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Trial collapses of teacher charged with sexual exploitation

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The trial of a teacher charged with the sexual exploitation of a pupil over an eight-month period, came to an abrupt end last week when the girl admitted to a jury that it had never happened.

The man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, had denied eight charges of using a child for sexual exploitation, by inviting, inducing or coercing the child to engage in sexual, indecent or obscene acts, contrary to Section 3 (2) of the Child Trafficking and Pornography Act 1998, on dates between December, 2011, and July, 2012.

The alleged offences came to light when the girl went to her school principal, accompanied by her parents on June 27, 2012 and made a complaint about the teacher.

The girl, who is now aged 20, told a jury of six men and six women at Galway Circuit Criminal Court on Wednesday that the man had taught her for the three-year junior cycle at and when she was in third year, then aged 15, he asked to ‘friend’ her on Facebook.

She agreed and after that she gave him her phone number.

The young woman sobbed as she told the trial the man regularly texted her and he would pick her up at weekends in his car.  She said he would give her bottles of Buckfast, cigarettes and phone credit.

She claimed that he brought her to isolated locations where he would perform a sexual act on himself or get her to do it for him.

Under cross-examination by Garnet Orange, SC, defending, the witness admitted she was drinking heavily and her parents were having difficulties controlling her when she was 15.

She admitted that while drunk on one occasion she went off in a van with a group of men she didn’t know and her friends were worried about her.

She also admitted, during cross-examination that she had asked the teacher to send her a friend request on Facebook and she regularly texted him to meet her for the purpose of getting alcohol, cigarettes or money from him.

Mr Orange said the witness had asked his client to send her a friend request and he foolishly did that.

“Some time after that you and he became a little bit closer.  He started confiding in you even though at the time he was in his late forties and you were 15.  That was odd but you learnt a lot about his family circumstances.

“He was a shy, quiet man who was going through a lot at the time and was drinking a lot. He told you that he needed help and you later described him to Gardai as a shy and nervous man and a bit ‘innocent’ and he befriended you,”  Mr Orange put to the witness.

During further cross-examination the witness said she could not remember exact dates or the frequency of the alleged incidents in the man’s car because she was drunk at the time.

Mr Orange put it to her that she was blackmailing his client.  He said his client and the girl had started kissing once but it had been a very brief incident.  He said that was all that happened between them and that the girl had begun to blackmail his client so that she could have a regular supply of alcohol, cigarettes, cash and phone credit.

“You contacted him whenever you needed alcohol or phone credit and he would just drive to meet you and hand out two bottles of Buckfast and then just drive away,” Mr Orange said.

“Yeah,” she replied.

The girl claimed she would go on some occasions with the accused in his car “as part of the transaction” and perform a sexual act on him.

“After this happened the first time, why did you get back into his car a second or third time?” Mr Orange asked.

“Because I was getting free drink,” she replied sobbing.

Mr Orange put it to her that her sister became concerned when she noticed she had more money than she should have had.

The witness agreed the money had come from the accused.

“The two of you started to kiss and it was all a very, very brief incident and that was the extent of if and I suggest that is the reason all of his happened.

“You had this thing over him,” Mr Orange said.

“I was only 15,” the woman sobbed.

“We all know that but perhaps, you were a lot more worldly-wise than a lot of 15-year-olds,” Mr Orange put to her.

The girl admitted she could have once said to the accused:  “If you get me drunk, I’ll ride you.”

Mr Orange conceded she might not have intended to do that, but that had been the expression she had used.

Mr Orange said his client started to refuse to get alcohol for the girl on the fifth occasion they met and he put it to the witness that she got “nasty” after that.

“You told him, ‘I’ll make you pay for what you did to me,’ didn’t you?” he said.

“I could have done,” the witness replied.

“The awfulness of what had happened became apparent to him; that you knew you had him ‘over a barrel’.  You had his neck in a noose and the only question was, when were you going to pull the lever?

“Even after the meeting with the school principal in June 2012, you were sending my client ‘call me’ text messages but he just wanted ‘out’.

He was buying you drink, cigarettes and phone credit and was so tormented he even gave you cash.

“You and your friends decided to have this eejit to come any weekend, at the drop of a hat, and give you drink and cigarettes and leave after a couple of minutes and this situation carried on until June 2012 to your benefit

“Then, your sister found out about it and it all kicked off from there and that was the end of ‘the gravy train’,” Mr Orange put to the witness.

“You were blackmailing him but the only thing that happened between you was that one kiss.”

Mr Orange said to the witness that his client did accept he had behaved “extremely badly” and that he should never have engaged in such contact with a pupil.

“But he saw you as a shoulder to cry on, not withstanding the age difference. He took you to be a friend and he never asked you to perform sexual acts,” Mr Orange said.

“I’m accepting it never happened,” the witness replied to the surprise of everyone present.

Judge Rory McCabe immediately sent the jury home for the night and on Thursday morning, Mr Shane Costelloe SC, prosecuting, said – in the absence of the jury – the DPP was withdrawing all eight charges against the accused and wished to enter a nolle prosequi in the matter.

Judge McCabe told the jurors the trial was not proceeding any further and he discharged them.

Connacht Tribune

Joint move by Galway councils to Crown Square ruled out

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A senior Department of Housing official floated the idea of Galway County Council workers moving to Galway City Council’s newly-acquired Crown Square office building if a merger of the two local authorities was to proceed.

However, he was told the proposed merger of Galway’s two councils was not being pursued “at this stage”, and that it “should not be a consideration” when deliberating on the City Council’s application to the Department for a €45.5m loan approval to buy the offices in Mervue, on the eastern side of the city.

The discussion was contained in internal communications between officials in the Department of Housing and Local Government who were discussing Galway City Council’s loan sanction application. It was released to the Connacht Tribune under Freedom of Information (FOI).

Gary McGuinn, the Department’s Assistant Principal Officer for Local Government Governance and Elected Members – in a comprehensive memo about the Council’s loan application – raised the prospect of what would happen if a merger between the two councils proceeded.

“Over the years there have been merger proposals for Galway City Council and Galway County Council. These proposals ultimately never advanced but I believe that there has been incrementally closer coordination between both executives.

“Galway is now something of a holdout given that mergers have taken place in Limerick and Waterford, while the boundary issue was settled in Cork by extending it to encompass the city suburbs and outlying districts.

“Both Galway City Council and Galway County Council have office premises in Galway city centre. On a purely speculative note, one could ponder what would happen to the new City Hall building that they want to borrow to fund if there is an eventual merger?

“Possibly it would become the HQ for a ‘Galway Metropolitan District’ structure within a single ‘City and County’ type local authority. As there is no such proposal at this time though it’s probably not something that can be asked about or planned for,” Mr McGuinn said to his colleague, Tim Nuttall, an official in the Department’s Local Government Finance section.

His views were forwarded to another section within the Department of Housing last September, just before Minister Darragh O’Brien sanctioned the loan application last September.

In response, another civil servant in the Department of Housing, Áinle Ní Bhriain, said: “I can confirm there are no plans to pursue a merger of Galway City Council and Galway County Council, which was approved by Government in 2018, at this stage, and therefore should not be a consideration in relation to this loan.”

Chief Executive of Galway City Council, Brendan McGrath, confirmed two days before Christmas Eve last year, that the deal to buy the property from JJ Rhatigan was complete.

City Council workers are due to move to the new building by the end of this year.

In its loan application, the City Council said its College Road site, built 40 years ago, and refurbished and extended in the 2000s, had a number of “challenges”.

These included “limited capacity for additional headcount, lack of facilities within current infrastructure, building standard compliance and meeting our existing building climate targets for 2030”.

It pointed out to the Department that it leases two buildings in the city centre, to accommodate staff as well as City Hall, and buying Crown Square “will address the challenges outlined in the most efficient and cost-effective way and release our current City Hall, city centre site for regeneration”.

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Connacht Tribune

Hotel sector’s plea to retain lower VAT rate

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With overseas visitors down more than a quarter and increases of 300% in energy bills compared to before the pandemic, now is not the time to hike VAT rates for hospitality.

That is the plea from the chairperson of the Galway branch of the Irish Hotels Federation (IHF), John Ryan, who is urging the Government to keep the 9% VAT rate for the tourism and hospitality sectors indefinitely.

The Government delayed the introduction of a 13.5% rate until March 1 at a cost of €250 million to help the sector get back on its feet after Covid.

Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohue referred to price gouging in hotels over the summer as one of the key reasons he was upping the rate.

Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media Catherine Martin last week stated that it was no secret she had sought the retention of the 9% rate in negotiations for the 2023 Budget and “will continue to seek it”.

The lobby group for small to medium business, ISME, has called for the reduced VAT rate to be brought in for the entire services sector.

The owner of the Ardilaun Hotel in Taylor’s Hill said the average price of a hotel room was €167 last year. With 4,000 rooms in Dublin booked out to accommodate refugees, the price of the remaining stock was at a premium.

“You could find a couple of examples all over the country where people were charging unfair prices and were wrong. There were a few serious spikes – maybe 1% of overall accommodation stock in Dublin did that. If I was a customer I wouldn’t pay it,” Mr Ryan said.

“But they shouldn’t penalise the entire sector because of that 1%. The 9% is the right one. We would be the same as other countries where tourism is a key industry. If we went up to 13.5%, we’d be the second highest after Denmark.

“We couldn’t absorb that. We have already contracted our foreign business for 2024/25 – we’d have to go out and tell suppliers we are putting up rates. That’s just not on.”

With almost all key tourism markets experiencing a cost-of-living crisis, the last thing the industry can cope with is a tax jump.

Of 27 EU countries, the VAT rate on accommodation is 9% or lower in 16 countries.

Tourism supports 22,000 jobs throughout Galway, generating €910 million in tourism revenues annually for the local economy.

Last year the average room occupancy levels were 69% for the West, just 1% lower than national rates. Over the same period in 2019, however, room occupancy was at 78% nationally.

This is largely due to a shortfall in overseas visitors to Ireland, with numbers still down more than 25% last year compared to 2019.

A recent survey found that hotels and guesthouses were reporting reduced levels of forward bookings compared to the same time in 2019.

Some 57% report reduced bookings from Great Britain, 48% say bookings are down from Northern Ireland, while 37% record fewer bookings from the rest of Europe. US bookings are down 41%.

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Connacht Tribune

Irish Water representatives asked to explain frequent East Galway problems

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Irish Water will be urged to attend a full plenary meeting of Galway County Council to explain frequent problems with the public water supply in East Galway.

A motion calling on them to answer questions before councillors proposed by Cllr Shane Curley (FF) received unanimous support from across the chamber.

The motion comes amid prolonged unplanned outages across the county, with Loughrea Municipal District councillors repeatedly raising the difficulties affecting their area.

“What has been happening in recent months is verging on the ridiculous. Outages have been prolonged to the degree that they’re having a seriously negative impact on people’s lives,” he said.

“Other utility companies like Electric Skyline have come to council meetings in the past and presented to councillors about the work that they are doing. This is urgently needed for clarity to be given from Irish Water at this point.

‘We have had horrendous issues in towns like Loughrea and Gort, where people have been on prolonged bottled water notices. Manholes around Loughrea town have fallen into serious disrepair, causing trip hazards.

“Irish Water is funded by the taxpayer and the public deserve crystal clear information as to what has been happening across the county.”

A boil notice was in place in the Gort area for a month, including over the Christmas and New Year period.

The notice was originally issued due to issues at the Gort Water Treatment Plant, affecting the treatment and supply for 2,776 customers supplied by the Gort Public Water Supply Scheme.

Irish Water’s Eoin Hughes said several issues came together which resulted in the advice not to drink or use the water without boiling.

“Before the cold weather took hold there were numerous leaks on the network and these drained reservoirs to low levels across the scheme. Low reservoir levels were further compounded by unprecedented temperatures of -8°C which caused severe operational difficulties at the treatment plant, leading to the plant being shut down for unsustainable periods of time, further impacting supply continuity.”

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