The controversial manner in which members of his community supported Danny Foley, aged 39, from Meen, Listowel, Co Kerry, as he awaited sentence for sexually assaulting a woman, having previously been found guilty, sent shock waves around the country at the time.
As he sat in the dock at the Circuit Criminal Court in Tralee in Dec 2009, a group of 50 people, mainly men, trooped into the courtroom and marched up to the accused, in single file. Each man shook his hand, some hugged him, with tears in their eyes.
The show of support was witnessed by the 24-year-old victim who sat in the front seat of the public gallery flanked by a female garda, a counsellor from the Kerry Rape Crisis Centre and a friend.
Among the supporters was then parish priest of Castlegregory, Fr Seán Sheehy, who had been a character witness for the 39-year-old bouncer.
Fr Sheehy said Foley had always struck him as having the highest respect for women and suggested there was not an abusive bone in Foley’s body.
Foley was subsequently sentenced to five years in Arbour Hill in Dublin, home to the country’s sex offenders, for sexually assaulting the young woman in June 2008. She was found by gardaí beside a skip in a car park, semi-conscious and naked from the waist down. At one stage, the victim considered leaving Listowel because of the “intolerable hostility” towards her. Foley’s financée, Michelle O’Sullivan, said she was standing by him.
Fr Sheehy, who was subsequently censured by then Bishop of Kerry Bill Murphy for his gestures and comments, and who resigned from his Castlegregory parish, was this weekend maintaining his support for Foley.
A Sunday newspaper reported that Fr Sheehy still believes Foley is innocent and that the jury got it wrong. In relation to the victim, Fr Sheehy is reported as saying: “I don’t want to make any judgment on her at all, but obviously the whole situation must have been embarrassing, for the police to happen upon them and what-not.
“She’s the mother of a young child as well and, you know, that in itself doesn’t look great.”
Fr Sheehy also said he had no regrets about the controversial handshake, but that he had not been in a courtroom situation like that before — having spend considerable time in the US — and was not sure if the handshaking was “par for the course”.
Fr Sheehy maintained contact with Foley throughout his time in jail and said he was looking forward to helping him re-adjust to life on the outside.
He said Foley remains unrepentant and is planning to volunteer for the Samaritans on release having completed a course while in Arbour Hill.