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Connacht Tribune

Sexual violence casts long shadow on our doorstep



The amount of sexual abuse, violence and rape in our society has been an eye-opener for Cathy Connolly, Executive Director of Galway Rape Crisis Centre (GRCC).

“What I didn’t realise, and what a lot of people don’t realise, is the extent of abuse. It’s so prevalent,” she says, 16 months in to her new role as head of the city-based non-governmental organisation.

“Most people will know somebody who was sexually abused, or raped, and they don’t know it, because an awful lot of people who have been sexually abused don’t want to say it because of all the stigma that’s attached to it.”

The subject matter is so shocking, people are often afraid to confide in their friends or family. And that’s where GRCC comes in.

“We offer help and a service to people who have suffered sextual trauma and sexual abuse, through non-judgemental counselling and through advocacy. If someone who was abused was homeless, for example, our counsellor would work as an advocate for them,” says Ms Connolly.

GRCC is the second biggest in the country after Dublin, and its remit includes North Clare and Roscommon. People are referred to the service by Gardaí, social workers, Sexual Assault Treatment Unit (SATU), by supporters like family or friends, or self-referrals.

Nobody is turned away, she insists.

“We’re non-political. I can’t stress it enough. We are for everybody, no matter what their sexual orientation is, no matter what their religion, colour, creed or gender. We don’t care who you are. We are here to serve the people that have been abused. It is a service for all,” she says.

The vast majority of cases are women, but the male taboo around the subject is beginning to be broken and more men who have been abused are coming forward for help.

“A total of 12% of our clients were male last year. There’s a perception that we’re just for women; we’re not just for women, we are for everybody. People are realising that now and we are getting more men in because they are no longer afraid to come in,” she says.

The majority of people who contact the centre at Forster Court are historic child sexual abuse cases. Whereas SATU deals with sexual assaults victims in the immediate aftermath, including for forensic evidence, GRCC offers a service in the medium to long term.

Counselling given by GRCC typically takes six to ten weeks for ‘new’ cases, but for historic cases it can be much longer.

“Evidence shows that if you are raped, and come fairly immediately for help, you recover easier, you recover quicker, because it’s a new trauma. But a trauma that’s embedded in a person for as long as they’re alive, is very difficult. If it’s taken them 30 years or 40 years or 50 years to come to us, it’s not going to disappear in six sessions,” she says.

Counselling isn’t forever but the sessions are designed to give people coping mechanisms for every day life.

“No-one is ever cured. There isn’t a cure. What our counsellors do is help people to understand things and to become at ease with themselves and to maybe live with what has happened to them, especially when it is people they know, or family members.

“That’s very hard, and it’s very complex. It could be your brother, or your father, or your sister that is abusing you. You love that person and yet this is going on. It’s to help the person understand all that and what’s going on, and to help them, not to go mad, I suppose. To come to terms with it.”

Ms Connolly’s belief about the prevalence of sexual abuse are backed-up by the figures. Though it is always changing, last week there were 22 on GRCC’s ‘priority’ waiting list, and 20 on the long-term list.

Three or four new people arrive looking for help every week. In a typical month, there are between 220 and 250 appointments.

There are 11 part-time counsellors working 2.5 whole time equivalent hours but Ms Connolly says the centre needs at least twice that number of counsellors. GRCC has an outreach centre in Ballinasloe, and there are plans to set one up in Tuam and possibly Gort and Connemara as well.

“The whole thing is to make them feel safe when they come to us, and they are listened to and they are believed, and they are helped and they are given skills and taught ways of coping. Your very inner being has been destroyed. It is just so personal the violation. I’ve always thought sex between two people is the most intimate thing. But the whole impact of people doing that to another human being against their will, is massive.

“It’s just awful and humiliating and they feel like a piece of dirt. To get them back up from there, to seeing that ‘no, this isn’t your fault, this is never your fault’, someone raping you is a crime and is always going to be a crime. People talking about drink and saying ‘sure she was pissed’. It doesn’t matter. She was only pissed. No-one has a right to rape somebody,” adds Ms Connolly.

You can call or text Galway Rape Crisis Centre free telephone helpline service 1800 355355

Connacht Tribune

Tests reveal high pollution levels close to Barna bathing spot



New bathing water testing in Barna has revealed dangerously high levels of pollution at an inlet stream that discharges into the local pier which is a popular bathing spot.

Galway County Council confirmed that it had recently started sampling at Mags’ Boreen Beach in the village and at the inlet stream that feeds into the pier.

The results from May 26 show levels of E.coli at 198,636 cfu/100 ml and Enterococci at 2,900 cfu/100 ml at the stream. Cfu (colony-forming unit) is a measurement used to estimate the number of viable bacteria or fungal cells in a sample.

Mags’ Boreen Beach was 86 for E.coli and 7 for Enterococci at low tide.

The levels of both pollutants in the water for it to be deemed ‘sufficient quality’ are 500 and 185 cfu/100ml respectively.

E.coli is a bacteria that lives in the gut of humans and animals. Some types can cause illnesses such as diarrhoea, abdominal pain, fever and vomiting and can be life-threating to infants and people with poor immune systems.

Enterococci are bacteria which indicate contamination by faecal waste that can cause disease in the skin, eyes, ears and respiratory tract.

Galway County Council Secretary Michael Owens said the Council would continue to monitor water quality at these locations during the bathing season.

“The monitoring results for the inlet stream to the pier are concerning and may indicate a risk of poor water quality at the pier. Local people have noted that young people use the pier area for swimming,” he stated.

“The results of monitoring of Mags’ Boreen Beach indicates that the water quality was compliant with the standards for excellent water quality. Further sampling will be carried out during the bathing season.

“We will carry out further investigations to try to identify any sources of contamination in the catchment. We have already installed a sign at the inlet stream noting that the inlet stream is contaminated and may pose a risk to health.”

Chairperson of Barna Tidy Towns, Dennis O’Dwyer, said there had been a lot of speculation for years about the stream polluting the water.

“It’s extremely high but at least we now know that the stream has a problem while Mag’s Boreen Beach is safe,” he said.

“We will probably now ask the Council to go further upstream where two streams converge at Donnelly’s Pub, one under The Twelve Hotel and other beside the bus stop so we can eliminate if individual houses or housing estates not linked to the sewage pipes are causing the pollution.”

The group will also request testing at Barna Pier which is a popular jumping off point.

“It’s not a designated swimming area but people do swim there, including children. I don’t think anyone has ever been sick but we’d rather know because a lot of kids do jump in.”

Mr Owens said it can be very difficult to identify sources of pollution in a stream or river as it is generally a combination of multiple sources.

“The majority of properties in the village are connected to the public wastewater scheme, which is pumped to the Galway City public wastewater treatment plant. There is a possibility that some properties that should be connected to the public wastewater scheme are misconnected.

“Other possible sources in the catchment include private wastewater treatment systems connected to individual homes, housing estates and businesses and discharges from agricultural activities. Galway County Council intends to carry out inspections of private wastewater treatment plants in the area and will issue advisory notices if issues are identified.”

The catchment has been put forward as a Priority Area for Action for the next cycle of the River Basin Management Plan which is scheduled to commence in 2022. If this is approved, additional resources will be available for investigations in the catchment.

There is no requirement on the Council to notify the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as the sample of concern was taken from an inlet stream. The local authority is required to notify the EPA in the event of non-compliances at all designated bathing areas. The inlet stream is not a designated bathing area as it is too shallow.

“If necessary, additional signs will be put in place at the pier,” added the County Secretary.

“The EPA advise that after a heavy rainfall event it is best to avoid recreational water activities at a beach or bathing area for at least 48 hours to protect public health. It is especially important in areas where sewage may pose a risk.”

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Connacht Tribune

Community’s delight at club’s first ever Irish rugby international



Members of Monivea Rugby have expressed their delight at the naming of one of their own in the Irish team for this year’s summer series – with Caolin Blade looking set to be the clubs first to don the Irish jersey as a new era at his home club gets underway.

Blade, who is part of a 37-man squad named by Head Coach Andy Farrell this week that will take on Japan and the USA in two test matches in Dublin this July, exemplifies what can be achieved by a player from a small club in the West of Ireland, according to its recently appointed President Anthony Killarney.

“The sense of elation and pride in the club is immense, to see the Blade name on the Irish squad sheet. A very well-deserved achievement and timely indeed, based on his performances for Connacht.

“Caolin is showing such a great example – on and off the pitch – of what can be achieved through dedication and hard work to all the young players in Monivea RFC. We are all so proud today, and for this to happen as we approach our 50th year celebrations,” said Mr Killarney.

Caolin’s dad Pat was Monivea’s star player for years, he added, so to see his son rise up to international rugby was no surprise.

Blade’s naming on Monday coincides with a shakeup at the club that includes the election of a new committee aiming to grow the club and achieve the long-held goal of building a clubhouse.

As well as Mr Killarney becoming President, Carmel Laheen has been elected Vice President, while local councillor Shelly Herterich Quinn has taken the position of Chairperson.

Speaking to the Connacht Tribune this week, Cllr Herterich Quinn said she’d been involved in the club for almost ten years and was hugely honoured to take the role, as she paid tribute to the outgoing President, Pádraic McGann.

“I was delighted to receive the nomination for Chair from Pádraic McGann and I want to sincerely thank Padráic for everything he has achieved for rugby in Monivea over the past 49 years. It is absolutely true to say that without Pádraic’s grit and determination, we would not have a rugby club to go to every week, to play the game we love so much,” she said.

“2021 has been a significant years in more ways than one, but in particular here at Monivea RFC where one of the main figures in all things rugby for the last 49 years will take a back seat as we face into exciting times. Affectionately known as Mr Monivea, Pádraic McGann has been the driving force behind Monivea Rugby since 1972 which he founded, based on his love and enthusiasm for the game.”

The new committee comes from a wide variety of backgrounds, she said, and share a determination to build on the clubs successes – and to produce more players like Caolin Blade.

“The absence of a clubhouse is notable but we know that with the determination of the new committee, and the help of all our members, Monivea RFC will soon put down some solid foundations and continue to build on what has already been achieved in this wonderful club,” said Cllr Herterich Quinn.

“What better way to mark 50 years of rugby in the small picturesque village of Monivea than the opening of a clubhouse.”

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Connacht Tribune

Man jailed for using coercive behaviour to control family



A man whose young children fear for their mother’s safety once he is released from custody, has been sentenced to three years in prison for using coercion to control his family.

Imposing the sentence at Galway Circuit Criminal Court this week, Judge Rory McCabe concurred with the findings of psychiatric and probation reports handed into court, that 49-year-old Paul Harkin posed a high risk of reoffending and of committing violence against his partner.

Harkin, a native of Derry who formerly lived with his wife and two children near Kilchreest, Loughrea, pleaded guilty before the court last January to knowingly and persistently engaging in behaviour that was controlling or coercive on a date unknown between June 24 and August 13 last year at an unknown location, which had a serious effect on a woman who is or was his spouse, and the behaviour was such that a reasonable person would consider it likely to have a serious effect on a relevant person, contrary to Section 39 (1) and (3) of the Domestic Violence Act, 2018.

Judge McCabe heard evidence at Harkin’s sentence hearing last week but adjourned finalisation of sentence until this week to consider the findings of comprehensive psychiatric and probation reports.

The court heard Harkin believed in several conspiracy theories and his coercive control of his wife and two young children, then aged nine and seven, escalated on the run-up to the children’s impending return to school last September as he feared they would be vaccinated against Covid 19, which he believed was a hoax.

He made veiled threats to his now former wife, Fiona Clarke, that he would burn their house down, and the homes of her extended family without warning, resulting in the loss of twelve lives, if she did not behave and do as she was told.

The court heard Ms Clarke went out to work while her husband stayed at home. He got her to withdraw money from her account on a regular basis and give it to him. He spent most days watching conspiracy videos on his phone and drinking beer, the court heard.

In her victim impact statement, which Ms Clarke read to the court, she said she lived in fear for the future when Harkin got out of prison.

“I went against Paul by speaking out and I am now terrified of the consequences. I don’t know if he will want revenge,” she said.

Detective Sergeant Paul Duane told the court that he arrested Harkin on September 2 last year.

He confirmed Harkin had previous convictions from Northern Ireland in 1998 for threatening to kill a former partner there, for two aggravated burglaries and causing criminal damage for which he had received a two-year suspended sentence.

Judge Rory McCabe said Harkin’s 1998 convictions showed he had ‘form’.

The judge placed the headline sentence at four-and-a-half years which he said, reflected the gravity of the offence, which carries a maximum tariff of five years.

Taking the early plea, Harkin’s expression of remorse, and his intention to leave the jurisdiction and go back to live in Derry as mitigating factors, Judge McCabe said the sentence he had in mind was three years.

However, he decided not to finalise the structure of that sentence until this week, stating this was a complex matter and he needed more time to consider the reports before the court.

Judge McCabe said an immediate custodial sentence was unavoidable and warranted when passing sentence this week.

The judge said he believed Harkin would make no effort to rehabilitate and it was his belief he would pose an ongoing risk of reoffending.

Imposing the three-year sentence, the judge directed Harkin to have no contact with the victims and come under the supervision of the probation service for twelve months on his release from prison.

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