A young mother has been sentenced to six months in jail for child cruelty in a case described by the district judge as the most harrowing he had dealt with in the past 10 years on the bench.
Three children were locked in bedrooms without any lights as their mother went out drinking, leaving them alone in the dark with an overflowing potty in the room.
The eldest child, aged seven, frequently begged her mother not to lock her into her bedroom with a latch that was screwed into the frame on the outside.
“It is the most harrowing case I have dealt with in the last 10 years,” said Judge Olann Kelleher yesterday.
The 30-year-old mother of three was sentenced in Cork District Court to three concurrent six-month jail terms for cruelty to each of her children on a date in August last year.
A member of An Garda Síochána arrived at the house in the early hours of the morning, hearing the m children inside crying for help and being unable to get in through the front door.
He had to force his way in to assist them.
Eugene Murphy, solicitor, said the mother, who has a previous conviction for cruelty to her children in similar circumstances, had been addicted to prescription tablets and alcohol but had since undertaken life-changing rehabilitation and loved her children deeply.
While this is her second conviction for child cruelty, the judge noted that back in 2014, she was in a traffic accident after she had drink taken and her two children at the time were unsupervised.
There was another accident in June 2017 when it was discovered her children were unsupervised.
The judge recalled the evidence from August 5 last year:
“The guard who attended could not gain entry. He heard the three children crying because they could not get out of the room. He went upstairs. The children were in dark bedrooms locked from the outside. He found a potty for a child overflowing with urine.
“The older child got upset. She got so upset she thought she was going to be kidnapped. She has now taken on a parental role (with her two younger siblings) and she is only seven or eight herself. She should not have to do this.
“She was able to role-play (for Tusla social workers) the guard coming up the stairs. Obviously it is still in her mind. She says her mother locks the doors most nights even when she begs her not to do so.”
The defendant who stood in the centre of Courtroom 1 for her sentencing in the Washington St courthouse wept and wiped her eyes as the judge made these comment.
Judge Kelleher said the defendant had pleaded guilty and has made efforts to deal with her addiction even though she was not always successful — she had to leave one centre due to an altercation with a staff member.
“The most important part is the fact of the breach of trust,” he said.
“The children suffered very badly. They had no choice in this matter.
Mr Murphy, said the defendant recognised that it was extremely serious and that cases like this were rare.
“This lady — because of her difficult base on poly-substance abuse, primarily prescription drugs and alcohol — ordinary basic human behaviour, behaviour towards one’s children was entirely compromised and overlooked in an inexcusable manner,” he said.
“Her judgment was utterly irrational and clouded.”
The solicitor said it was a cross she carried, and knew it every day, not least with media coverage of her plea of guilty — without identification of the parties to protect the children, as required under the Children’s Act.
Mr Murphy said she was attending parenting courses, addiction treatment, and probation service among a range of support services.
“This lady is damaged by what happened,” he said.
“She loves her children deeply... and the children are extremely close to her and get on extremely well with her,” he said.