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Survivor urges others to come forward as abuser jailed

A survivor of childhood sexual abuse has urged others to come forward and seek help after a judge jailed her abuser for five and a half years.

Hannah Irish, who was abused from the age of seven by an older cousin, said today was a day of justice and the start of a new chapter in her life.

Bill Irish was jailed for five and a half years at the Central Criminal Court for the sexual abuse of his cousin Hannah Irish who has waived her anonymity so he can be named.

The now 30-year-old from Mountain Road, Airmount, Slieverue, Kilkenny, was convicted on 29 counts including oral rape and sexual assault after an 11 day trial.

The offending began when he was 12 and his cousin was aged seven. He continued the abuse until she was 12.

Mr Justice Kerida Naidoo commended Ms Irish, now aged 25, for her courage.

He said it was essential that injured parties come forward, not just for themselves but also for other people.

Ms Irish told the court that going to the gardaí was the hardest thing she had ever done, but realising that what happened to her could happen to another child gave her the courage to speak up.

‘Start of the next chapter’

Outside court Ms Irish read a brief statement urging others to come forward and seek help.

She said: “This is the start of the next chapter in my life. The weight of carrying the guilt and shame ends today.

“Taking the step to speak to the guards was freeing. To feel heard and listened to kept me going through these tough six years.

“Having such a strong, immediate family supporting me kept me fighting. Today is a huge day of justice for me and for anybody else affected by abuse.

“Please know it will be OK. And never be afraid to seek help. You really don’t know the strength you really have.”

Mr Justice Kerida Naidoo said Hannah Irish’s victim statement eloquently described the profound impact the abuse had on her

In court Judge Naidoo said her victim impact statement had eloquently described the profound impact the abuse had on her and it was clear that Ms Irish’s youth had been “idyllic” and she was happy on the farm but “the better part of her childhood was poisoned by the abuse to which she was subjected”.

The judge said he had to take into account the age of the abuser when the offences occurred. He said he was legally a child throughout the entire period of offending.

There was an element of a breach of trust as he was the eldest in the group and was looked up to by the younger children, Judge Naidoo said.

He said Irish was “a constant presence in her household” which increased her feelings of isolation and frustation.

While the headline sentence for the offences of oral rape should be 14 years, he reduced it to seven years when taking into account the mitigating factors including his age at the time.

He suspended the final 18 months of that sentence on condition of post release engagement with the Probation Service.

He imposed a five year sentence on the sexual assault offences. All sentences are to be served at the same time.

‘Horrendous secret’

At an earlier sentence hearing Ms Irish described in her victim impact statement a happy early childhood growing up on a farm surrounded by family.

She told how she loved helping out with jobs on the farm, going on the tractor, the thrill of assisting the vet and bringing the cows in with her father.

“There were plenty of people to play with and no apparent danger in sight,” she said.

She said when the abuse began she started to feel different and knew it was a “horrendous secret.”

“My life changed the moment he abused me,” she told the court.

She said Bill was an older cousin so “what he said went.” She said the manipulation and control she was under was “like a spell” and she did what she was instructed to do.

She said she was unable to process the gravity of what was happening to her and was so ashamed and embarrassed, feeling anger and rage inside her. She grew a shell to pretend she was strong.

She described how when others were thinking of their first kiss, she had to swallow the bitter pill that Bill Irish had already taken that from her.

She described having to bury the trauma of seeing him in her everyday life and in her own home, despite suffering nightmares and flashbacks. She began to wonder if life was worth living.

She told the court how sport, particularly camogie, became her outlet and support on her darkest days.

‘Hardest fight of my life’

Ms Irish said she when she finally spoke to gardaí she felt that she was finally heard and listened to and would be forever grateful.

She said this was the start of the “hardest fight of my life”, describing how painful she found the court process.

She said being on the stand for three days during the trial and spending a weekend under oath had been an ordeal but she had enough of being silent.

“Bill you created this pain, no one else but you and your actions,” she said.

He could have finally done something good but chose to put everyone through the trial, Ms Irish said.

She had felt what happened was her fault for so long but now knows she did nothing wrong, she said.

It was now the start of the next chapter of her life, she said, free of the weight of carrying shame.

“I am strong, brave and powerful and I am not going to let this determine my future,” she said.

She told Bill Irish that the burden of shame and guilt was now his to carry. She thanked those who supported her including her family and her partner.

At the sentence hearing Garda Elizabeth Farrell told John O’Kelly SC, prosecuting, that the cousins lived close to each other in the area of their grandparents’ farm. The families spent a lot of time together and the children met regularly to play.

Garda Farrell said the sexual abuse took place near the accused man’s home and in areas where they would play such as fields, a forest and a “camp” they set up by a stream. It took the form of sexual assaults, forced kissing and oral rape.

At a trial late last year a jury convicted him on 29 counts. The jury was unable to reach a verdict on 16 counts.

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