by Gordon Deegan
A high profile GAA figure in county Clare has appeared as a character witness for a sex offender at a sentencing hearing.
At Ennis Circuit Court, former chairman of the Clare County GAA board and former Fianna Fáil general election candidate, Michael ‘Malty’ McDonagh appeared in the witness box to give character evidence of behalf of west Clare man, Peter Power (55).
Mr Power has been convicted of indecent assault by a jury of a nine year old girl in 1985 when Mr Power was aged 21.
Raised in Caherrush, Quilty, west Clare, Mr Power is a father of two grown up children and in sworn evidence at the sentencing hearing, Mr McDonagh said he has known Mr Power all his life.
He said: “Peter is excellent with his son and daughter and he is excellent with his former wife and he has three lovely grand-children as well.”
In his testimony, Mr McDonagh also stated that Peter Power “ran a local bus company in my area for 10 years where he took care of a lot of people going home late at night and made sure they got home safely and often did not charge people”.
Asked by counsel for Mr Power, Patrick Whyms BL would Mr Power be recognised as a person who was dealing with young people, Mr McDonagh replied: “He would have been yes. He would have played football as well.”
Mr McDonagh spent just two minutes in the witness box and walked past the complainant in the case as he exited the courtroom at the end of his evidence.
Mr McDonagh served two stints as chairman of the Clare County Board between 2003-07 and 2012-15 during which time Clare won the 2013 senior hurling All-Ireland.
The Miltown Malbay man missed out on a seat in the 2016 General Election after receiving 8.29% of vote with 4,726 first preference votes.
Asked to explain why he provided character evidence on behalf of Mr Power after the sentencing hearing, Mr McDonagh said he gave evidence following a request from Mr Power’s family.
He said: “I appeared because the family wanted their thoughts presented to the court and they were too traumatised to give evidence.”
Mr McDonagh declined to comment further.
In the case, counsel for the State, Lorcan Connolly BL said that the indecent assault took place in January 1985 when Mr Power was baby-sitting the girl and her siblings.
Mr Connolly said that the girl went upstairs and saw Mr Power sitting on a toilet with his pants down.
The complainant said that Mr Power asked her to take her panties down and sit on his lap.
She did so and said that he touched her private parts with his hands and told her “What I do to you, you have to do to me.”
The woman didn’t recall if she touched the man’s penis or not.
Mr Connolly told the court that there has been no expression of remorse from Mr Power or an acknowledgement of the unanimous verdict of the jury.
The woman made a complaint about the incident in 2012.
In her victim impact statement, the woman told the court: “I will never forgive him for what he did to me as a child and what he is doing to me as an adult.”
She said: “This man took away my childhood and most of my adult life.”
She said: “To have to see my abuser and his family after all these years made me feel like that vulnerable child all over again.”
Mr Whyms asked that Judge Gerald Keys not impose an immediate prison sentence of his client.
Mr Whyms said that Mr Power has been placed on the sex offenders’ register which is a punishment in itself.
Mr Whyms said that Mr Power was employed as a Customer Services Manager with a leading Clare hotel and has lost his job as a result of the jury’s verdict.
Mr Whyms said that his client is now unemployed and his career as over as a consequence of what happened in the case.
Mr Whyms said that another consideration is the severe burden that the long running Garda case has placed on his client.
He said that Mr Power was first interviewed in May 2013 and the Book of Evidence wasn’t served until October 2016 and he is now being sentenced five and a half years later.
Mr Whyms said: “His world has come crashing down.”
Mr Whyms said that Mr Power has no previous convictions and a greater premium should be given to that due to his age.
Judge Keys remanded Mr Power on continuing bail for sentence later this year.