The man said his daughter could not sleep alone anymore and she whimpers in her sleep and pushes him away when he tries to comfort her.
He said Hopkins stole his daughter’s ability to trust adults and her innocence and trust in the world had gone. She had told her parents to tell Hopkins that he had hurt her a lot and scared her.
In contrast, Hopkins’ partner told the court last year he was an “extremely kind, warm and loving person” and a good father.
The court heard Hopkins had to move out of the family home following the complaint while the child protection agency, Tusla, carried out a risk assessment of his own children’s safety. It found his children were not at risk of abuse and he was allowed to return home.
Placing Hopkins on the Sex Offender’s Register, Judge Rory McCabe indicated a five-year sentence with two suspended was the appropriate sanction.
However, noting that a risk assessment of Hopkins by the probation service was incomplete, he deferred sentence for one year – to last week’s court – on condition Hopkins attend all probation service appointments in the interim and comply with all of its directions.
Prosecuting barrister, Geri Silke, told the sentence hearing last week that the girl’s parents wanted Hopkins named in the media.
John Kiely SC, defending, said Hopkins was no longer drinking and had abided by all of the bail conditions. He was also attending a Safer Lives sex offenders programme in Dublin once a week.
Judge McCabe said a custodial sentence was unavoidable given the “gross betrayal of trust and breach of friendship” by the accused.
Imposing the five-year sentence on Hopkins, the judge said the gravity of the offence required a punitive element and that rehabilitation thus far would be reflected in the suspension of the final two years of that sentence.
The final two years were suspended on condition Hopkins not reoffend and come under the supervision of the probation service for 18 months post release from prison. He is to complete the Safer Lives programme and comply with all directions of the probation service.
Brave Holly’s battle against leukaemia
A keen young camogie player from Knocknacarra diagnosed with leukaemia at the start of the first lockdown has now learned that she has lost her sight in one eye due to a rare complication.
Holly McAlinney was the picture of health at age seven. Her mother Sharon remembers the day schools were closed last March that her teacher had remarked that Holly had difficulty hearing in class.
She took her to the GP, thinking it was an ear infection and then her jaw swelled up so she thought it may have been her adenoids acting up. When medication did nothing to relieve the symptoms, they sent off a blood test.
“I went to the doctor with her on my own, you were only allowed one parent in at a time. They asked if I could call my husband so I knew things were bad. They confirmed it was leukaemia on a Wednesday and on the Monday we were in Crumlin Children’s Hospital getting chemotherapy – that’s how quickly it’s all been.”
Holly is now in the middle of her fourth round of chemo, which she undergoes weekly one day a week in the Dublin hospital. When she finishes this, she will have a fifth round given over two years to ensure the cancer doesn’t return.
Her medical team are extremely positive about her prospects. There is currently a 98 per cent survival rate with leukaemia, which is of course a huge relief to family and friends.
But things haven’t gone plain sailing throughout the treatment. Holly developed ulcers on her duodenum which left her in intensive care for a spell. And then last week, the family learned that the leukaemia had infiltrated her left eye, leaving a gap which could result in permanent blindness.
“We’re seeing a specialist in University Hospital Galway (UHG) next week but we don’t hold out much hope the sight will come back. Holly’s the most upbeat of all of us because she’s so young – she can’t see the repercussions into the future.
“That’s the way she’s been throughout the treatment. The first two rounds were heavy and the third quite light so she bounced right back. She was in school September and October, you wouldn’t know she was sick, and we felt she was safe because everything was so clean and with all the bubbles.
“It was right back down with the fourth round which was the heaviest so she can’t go see anyone just her brother – it’s heart-breaking.”
Her school friends have been keeping in touch by sending videos and cards to Holly to cheer her up.
While camogie and swimming will be out of the occasion for the foreseeable future, Sharon is confident they can find other hobbies that will enthral Holly, who is a very sociable and sporty girl. Sharon trains Holly with the U-8 camogie team with Salthill-Knocknacarra GAA.
The frequent trips to Dublin and hospital appointments has meant that Sharon has had to give up her job working in the Little Stars Montessori on the Cappagh Road, where son Alex still attends afterschool. Dad Rob works as an alarm engineer.
New mothers that Sharon met in Holly’s parent and baby group in Knocknacarra have organised a fundraiser to help the family get through the financial stress of coping with cancer.
They are planning a hike on December 6 at Diamond Hill, Connemara and have already raised €16,000 in donations.
“Rob and I are both from Salthill, but it’s been amazing the amount of people we wouldn’t have heard or seen in years who have contacted us to offer support. It’s only when you’re in trouble that you realise how good people can be.”
■ To make a donation, log on to GoFundMe
Proposals to change speed limits in Galway City are voted down
From this week’s Galway City Tribune – Planned speed limit changes for Galway City are stuck in the slow lane after councillors rejected a proposal for new bylaws.
The bylaws would have introduced a 30km/h zone in the city centre and 19 other changes, including increased speed limits in areas such as Bóthar na dTreabh to 80km/h.
Management at City Hall have now been sent back to the drawing board to draft new speed limit bylaws after a majority of elected members voted against them – it could at least two years before new proposals are ready.
At a meeting this week, several councillors spoke out against plans to increase speed limits to 80km/h on approach roads into the city.
Many of them criticised the system of selecting roads for speed limit changes, lashed the public consultation process and decried the lack of input from councillors, despite speed limits being a reserved function of elected members.
Councillors were particularly peeved that the proposal had to be accepted in its entirety, without amendments, or rejected outright – they could not pick and choose individual changes.
Deputy Mayor Collette Connolly (Ind) led the charge against the bylaws, which she described as “idiotic”.
She lambasted the “incomprehensible decision” not to lower speed limits to 30km/h outside schools and she said it was “utter raiméis” (nonsense) that speeds can’t be lowered to 30km/h, if 85% of the traffic on that road travels at 50km/h.
Cllr Connolly said the bylaws were “flawed”, and cited the decision to leave Rahoon Road/Shantalla Road at 50km/h, despite a crèche and two schools on other roads like Lough Atalia remaining at 30km/h.
(Photo: A speed van on Bóthar na dTreabh on Thursday morning)
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story, including how each councillor voted and a map of the proposed changes, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.
Corrib to be opened up as new tourism and leisure blueway
From this week’s Galway City Tribune – The first steps are to be taken next year to explore the development of a ‘blueway’ tourism and leisure trail along the River Corrib, from Nimmo’s Pier and onto the lake itself.
This week, Galway City Council Chief Executive, Brendan McGrath, confirmed to the Galway City Tribune, that monies had been set aside to begin exploratory work on what will be known as the Great Western Blueway.
A figure of €65,000 has been allocated in the City Council’s 2021 annual budget to commission an initial study of what’s involved in the setting up a blueway trail on the Corrib.
“The Corrib river and the lake are a most wonderful natural asset for the entire western region and I have no doubt that this project has fantastic potential in terms of enhancing the tourism pulling power of the city and its environs,” Mr McGrath told the Galway City Tribune this week.
Should the project come to fruition, it would be the fifth such waterway attraction to be developed in the island of Ireland.
Already there are Blueways on the Shannon, from Drumshanbo to Lanesboro; the Shannon-Erne project from Leitrim village to Belturbet (Cavan); the Royal Canal at Mullingar; and at Lough Derg from Portumna to Scariff in Clare.
According to Mr McGrath, the attractions developed along the Great Western Blueway would be environmentally friendly, featuring such attractions as kayaking, paddling, adjacent cycle trails as well as scenic walkways and visitor centres.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.