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Connacht Tribune

Suspended sentence for man convicted of sex assault

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A 29-year-old Williamstown man who sexually assaulted a woman as she slept in a friend’s house, has been given a suspended two-year sentence and placed under probation supervision for a year by a Circuit Court judge who believes he has suitably rehabilitated himself and now poses a low risk of reoffending.

Brian Finnegan, from Kilsallagh, Williamstown, went to his parish priest to look for guidance shortly after he sexually assaulted the then-22-year-old woman while he was a guest in a house at University Road in Galway city, on October 15, 2017.

He was subsequently questioned by Garda Vicky Duggan and admitted to her he had ‘tried it on’ with the victim who was alone in the bedroom.

The DPP had directed the charge could be dealt with at District Court level if Finnegan entered a guilty plea, but he pleaded not guilty when the matter came before Galway District Court in 2018 and was sent forward for trial to the higher court.

He changed his plea to guilty in the Circuit Court in October 2019, and sentence was adjourned to February 2020 for the preparation of a victim impact statement and for a probation report on Finnegan.

Garda Vicky Duggan told the sentence hearing then that the young woman had returned to her friend’s house following a girl’s night out and had gone to sleep in her friend’s bed alone.

She woke up during the night to find Finnegan on top of her. She tried to push him off and get up, but he pushed her back onto the bed before sexually assaulting her.

She shouted for help when she saw Finnegan attempting to take off his boxer shorts and managed to push him off her as her friend came into the room to assist her.  Finnegan was told to leave the house immediately afterwards.

He was subsequently interviewed by Garda Duggan who told the court: “He admitted he didn’t know the woman, and had ‘tried it on’ but nothing else happened.”

The woman became upset at times while reading her victim impact statement to the court.

“He took advantage of me.  I woke up to the horror of him trying to undress me against my own free will.  I was living a nightmare, I cried so much that night,” she said.

The incident had left her feeling angry, sad, lonely and sick, she said. She felt she had become a burden to her family and boyfriend and she was always fearful that people would judge her if they knew she had been sexually assaulted.

“I get angry and sad when I hear the words ‘sexual assault’ and ‘rape’,” she sobbed.

Defence barrister, Michael Clancy, apologised to the woman on behalf of his client.

“He was so distraught about this that before telling his family, he went to his parish priest and he gave him guidance on how to deal with this in the appropriate manner,” Mr Clancy said.

A letter from his employer at a Roscommon meat factory along with a “glowing tribute” from his former football club, and a letter from the parish priest were also handed into court.

Judge Rory McCabe said this had been a reckless and unsolicited attempt by the accused to engage in sexual contact with an innocent victim who woke to find him on top of her.

Noting Finnegan had been automatically placed on the Sex Offenders’ Register following his guilty plea, the judge said that while that was a significant penalty in itself, it was justified due to Finnegan’s ‘grossly offensive conduct’.

He placed the headline sentence – before aggravating and mitigating circumstances were taken into account – at three years but adjourned finalisation of sentence to last week’s court to allow the Probation Service complete a full risk assessment of the accused.

Reports outlining Finnegan’s compliance with the Service and his successful rehabilitation to date were handed into court last week.

The risk assessment stated he had been at moderate risk of reoffending  for sexual offences up to last year but that risk was now reduced to ‘low’ as he was doing courses around the issue of consent and sexual assault and had also stopped drinking, taking drugs and had begun to save and not get into debt any more. The Service offered to supervise Finnegan for a further twelve months if the court so wished.

Judge McCabe said the interests of justice would not be served by the imposition of a custodial sentence. He imposed the two-year sentence, suspended for five years and placed Finnegan under the supervision of the Probation Service for the next twelve months.

Connacht Tribune

State to look at plan to protect historic monastic ruins

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Officials from the Office of Public Works have confirmed that they will visit what is widely regarded as the most complete Franciscan monastic ruins in Ireland to see what works are required to save it.

And a local public representative has said that he does not want to be part of a generation that allowed Ross Errilly Franciscan Friary to fall into worse disrepair.

Correspondence sent this week to those who diligently look after the friary has suggested that the OPW’s Head of Historic Properties will come down to establish what emergency works are required.

This follows the recent visit by the Minister for the Office of Public Works Patrick O’Donovan to Ross Errilly Franciscan Friary which dates well back before the 1400s and requires urgent works to be carried out.

Cllr Andrew Reddington (FG) said: “It would be an absolute disgrace if we were the generation that allowed this friary to deteriorate even further.”

It was explained to the Minister while visiting the Abbey that it is in desperate need of emergency works and it was essential that the Minister brought this back to his department.

He was informed that it was around the late 1980s when there was any major works carried out on the abbey by the OPW.

“The abbey needs remedial work urgently as it is falling into disrepair and the main area of concern is the tower.

“There has never been any serious remedial work done on the tower and there has never been scaffolding put up around the outside of it to deal with the exterior of the tower,” Cllr Reddington told The Connacht Tribune.

A local group who met with the Minister explained that there is no electricity at the abbey or any toilet facilities for visiting tourists.

He was informed that the nearest electrical pole is only 200m away, so it wouldn’t be difficult to get electricity to the abbey.

The abbey, he was told, needs electricity which would then mean there would be options in terms of security lighting and closed-circuit television to prevent any vandalism taking place.

Those who look after the Franciscan Friary – including Glen Corbett and former Galway footballer Seamus McHugh – gave a detailed run down of emergency works that need to happen at the abbey.

They said that it was critical that emergency works start as soon as possible to protect the abbey for future generations.

The Minister committed to working with the group on this. The delegation than joined OPW officials and Finna Construction who gave them a tour of the OPW offices in Headford which benefited from a €5 million investment.

This week came the commitment that the OPW would visit the friary to establish the emergency works that need to prioritisation.

(Photo:  Seamus McHugh, Minister Patrick O’Donovan, Glen Corbett and Cllr Andrew Reddington at Ross Errilly Franciscian Friary in Headford)

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Connacht Tribune

Gardaí issue alert over fuel thefts

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Householders, farmers and truckers in the West of Ireland have been advised to put security measures in place to protect their fuel tanks, following a number of thefts over the past month.

While the thefts aren’t an everyday occurrence, Gardaí have advised that with fuel prices likely to remain high over the coming months, basic security precautions should be put in place.

Galway is one of a number of counties where fuel thefts have occurred over recent weeks with home heating oil, trucks and farm diesel in different parts of the country targeted by the thieves.

Sergeant Michael Walsh, Galway Garda Crime Prevention Officer, said that while the number of thefts reported in Galway had been quite small, fuel thievery was still an ongoing problem.

He said that some of the precautions recommended included a secure fencing off, of outdoor fuel tanks with good quality perimeter fencing.

“Fuel tanks that are located away from houses or offices are most at risk and in these situations, robust perimeter fencing, and gates need to be properly secured.

“We are also recommending that people and businesses consider installing alarms, anti-siphoning devices, security lighting and CCTV cameras,” said Sergeant Walsh.

He added that fuel thieves often used small drill and syphoning pump to steal the fuel with the whole operation completed in a matter of minutes.

Last month in Limerick, thieves stole an estimated €500 worth of diesel from trucks parked overnight in a business park – large trucks and artics can have a fuel capacity of over 100 gallons.

“As with a lot of robberies, fuel thieves will tend to pick out the opportunist targets. Fuel is a valuable commodity and basic security measures need to be put in place,” said Sergeant Walsh.

Where businesses have multiple users of their fuel tanks, the Gardaí also advise that a fuel management system should be put in place to record the users as well as the dates and times when they access the supply.

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Connacht Tribune

Housing plan turned down over lack of pedestrian access

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The lack of a pedestrian connection to the town centre was listed as one of the reasons why a development of almost 40 houses has been turned down in Ballinasloe.

The proposed development at Poolboy would have been adjacent to an existing housing estate – but planners cited the lack of connectivity to the town centre as a reason why it was refusing the application.

The plans outlined the provision of a mix of three-bedroom detached and semi-detached houses along with 20 townhouses as part of the 38 unit development.

They were submitted by Crownbell Limited, which is based in Clarinbridge, and sought a connection to the existing access road serving the Cuil na Canalacht estate which was granted permission back in 2012.

However, Galway County Council refused planning on the grounds that the proposed development did not provide sufficient pedestrian access to the wider urban area of Ballinasloe.

They said that to grant planning would pose an intensified risk to the safety of pedestrians and other road users and lead to “unsustainable mobility patterns” in the immediate area.

It was stated that the development would be prejudicial to public safety and contravene the sustainable transport policy objectives of the Galway County Development Plan.

Furthermore, planners said that the site was in an area that is zoned open space recreation and amenity in the Ballinasloe Local Area Plan.

They said that this seeks to protect and enhance such areas for exercise facilities, sports grounds and playing fields and to grant planning would set an undesirable precedent.

Given the site’s location to the River Suck, the applicants submitted an environmental impact assessment and screening report. The development would be around 300 yards from the River Suck Callows.

It was proposed that the development would connect to the existing sewer scheme, and it was stated in a submission that it would not overly burden the system.

However, it was a lack of pedestrian access from the site into the town centre which eventually scuppered the proposed development plan.

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