A Donegal man who was a teenager when he carried out four years of sexual abuse on his young niece has been jailed for three and a half years.
The 30-year-old man, who cannot be named to protect the identity of the victim, pleaded guilty to two counts of oral rape and five counts of sexual assault of a child on dates between January 2005 and January 2009.
The Central Criminal Court heard that the defendant, who was aged between 12 and 16 at the time, told the younger child that they were boyfriend and girlfriend and that sexual activity between them was normal.
Sentencing the man on Friday, Ms Justice Karen O'Connor said the abuse had a "considerable and continuous" effect on the victim. She noted the man attempted to “normalise” the abuse by describing it to the child as a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship.
She said the man is now estranged from his family as a result of his "abusive and egregious behaviour".
The judge took into account a number of mitigating factors including that the man was a minor when he committed the crimes and the fact that he fully accepted the victim's narrative of the abuse, in spite of having a cognitive memory deficit. She accepted he is remorseful.
She handed down a sentence of five years and suspended the final 18 months on a number of conditions including that he remain under the supervision of the Probation Service for two years post-release and take part in sex offender programmes.
The judge commended the young woman for her bravery in coming forward about the abuse. The woman was not in court for the sentence, with the court hearing she has gone abroad and wishes to move on with her life.
At a sentencing hearing earlier this year, a garda witness told Phillip Rahn SC, prosecuting, that on April 10th, 2015, the man presented himself at a garda station in a Donegal town with his mother, the victim's grandmother.
The woman told gardaí that her son wished to confess to committing sexual acts on his niece.
The court heard that in March 2015, the victim told a relative of hers that her uncle had sexually abused her while they were in Scotland together. She later revealed that he had also abused her at locations in England, Spain and Donegal.
The girl said the abuse first began in 2005 when she was aged around five and the defendant was aged 12 or 13. The final sexual assault took place in January 2009 when the child was aged nine and the defendant was 16.
The child told gardaí that the defendant would always stand up for her when she got into trouble
The court heard the victim, who is now aged in her 20s, is living outside of Ireland.
In a victim impact statement read out in court by counsel, she said the abuse took away her childhood and teenage years. She said she still suffers flashbacks and feels “scared of the world, especially men”.
“I didn't understand what was happening. He told me we were boyfriend and girlfriend and this was normal and everybody does it.
“He made me believe I was the disgusting one. I thought nobody would believe me. I hope and pray he doesn’t ruin someone else’s life,” the woman said in her statement.
She said she remains traumatised by the abuse and feels she is never going to be able to live a normal life.
The investigating garda agreed with Michael O'Higgins SC, defending, that the accused became upset when interviewed and expressed great remorse for the damage he had done.
He gave an account of a traumatic incident of sexual abuse when he was aged 4, counsel said.
The defendant told gardaí that he had a difficult upbringing and lived a socially isolated life.
Attempting to explain his actions, the defendant told gardaí: “The only reason I can think of is to have control over someone in my life”.
Counsel told the court that his client was a child at the time who had his own very significant difficulties. He said the defendant's repetition of his "repugnant behaviour" was "response driven".
"In so far as he can make amends, he has done that," Mr O'Higgins said.