Cork woman to see stalking legislation debated in Seanad

Cork woman to see stalking legislation debated in Seanad

Stalking victims Una Ring, above, and Eve McDowell came together with the Cork Sexual Violence Centre to launch a campaign seeking specific legislation for stalking. Picture: Larry Cummins

LEGISLATION drafted with the help of Cork stalking victim Una Ring will be brought before the Seanad for debate today.

The Non-Fatal Offences against the Person Stalking (Amendment) Bill will be brought to a second stage debate by Fianna Fáil senator Lisa Chambers.

Una Ring, who is from Youghal, will travel to Leinster House for the debate and says thanks to the many people who have supported the process of the legislation from when she and Sligo woman Eve McDowell came together to develop it.

She said they could not have done it without all the support they received along the way.

On February 4, Ms Ring’s 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, Ms Ring came together with Ms McDowell, who was also a victim of stalking, and the Cork Sexual Violence Centre, to launch a campaign seeking specific legislation for stalking.

The legislation aims to make stalking an offence.

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”.

During Ms Ring’s ordeal, two letters were found on the windscreen of her car, 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 a 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, Ms 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.

“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,” she said.

In April, Ms Ring and Ms 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 of the sentence were suspended.

In 2016, a recommendation was made by the Law Reform Commission (LRC) that stalking be made a distinct offence from harassment. The LRC argued that such a move would underline “the different and more insidious character of the crime” and offer greater protection to the public.

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