Convicted rapists who comply with the requirements of the Sex Offenders Act – by informing Gardaí of their address on release from prison – can stay anywhere they like and even leave the country without having to inform the authorities, so long as it’s for six days or less.
That’s what Galway District Court was told this week – when it was also informed that, while the term ‘Sex Offenders Register’ is commonly used, there is, in fact, no such register in Ireland.
Instead, Gardaí – who are already aware of the conviction because they prosecuted the case – have to rely on the offender presenting himself at his local station to ‘register’ in accordance with the requirements of the Sex Offenders Act 2001, once released from prison. Non-compliance can lead to prosecution.
The above matters came to light during a lengthy, contested hearing this week involving convicted rapist, Francis Sweeney (45), of 19 Liam Mellows Terrace, Bohermore, who denied a charge of failing to comply with the requirements of the Sex Offenders Act 2001 by not living at the address in Bohermore which he had given Gardaí on his release from prison in November 2013.
Sweeney was jailed for nine years in 2007 for the violent, multiple rapes and sexual assault of a young mother in her home in Galway city in 2004.
Detective Gerry Carroll told the hearing this week he had been assigned to monitor Sweeney on his release from prison in 2013, and had called to the Bohermore address, which Sweeney had provided to Gardaí, three to four times a year.
He said Sweeney had been living in a caravan, parked at the front of the family home in Bohermore for some time.
However, he said he became aware in December 2017 that a bench warrant had been issued for Sweeney’s arrest when he failed to appear before Galway Circuit Criminal Court to answer an unrelated charge of assault. He said he called to the house in Bohermore on January 3 last year but Sweeney was not there.
He confirmed Sweeney had been arrested at his partner’s address in Westside on November 14 last year.
Defence solicitor, Sean Acton, said Sweeney was adamant he had been living all along at 19 Liam Mellows Terrace with his brother, Anthony Sweeney.
He said Sweeney had notified Gardaí in 2015 that he was moving address, when he went to live for a time with his wife, and informed them again when he moved back home that same year to Liam Mellows Terrace.
“His obligation under the Sex Offenders Act is to inform you of his address, but he is under no obligation to answer the door to you or speak to you if you call to his address,” Mr Acton put to Det. Carroll.
Mr Acton said Sweeney had been living at the family home in Bohermore all along and had not answered the door when Det. Carroll called because he did not want to be arrested for the bench warrant.
The solicitor said Sweeney had been arrested at his wife’s address in Westside because he often spent ‘the odd night’ there as she suffered from cancer.
“The Act allows for that – for a person to stay not more than seven days – at an address other than that given to Gardaí,” Mr Acton explained.
Det. Sgt. Adrian O’Neill gave evidence he was responsible for the monitoring of people subject to the Sex Offenders Act in the Galway District and had assigned Det. Carroll to monitor Sweeney.
He explained that in accordance with the law, Sweeney would have to inform Gardaí if he spent seven days or more at a different address.
“There is no such thing as a Sex Offenders Register and Gardaí have to ensure compliance with the Act,” Mr Acton said.
Det. Sgt. O’Neill agreed, but added: “The onus is on the defendant to notify the Gardaí (of his address). There is no onus on the Gardaí.”
“He (Sweeney) can go to any address for six days and not have to notify you. He can go for six days here and six days there for an entire year,” Mr Acton said.
“He can even go to the Canaries if he wants and not notify us, so long as it’s for six days,” Det. Sgt. O’Neill replied.
Mrs Susan Sweeney said she had been battling cancer for the last ten years and her husband called to see her regularly now and often stayed over.
Judge Mary Fahy said she had a doubt and she dismissed the charge.
“The Act needs to be revised and the onus and obligations – for both defendants and Gardaí – need to be spelled out ‘in black and white’,” she said.