Sonya McLean and Brion Hoban
A separated father who began viewing child pornography after he was sent a link while watching adult pornography online has received a fully suspended sentence.
Gerard O'Neill (69) had to sell his Dublin home after it was attacked by a large group when his criminal behaviour became public knowledge. His home was searched by gardaí in May 2015 following what Diana Stuart BL, prosecuting, described as “reliable information”.
Garda Michelle McGuinness said a laptop, a hard drive and two CDs were taken from O'Neill's home and forwarded for analysis. He was arrested in March 2018 after 225 videos of child pornography were found on the seized items.
O'Neill, who is now living in hostel accommodation, but previously lived at Deerpark Road, Kiltipper Way, Tallaght, Dublin, pleaded guilty to possessing child pornography videos and distributing videos of child pornography at his home on dates between April 15th and May 13th, 2015.
He has no previous convictions and has not come to garda attention since.
Judge Melanie Greally had previously placed O'Neill on a two-year probation bond to keep the peace and be of good behaviour for that period. She ordered that he attend a sex offender treatment programme and follow all directions of his probation officer.
Passing sentence on Wednesday at the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court, Judge Greally said a report from the Probation Service is of the view that O'Neill has developed “very considerable” insight and understanding of his behaviour and the risk factors he has to be alive to into the future.
Judge Greally said he has “paid a very high price” in that he has been “effectively disowned” by his family and has lost his home. She said he finds himself in a position of almost “complete social isolation”.
She said she also took into account what she accepts to be genuine remorse.
Judge Greally sentenced O'Neill to two years imprisonment, but suspended the sentence in its entirety on strict conditions including that he follow all directions of the Probation Service for six months.
She also ordered that O'Neill not have any contact with children except in the presence of their parents for two years.
At a previous sentencing hearing in 2019, the court heard that of the 225 videos, 214 showed pre-teen boys engaged in sexual acts with similarly aged children or adults, while 11 videos showed pre-teen boys with their genital areas exposed.
A chat conversation, during which one video of child pornography was shared, was also retrieved from O'Neill's computer equipment.
Gda McGuinness agreed with Giollaíosa Ó Lideadha SC, defending, that when O'Neill's offending became public, his home was attacked.
She accepted that he later had to sell his home and O'Neill felt he sold it at “an incredible loss because of the damage caused to the property”.
Gda McGuinness agreed with counsel that the distributing offence was “at the lowest end of the scale” and that O'Neill had been “engaging in watching adult pornography when someone sent him a link which transpired to be child pornography”.
Mr Ó Lideadha said his client, although separated since 2000, had helped raise a number of children. He was still in contact with his two younger children at the time of his arrest but has not been in contact with them since.
Counsel said when his client first viewed the link that had been sent to him, he was shocked “but while under the influence of alcohol, he viewed and downloaded the files”.
“It doesn't appear that he went looking for it in the first instance,” counsel said.
Mr Ó Lideadha said a report handed into the court outlined that his client expressed regret for his actions and demonstrated insight into the fact that children were being abused in these videos.
It was stated in the report that “loneliness, curiosity and sexual attraction to males” were the factors that O'Neill claimed led him to view the videos. He was described as a vulnerable man who has “low self-esteem and low self-worth”.
A letter of apology from O'Neill, that was handed into the court, stated: “I assure you I will never repeat this behaviour in the future”.