A former farm labourer has received a suspended sentence after pleading guilty to the sexual abuse of two children over six decades ago, writes Declan Brennan.
John Joe Kiernan (86) with an address at Forthill, Arva, Co Cavan, repeatedly abused the brother and sister when they were aged between four and ten years. He raped the girl in her bedroom and threatened to “bury her” after another attack.
Justice Michael White said that if Kiernan was a younger man the court would be imposing a serious custodial sentence but, given his age and ill health, he did not think it was appropriate to jail him.
Kiernan pleaded guilty at the Central Criminal Court to six sample counts of indecently assaulting one boy between 1958 and 1963 and five sample counts of indecently assaulting the boy's younger sister between 1959 and 1963.
He also admitted raping this girl in her childhood bedroom on an unknown date between 1959 and 1964. All the offending took place on or near the victims' family farmland in Arva where Kiernan worked as a farm labourer.
He imposed sentences of eight years for the rape and five years and two years for the indecent assaults. He suspended all sentences in their entirety on condition that Kiernan keep the peace.
In his sentencing, he noted that Kiernan has already served some time in prison for indecent assaults on three boys and one girl. This offending took place between 1963 and 1973.
At the sentencing hearing last week Mr Justice White praised the “unbelievable courage” of the victims for going to gardaí last year (2017).
Monica Lawlor BL, prosecuting, told the court that the two victims, who are now in their 60s, wished for Kiernan's name to be published.
The father of two was previously jailed in 2005 for indecent assaults on three young children on dates between 1963 and 1973.
Detective Sgt Sharon Walsh told the court that Kiernan would regularly abuse the children. He would orally rape the boy on fishing trips and this victim told gardaí: “I never remember being afraid. This was just normal life for me”.
The woman told gardaí that Kiernan would indecently assault her while she sat on his knee. On one occasion she was out in a field with her father and Kiernan and her father told Kiernan to take her inside because it was freezing cold.
She said he gave her something like whiskey and then raped her. She said she felt like she was in a trance and she lay still and he was saying “good girl” to her.
On a later occasion he was assaulting her when his mother walked in. This woman began beating him and shouting at him to “get her out of here”.
Kiernan took the victim out into the back garden and threw her on the ground. He had his foot on her and told her: “Don't say anything. I'll bury you with all the other bones around here. No one will find you.”
The woman told gardaí that for years afterwards she was affected by these words and thought there were other children buried in the ground. Mr Justice White said this “a spine chilling threat” showed that Kiernan knew exactly what he was doing was seriously wrong.
In victim impact statements the sister said that Kiernan's action had shattered her childhood innocence and damaged the safety of her family home. She said she carried what he did to her for 60 years and said she has received “outstanding support” since coming forward.
Her brother described feeling shock and horror when he learned Kiernan had abused his sister too.
He said he found it very stressful telling his wife about the abuse but now feels relief and realises “this is not my fault”.
Counsel for Kiernan said he was genuinely remorseful for the hurt he had caused his victims. She said he had not committed any other offending since meeting his wife and marrying her in 1974.
She said he found himself in a loving marriage and buried this past. He became a decent husband and father and is now in extremely poor health.
When gardaí put the allegations to him he admitted touching the children but denied the assaults, oral rapes and rape. He later claimed that he “wasn't right in the head then”, adding: “I was sex crazed, I didn't know how to stop”.
After a hearing last week, Mr Justice White adjourned sentencing to today (Monday). He said he wanted to salute the complainants for coming forward at this point in time.
He said the offending took place “at a time in Ireland when nobody talked about these things”. He said the brutality of this offending was striking and noted that while Kiernan is now old and frail the offending was carried out when he was at the height of his strength.