Rape Crisis Network Ireland has criticised Cork City Council after it passed a vote of condolence following the death of a former lord mayor who was convicted of sexual assault.
John Murray, who was a city councillor for the Labour Party and served as lord mayor in 1993, was found guilty of sexually assaulting a teenager in 1996 after a trial at Cork Circuit Criminal Court in 2013. He was jailed for one year, but released after nine months.
Murray died on Saturday, and at Monday night’s meeting of the City Council, Fianna Fáil councillor Sean Martin proposed a vote of condolence to the former lord mayor’s family.
While this was disputed by Sinn Féin councillor Chris O’Leary, he was informed that standing orders do not provide any means for him to object to the gesture, other than to state his opposition.
Clíona Saidléar of Rape Crisis Network Ireland said that a lack of protocol was ‘no defence’ for the council’s vote of condolence, and said the gesture sent a worrying message to victims of sexual assault.
“This is not appropriate. This man never pleaded guilty, he never asked for redemption or forgiveness in any of this,” Ms Saidléar said. “What message does this send to this young woman, who was only 13 when this started? What does this tell her about how her city supports her?
“It is not appropriate to make such a public statement from a position of authority like that,” she said.
Mr O’Leary, who knows Murray’s victim, said she had been in contact following Murray’s death to ask that the council would not send representatives to his funeral, as practiced under protocol. He said he was surprised to be the only councillor to object to the vote of condolence.
“I was surprised no one else said anything. Maybe they were not sure what to do in the situation, but I thought my objection allowed others the opportunity to do the same,” he said.
Mr Martin defended his decision to propose the vote of condolence to Mr Murray’s family. He said he did so out of respect for Murray’s children and wider family members, and that it should in no way minimise the impact the crime had on Murray’s victim.
“What he did was wrong. But there is hurt on all sides here,” Mr Martin said.
“His family have suffered through this as well. It’s a tragedy all round and I think it’s very sad that that hurt will be carried by members of his family into another generation.”
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