A “MONSTER” who gave his daughter drugs and alcohol, sexually assaulted her repeatedly over a six-year period and raped her when she was 15 has had his five-year prison sentence almost doubled by the Court of Appeal.
The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) had argued before the three-judge court that the sentence imposed on Michael O’Donoghue (43) was unduly lenient given the gravity of the offences.
The victim, Aimee Foley (20), cried when the original five-year sentence was imposed and her family complained that the sentence was not enough for what O’Donoghue had done. Ms Foley was in court for Friday’s hearing and sat flanked by her family while her father sat some four metres away in the dock.
She cried as she left court and outside told the media that the new sentence will “never be enough for me and my family” but offers a “sliver of justice”.
She said sentencing for sexual offences in Ireland can be “appalling but today it has proven to work in my favour”.
She said that this will be the beginning of a “new standard going forward” and that offenders like her father must be held accountable. “I will not stop until more is done,” she added.
Delivering the court’s judgment, Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy said the sentence imposed by the Circuit Criminal Court was “simply too low” and amounted to an error in principle. She quashed the original sentence and replaced it with one of ten years with the final six months suspended for a period of five years.
The sentence was backdated to 14 April 2021.
Tom O’Malley SC, for the DPP, described O’Donoghue’s conduct towards his daughter as “egregious”. The first offence took place, he said, on her 12th birthday when she was staying at his home for the weekend.
Counsel said, “He plied her with drink, including whiskey, gave her drugs, made her watch pornography and sexually assaulted her.”
He groped her at a family wedding when she was 13 and threatened to rape her. When she was 15 he raped her. There were many further incidents of sexual assault until she was 18 years old, Mr O’Malley said, and on one occasion he filmed the abuse on his mobile phone.
The sentencing judge had set the headline sentence for the rape offence at 12 years but reduced that to seven with the final two years suspended after taking into account O’Donoghue’s early guilty plea, admissions he made to gardai and his genuine remorse.
Sentences of three and four years were imposed for the sexual assault counts but each sentence was set to run concurrently.
Mr O’Malley said the 12-year headline could have been considered unduly lenient even if there had not been multiple sexual assaults.
He said the error in principle made by the judge was that the sentence was not proportionate to the offences.
Michael Bowman SC, for the defence, said that the sentence fell within the range available to the sentencing judge who had identified and taken into account all the aggravating factors.
The reduction from 12 to seven years, counsel said, was appropriate given the manner in which O’Donoghue had faced the charges.
He pointed out that once O’Donoghue knew gardai had been contacted, he went to a garda station and made full admissions.
He entered guilty pleas at the earliest possible opportunity and has shown remorse and genuine insight. He is considered by the probation service to be at a low risk of reoffending, Mr Bowman said.
The Court of Appeal disagreed. Ms Justice Kennedy said O’Donoghue’s conduct had humiliated and degraded his victim and that he had committed an “egregious breach of trust” in his home where she was entitled to feel safe and protected.
His conduct was a “gross betrayal” and he had degraded his daughter for his own gratification, she said.
She said the fact he had shown her pornography, gave her alcohol and drugs and filmed the abuse were further aggravating factors.
At a sentencing hearing in October last year, Ms Foley (20) waived her right to anonymity so her father could be identified. Addressing him directly, she said: “You have ruined me. I hope you are happy knowing you broke your own child.
“I’ve called you dad five times in this statement and I hope every time you heard it, it struck you in your heart,” she said.
“It’s the last time you will ever hear me call you that. You’re not my dad. You’re not my father. You are a monster, a paedophile, an animal.”
O’Donoghue, of Colmanstown, Ballinasloe, Co Galway, pleaded guilty to 31 counts of sexually assaulting Ms Foley, one count of raping her and one count of producing child pornography in various locations in Galway between April 2012 and April 2018. She was aged between 12 and 17 at the time of the abuse.
The court heard O’Donoghue plied his child with alcohol and drugs, including cannabis and cocaine, before abusing her.
The court heard O’Donoghue had split up with Ms Foley’s mother before she was born and the abuse took place when she had access visits to his home. The abuse often took place when O’Donoghue’s wife and other children were present in the house.
The abuse came to light in 2020 when Ms Foley confided in college friends and then her mother.
O’Donoghue then turned himself into gardaí before they had interviewed Ms Foley telling them: “I’ll make it easy for you boys. I did it. I sexually assaulted my daughter and I recorded it on my mobile phone.”
Sentencing the man last year Mr Justice David Keane said O’Donoghue had engaged in the most serious breach of trust between a parent and a child.
“He had gone to court to secure custody of his child, only to grotesquely betray his parental responsibilities by sexualising, demeaning and degrading Aimee Foley for his own gratification,” Mr Justice Keane said.
He noted O’Donoghue had emotionally manipulated his daughter as well as sexually abusing her, that he plied her with alcohol and drugs when she was a child and that on one occasion he recorded the abuse.
The judge said Ms Foley was an impressive witness who had outlined the psychological trauma she endured at the hands of her father. He wished her well in her continuing recovery.
Mr Justice Keane outlined a number of mitigating factors, including O’Donoghue’s early and “unusual” admissions to gardaí – made before they had got a statement from Ms Foley. The judge said these admissions meant Ms Foley did not have to go through a trial process.
He noted O’Donoghue has been receiving alcohol addiction and sexual offender counselling and is considered to be at a low risk of re-offending.