Cork stalking victim sees legislation she helped draw up come before Seanad a year on from her ordeal

Cork stalking victim sees legislation she helped draw up come before Seanad a year on from her ordeal

Una Ring came together with Eve McDowell from Sligo, who was also a victim of stalking, and the Cork Sexual Violence Centre, to launch a campaign seeking specific legislation for stalking.

CORK stalking victim Una Ring has seen draft legislation she helped draw up be brought before the Seanad a year on from when she woke to find graffiti on the window of her home by an unknown stalker.

On February 4, her stalker 52-year-old James Steele from Rosscarbery, was jailed for seven years, two of which were suspended, after pleading guilty to harassment, criminal damage and attempted trespass with the intent to commit rape at Ms Ring’s home in Youghal between February 14, 2020 and July 27, 2020.

Following the sentencing, Una came together with Eve McDowell from Sligo, who was also a victim of stalking, and the Cork Sexual Violence Centre, to launch a campaign seeking specific legislation for stalking. 

Yesterday, Fianna Fáil Senator Lisa Chambers introduced the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person (Amendment) (Stalking) Bill 2021. The legislation aims to make stalking an offence.

It is expected to come before the Seanad in September, with hopes it will progress through the Oireachtas and become law.

Under the proposed legislation, stalking is “characterised by repeated, unwanted behaviour that occurs as a result of fixation or obsession and causes alarm, distress or harm to the victim and to provide for related matters”.

Una told The Echo: “This is just step one but we are thrilled. We have put our hearts and souls into it."

Yesterday, Fianna Fáil Senator Lisa Chambers introduced the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person (Amendment) (Stalking) Bill 2021. The legislation aims to make stalking an offence.

She added: “I have been involved with this bill every step of the way.” 

She said the timing of the introduction of the bill is ironic: “This day last year, I woke up to see Xs and Os on my window. We didn’t know at the time who was doing it.” 

The words “I win” were written on the windowsill.

A week earlier, the wheels of her car had been spray-painted a bubble-gum pink.

 Una Ring. Pic: Larry Cummins.
Una Ring. Pic: Larry Cummins.

Two letters were found on the windscreen of her car with disturbing letters on different occasions, with one containing a threat that her harasser would rape her and her daughter unless she agreed to have sex with him.

Two gardaí sat in an unmarked car close to Ms Ring’s home from midnight until 5am nightly, as part of surveillance operation, while a CCTV system was also installed.

Steele was arrested in the early hours of July 27 last year.

In her victim impact statement delivered at his sentencing hearing in February, Una Ring said: “This was not an angry ex-husband or jilted ex-boyfriend - we were not even friends - he was just a man that I worked with and it makes no sense to me and I will never understand why he victimised me and wanted to inflict so much pain on myself and my two children whom he never even met.” 

She added: “As a mother, my instinct is to protect my children and I was powerless to do so once his stalking began - I feel a huge burden of guilt that my children’s lives were put in danger even though it was entirely out of my control.” 

In April, Una and Eve McDowell launched a campaign seeking the introduction of specific stalking legislation.

At present, it is prosecuted under the umbrella offence of harassment, which is part of the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997.

Under that legislation, a person is guilty of an offence if they harass another, by means including by telephone, by “persistently following, watching, pestering, besetting or communicating” with another.

Polish man Igor Lewandowski from Monasterevin, Co Kildare, was sentenced to seven years in prison in May 2020 after pleading guilty to harassing Ms McDowell on dates between May 10 and May 27, 2019, in Galway.

Two years were suspended.

In 2016, a recommendation was made by the Law Reform Commission that stalking be made a distinct offence from harassment.

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