01 June 2006

A nation outraged

Irish Examiner

By Shaun Connolly, Political Correspondent
01 June 2006

OVERWHELMING public outrage at the looming early release of up to six child rapists rocked the Government to its core last night and left Justice Minister Michael McDowell fighting for his political survival.

His honesty was called into question by Labour leader Pat Rabbitte after 24 hours of apparent Government confusion over events leading up to the freeing of a self-confessed rapist of a 12-year-old girl.

The wave of anger which flooded radio phone-in shows and led to the spontaneous organisation of a mass march on the Dáil tomorrow left Fianna Fáil TDs reeling.

And in a major climbdown for the Government last night, Mr McDowell said emergency legislation to restore the crime of statutory rape would be rushed through tomorrow.

Mr McDowell told the Seanad that he would restore protection for children under the age of 15 and that the debate was being moved forward by five days.

Mr McDowell attempted to regain the political initiative last night by telling the Seanad he had “no inkling” until last Tuesday of the Supreme Court case which led to the striking down of statutory rape laws as unconstitutional. He said had he been aware of the case, no legislation could have been introduced while it continued as it would have undermined the State’s arguments.

Tánaiste Mary Harney earlier told the Dáil the Justice Department had been informed of the case by the Chief State Solicitors Office in November 2002.

She said an “information deficit” had then followed.

She apparently contradicted Mr McDowell’s claim the Director of Public Prosecutions handled “the carriage” of the case, by revealing the Attorney General’s office was also involved in it.

Mr Rabbitte insisted Mr McDowell had questions to answer regarding his “truthfulness” in the matter: “Serious questions now arise as to the competence and honesty of the Minister for Justice.”

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said Mr McDowell’s position was “incredible”.

“Is there any greater risk than the unconstitutionality of a law that lets the rapist of young children walk free in society to do it again possibly and with the spectre of the possibility of others following him out there?” Mr Kenny said.

The political storm raged as the Supreme Court agreed to hear an application by the State tomorrow to appeal the High Court decision to release a 41-year-old man, Mr A, jailed for having sex with a girl aged 12.

The girl’s mother said she did not believe her daughter would survive the recent turn of events. She called for a meeting with Mr McDowell after saying she found out about the release in a newspaper.

“I went to court on the Monday and it was like reliving it all again. He’s out and I can’t believe it, he should still be in jail, and even for the time he got he should have got more,” she said.

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