Man who choked girlfriend after she refused to eat dinner he cooked is jailed

Stephen Coveney-Ryan (26) pleaded guilty to threatening to kill his former partner, in addition to assaulting her and producing a knife
Man who choked girlfriend after she refused to eat dinner he cooked is jailed

Stephen Maguire

A man who tried to choke his girlfriend after she refused to eat a dinner he had cooked for her has been jailed for a total of three years.

Stephen Coveney-Ryan turned on Roisin MacNeilis after she had invited him into her home after he had become homeless after the pair had met at Dublin's BusÁras just a few weeks earlier.

He threatened to kill her and her family and "bury them in a shallow grave" after exploding one day in a fit of rage.

Coveney-Ryan (26) appeared before Letterkenny Circuit Court in Co Donegal where he pleaded guilty to threatening to kill Ms MacNeilis, assaulting her and producing a knife.

The couple had met only a few weeks earlier on St Patrick's Day, March 17th, 2021, by chance at Dublin's BusÁras and kept in contact by text. However, Coveney-Ryan called Ms MacNeilis one day and said he was homeless.

She invited him to stay with her at her home in Donegal town and they began a relationship. However, as the weeks went on, Ms MacNeilis claimed he changed and became aggressive and jealous.

On July 10th, the accused finally snapped and attacked Ms MacNeilis.

The court was told the accused had made dinner but Ms MacNeilis said she was not hungry and decided to eat a bowl of cereal instead.

He went for a walk and when he came back, they initially went to separate bedrooms, but Coveney-Ryan later got into the bed beside Ms MacNeilis and began to attack her.


He put his elbow into her neck and then put his hands around her neck and she was finding it hard to breath. Ms MacNeilis said she thought she was going to die at this point.

She managed to get to the front door, but there were no keys in it and he followed her into the bathroom and began choking her again.

He constantly shouted at Ms MacNeilis, who was eight weeks pregnant at the time, and told her she was not fit to be a mother. He said  he was going to drown her and kill them both, the court heard.

During the course of the attack he is also charged with producing a fishing knife.

The abuse continued until she finally managed to jump out the window.

She drove to the woods around Harvey's Point near Donegal town and charged her phone, to which she began receiving threatening messages and calls.

In the calls, the accused said he was going to chop her up and feed her to pigs, adding he would also kill her parents and put them into the boot of the car and bury them in a shallow grave.

She told her parents about the ordeal and on July 12th, she contacted gardaí and made a statement of complaint.

Coveney-Ryan, of O'Clerigh Avenue, Donegal town but originally from Co Tipperary, was arrested and taken to Ballyshannon Garda station to be interviewed.

The court was told he admitted to hitting the victim but said he suffered from mental health issues and disagreed with many of the claims put to him, including that he choked Ms MacNeilis.

However, he later admitted the claims and claimed he was "psychotic" on the night and that he could not believe he had said such things to her.

Previous offences

The court was told the accused has a number of previous charges for various incidents including burglary, theft, intoxication, breach of a barring order, possession of drugs and using threatening and abusive language.

His barrister, David Byrnes, said his client was a lot calmer from the messages he had left on his victim's phone, adding he was also visibly upset when he heard the recordings again.

Mr Byrnes said psychologist Dr Kevin Lambe had interviewed his client and said he was a man who needed help to navigate him through the psychotic episodes he was experiencing.

During his time in remand in prison, Coveney-Ryan has completed a number of courses including an 'alternative to violence' and Irish Red Cross course, Mr Byrnes said.

He added the accused's behaviour was unacceptable and had no place in society, but asked Judge John Aylmer to craft rehabilitation into his sentence, suggesting this was the most suitable direction.

Ms MacNeilis sat at the back of the courtroom nursing the couple's infant daughter while a garda read out her victim impact statement to the court.

Her statement said she felt like she went from being the luckiest woman around, to living in a horror show when she met Coveney-Ryan.

She said how she had spent time working with the homeless and could not understand how the accused treated her so badly when she took him in.

She added that she had hoped she would spend the rest of her life with him, but now questions if any of it was real and asks herself if she will ever be able to trust anybody again.

She also admitted that she fears for herself and her daughter when her ex-partner is released from prison.

Passing sentence, Judge John Aylmer said the fact that a knife was produced during the incident only added to the victim's terror, placing it in the mid-range of such offences, meriting a sentence of five years in prison before mitigation.

The judge took into account Coveney-Ryan's admission of guilty, plea and genuine remorse, noting he had done a number of courses while in jail.

Judge Aylmer noted the accused had a difficult upbringing and has been diagnosed with an emotionally unstable personality disorder.

The judge reduced the sentence to four years and suspended the final 12 months to encourage his rehabilitation.

The sentence was also backdated to when Coveney-Ryan went into custody, and the judge also ordered him to abstain from alcohol and drugs and to comply with the prison resettlement programme.

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, you can contact Women’s Aid (24-hour freephone helpline at 1800-341 900, email or Men’s Aid Ireland (confidential helpline at 01 554 3811, email for support and information. 

Safe Ireland also outlines a number of local services and helplines at In the case of an emergency, always dial 999/112. 

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