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Sex with schoolgirl man gets two years’ jail

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A then 21-year-old man who had sex in a fast-food restaurant toilet with a vulnerable 16-year-old schoolgirl has been sentenced to two years in prison, with the final year suspended.

Ethan Ward, who is now aged 25 and a father of two, of 27 Luí na Gréine, Western Distributor Road, Knocknacarra, pleaded guilty to defilement of a child aged under 17 years of age, at McDonald’s in Shop Street on April 8, 2012, when he first appeared before Galway Circuit Criminal Court in 2014.

He was placed under the supervision of the probation service for a year and the matter was adjourned to July 2015 for up-to-date reports on him and on the victim.

Detective Sergeant Willie Beirne told the initial sentence hearing in March, 2014 the girl made a complaint to Gardaí that she had been sexually assaulted by the accused in a toilet cubicle.

She was 16 years old at the time and was very distressed by what had happened.

She said she met Ward for the first time while drinking in Eyre Square with friends and he tried to lure her down an alleyway but she refused to go with him. He then followed her down Shop Street and into the toilet in McDonald’s where, she said, she allowed him kiss her.

She said he then followed her into a cubicle and she shouted for help but he told her to shut up before having sex with her.

The accused was arrested a short time later and denied any involvement. However, in a second interview he claimed they had consensual sex. He claimed he thought she was 17 or 18 and when told she was 16, he denied having sex with her.

Sgt Beirne said the girl was in secondary school at the time. She was vulnerable and had very little parental support. He read out a victim impact statement on behalf of the girl who was present in court at the time with a friend.

In her statement, the girl said she had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the sexual assault. She was very distressed and upset and, two years on, she was still afraid to come into the city for fear of meeting her assailant.

She became severely depressed after the attack and took an overdose.

Her counsellor said at the time that even with counselling, she would continue to suffer well into the future.

Sgt Beirne said the accused had been living in a hostel at the time and was hanging around the streets. He had eight previous convictions for public order offences, burglary, possession of knives and for thefts.

Paul Flannery SC, defending, said at the March 2014 hearing that his client was married with one child. He asked for sentence to be deferred.

On the recommendation of the probation service, Judge Rory McCabe adjourned sentence to July 2015, and placed the accused under the supervision of the service.

However, a letter handed into court in July 2015 from the Rape Crisis Centre and a negative probation report on the accused changed the complexion of the case for Judge McCabe.

While the contents of the letter and the report were not revealed in open court, Judge McCabe said he could not finalise sentence.

Sgt Willie Byrne confirmed to the judge that the girl had attended one appointment at the Rape Crisis Centre but was unable to continue with counselling.

“She is still severely traumatised by what happened to her and she’s still in a very bad place,” he said last year.

Recalling the evidence at the initial hearing in 2014, Mr Flannery said it had been the girl’s view in the Book of Evidence that she felt she had been raped.

However, the video evidence from the toilet area, he said, showed a different scenario and based on that it, was agreed at the time between the prosecution and the defence teams that Ward would plead guilty to having sex with an underage girl and that was accepted by the prosecution.

There was no suggestion at the time, he said, that his client had raped the girl and his client had, at all times, said no force was involved and it was consensual.

Mr Flannery said that in light of the developments (contained in the letter from the Rape Crisis Centre regarding the victim), he found himself at a disadvantage because he was now faced with evidence that put “a different colour” on the case; something that had been taken out of the equation at the start by agreement with the prosecution.

Judge McCabe adjourned sentence to last November, but it emerged then that Ward still refusing to co-operate or engage in any way with the probation service and he was given one final chance to do so with sentence being deferred to May 4 and again to last week.

Sgt Beirne told the court last week the victim was too afraid to come to court, but he read out a up-to-date impact statement, taken from her last month.

In it, the girl says she is still unable to go for counselling as she has lost all trust in people.

“I hate my body. I feel like it’s not mine any more.

“I’m scared to go places on my own. I always want someone with me, just so I feel safe.

“I try to harm myself and I’ve tried so many times to take my own life, just to try and take the hurt away and the memories.

“It’s always on my mind and my life isn’t my own anymore.

“I don’t want anybody touching me or even have their arms around me as it just brings me back to that night.

“I’ve left myself scarred for something that I never ever asked for.

“My whole life isn’t mine anymore.  I’m not the same happy person I used to be.

“I just wish I could wake up and this would all be one big horrible dream,” the girl said in her statement.

Mr Flannery told the court Ward’s wife had just given birth to their second child.

He said Ward had been smoking cannabis for many years before moving on to heroin and he was now coming to the end of a sentence for a drugs offence, he said.

Mr Flannery said that if the case had gone to trial the CCTV evidence would have been shown and, if it was accepted, then what occurred in the toilet area had all the appearance of being a consensual act, despite what the victim saying she had been raped.

Prosecuting barrister, Conor Fahy, said the maximum sentence for this type of offence was five years.

Judge McCabe said the set of circumstances surrounding this offence placed it at the lower end of the scale of gravity and the headline sentence was two years and six months.

Given that Ward had pleaded guilty, the judge said he was entitled to six months’ credit for that and the sentence now stood at two years.

Judge McCabe said sentence had been adjourned last year and again two weeks ago to give Ward a final opportunity to address his addiction issues and it appeared from the latest report that he had just now started to do that – attending an appointment for the first time – the day before the sentence hearing.

The judge then suspended the final year of the two-year sentence for one year, placing Ward under the supervision of the probation service on his release for one year.

Connacht Tribune

Galway researchers work at early breast cancer detection

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Identifying the genes responsible for causing breast cancer and developing newer molecular treatments are among key areas of focus for researchers at the National Breast Cancer Research Institute (NBCRI).

The charity this week launched its first three-year strategic plan at its base in the Lambe Institute at the University of Galway where chairperson Caroline Loughnane outlined the current cancer research programme.

Researchers are working on the biomarkers of response to treatment and examining newer therapies targeted to individual patients. Some are investigating the role of stem cells in breast reconstruction.

As well as contributing to major international partnerships on cancer genetics and medical devices development, staff are also running clinical trials on newer treatments, all with the aim of improving treatments and outcomes for patients.

Research conducted at the Newcastle campus such as the study of microRNAs in breast cancer and the role played by mesenchymal stem cells in tumour was having an impact nationally as well as globally, she explained.

“This research spans the continuum from bench to bedside with the aim of improving treatments and outcomes for patients,” she stated.

The board of the charity has adopted six main goals under its new strategic plan. These will be monitored every three months to ensure they are progressed.

NBCRI plans to support new research through a more ambitious fundraising drive, increase the national reach of the charity and develop relationships with external collaborators.

The charity has set itself a target of increasing fundraising by one fifth over the next three years. Its big fundraisers over the years have been a combination of charity swims, walks, cycles and golf and race days, with participants donning pink while taking part.

Over the last 25 years, the charity has funded 41 full postgraduates and 102 undergraduate medicine and science students as part of the NUI Galway School of Medicine summer research programme.

It is largely funded from voluntary fundraising activities, with an annual turnover of around €1 million.

The launch heard that 33,352 people in Ireland are currently living with breast cancer. One in seven Irish women will develop breast cancer during their lifetime, making it the most common cancer among women here excluding skin cancers. Ever year around 3,542 cases are diagnosed and 760 will die from it.

That’s up from 660 women who died in 1992. But when caught early, it has the highest five-year net survival rate of 85 per cent.

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Connacht Tribune

Headford survey reveals drop in footfall – but strong sense of community

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A dearth of public recreational spaces was identified as a major issue – as was the drop in footfall in the town’s centre – in a survey conducted in Headford.

The Reimagine Headford Community Survey – conducted among local residents and the business community – found that almost 60% of those surveyed said that they don’t regularly come into Headford.

The findings will be revealed at a meeting in The Angler’s Rest Hotel next Monday, December 5.

The survey asked respondents to reveal how often they frequent the town centre, and why – as well as offering their opinion on public amenities and observations about how they would like to see the town centre change and develop.

“Clearly, there is much to love about Headford, with respondents highlighting a friendly community, nearby historical sites, sports amenities, location, and culture and music as the best things about the area,” said the report.

“What’s less heartening is that while almost half of survey respondents visit the town daily, only six per cent shop in the town’s Main Street area (including High Street and Bridge Street) daily, and only nine per cent socialise in the same area weekly.

“In contrast, 58% of respondents stated they do not socialise in Headford very often. Taken as a whole, the survey highlights a need for the revitalisation of the town centre,” the survey states.

Local Cllr Andrew Reddington (FG) said that the findings were disturbing finding and intervention was needed – as he believed that rural towns needed to be salvaged.

“The survey findings are startling and there needs to be communication between businesses in Headford and community groups in an effort to rectify the situation,” he said.

“It obviously suggests that people from the area are travelling elsewhere which is not a good thing and has to be addressed,” Cllr Reddington added.

Aisling Keogh of Reimagine Headford said that demise of Headford’s town centre had prompted their Headford Town Team decided to organise this survey, with the support of Galway County Council.

“A concern about the demise of Headford’s town centre led Headford Town Team to make their application for the programme, with the key aim of making the town a more enjoyable place to be, and a better place to live, work and visit,” she said.

“Over a period of months, the team worked with architect Deirdre Greaney to consider a renewed vision for the town, which culminated in a hidden space at the heart of the town was reimagined as a public space where people could meet and spend time.

“This event was planned in response to information gathered in the Reimagine Headford Community Survey, undertaken by the team for the purposes of gathering people’s thoughts and ideas on Headford town centre, and where a lack of public recreational spaces was identified as an issue for the town.”

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Connacht Tribune

State subvention saves the day as Galway County Council passes budget

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A last-minute Government subvention of €2.75 million has enabled Galway County Council to ‘balance the books’ in their budget for 2023 without any increase in Local Property Tax (LPT) or in rates.

Councillors voted to approve the almost €158 million budget for the local authority in the coming year with spending increases approved across a number of areas, according to Cathaoirleach, Cllr. Moegie Maher (FG).

Cllr. Maher paid a special thanks to councillors, Oireachtas members and Council officials who had made the case over recent weeks and months for a ‘Galway specific’ extra allocation of funding to be made.

Galway County Council Chief Executive, Jim Cullen, told Monday’s budget meeting in County Hall that there had been an increase in overall central government funding of €14 million for 2023, €12m of which applied to annual payroll costs.

However, he pointed out that an additional allocation of €2.75m was ‘specific to Galway County Council’ but added that the local authority needed additional funding for almost all areas of expenditure.

In a report presented to the meeting by Cllr. Liam Carroll (FG), he outlined that while Budget 2023 for the Council showed an increase of over €14 million (9.8%) as compared to the 2022 figure, there was ‘no getting away from the fact that Galway Co. Council continued to be grossly under-funded’.

Cllr. Carroll said that the 2023 per capita spend [based on head of population] was just €819 for Galway, as compared to €1,354 for Galway City Council; €1,286 for Mayo Co. Council; €1,236 (Kerry); €1,052 (Donegal); €1,056 (Sligo); and €1,191 (Clare).

“With a population of 192,995 [Census ‘21], County Galway County is 55,764 ahead of Mayo; Tipperary (+25,334), Donegal (+26,674), and Kerry (+37,737).

“However, each of those other counties far exceeded the Gross Expenditure Budgets of Galway County Council in 2022. This imbalance must be corrected as a matter of urgency,” said Cllr. Carroll.

He added that only for the late allocation of €2.75m from the Dept. of Local Government, increases in housing maintenance (nearly €484,000 or 31%); almost €484,000 in community/enterprise; economic development (over €429,000) and in street cleaning (+€200,000), would not have been possible.

Cllr. Carroll said that the ‘Galway specific’ extra allocation had also made possible increases in library expenditure, the hiring of lifeguards and for maintenance work on piers and harbours.

Fianna Fail councillor, Ivan Canning, said that even with the extra €2.7m allocation, Galway County Council would not be better off in 2023 than they were this year, due to increasing energy costs and inflation.

Cllr. Gerry Finnerty (FF) said that he would support the budget on the basis of the extra allocation of funding that had been made. “I hope though that every year we won’t have to be going back and knocking on the Minister’s door for last minute funding,” he said.

An amendment to the Council’s 2023 Budget – proposed by Cllr. Joe Byrne (FG) and seconded by Cllr. Timmy Broderick (Ind.) – tabled to avert any increase in rates through 2023, was passed.

The Council Executive had proposed a rates increase of 6%, but Cllr. Byrne’s proposal [carried by 30 votes to 7] contained a four-point provision to avoid that hike.

His proposal included a reduction in the Rate Rebate of €300,000; a reduction in Bad Debt provision of €500,000; an increase in Rent from Houses of over €254,000; an allocation of €300,000 from Rates Compensation; and a transfer of €609,000 from the Council’s capital fund.

Independent North Galway Councillor, Declan Geraghty, said that any increase in rates would be unthinkable in the current economic climate. “Do you realise the pressure that shops and small businesses across towns and villages are under – get real,” said Cllr. Geraghty.

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