By Brenda Power ReadHERE for widespread support for Dan Foley's female victim, disgust for Foley's Fan Club legitimised by Fr. Sean Sheehy, and judgement that Foley's 7 year prison sentence was indeed JUST
The one good thing to come out of last week’s astonishing scenes in Listowel is that Danny Foley is now the best known sex-attacker in the country. Paedophile priests were knocked from the headlines by the lantern-jawed, earringed bouncer who is 6ft 4in tall, and looks 50 but is only 35.
While senior churchmen certainly protected their errant priests, and even denounced their accusers as troublemakers, at least they didn’t form an orderly queue to shake their hands in public. As a result of his fan club, Foley, who’d otherwise have escaped with a half-column court report and would have been free to resume preying on drunken women in a couple of years, is a household name.
Foley has much to look forward to, including media attention whenever he’s freed and the singular manner of hospitality usually reserved for sex offenders in jail.
However relentless the pace of progress elsewhere, there seem to be parts of this country where it is forever 1952. The Taliban have to employ terror and intimidation to maintain Sharia law, under which sex-assault victims are far more likely to be stoned to death than their attackers, unless five independent witnesses back up their claims. The mullahs must be looking in envy towards this country where the people need no such incentives.
The elevation of Foley to national notoriety, and the tarnishing of Listowel’s reputation as a hub of literary enlightenment, were not intended by the 50 people who lined up to salute the convicted sex offender last Wednesday.
Joined by the local priest, Fr. Seán Sheehy, those pillars of the community were angry for sure, though they never expected collateral damage to their hero, or their town’s good name.
The rest of the population could be forgiven for believing these people had ganged up to teach a young woman a lesson for having the temerity to trouble such a fine example of manhood. The kind of fellow any mammy would be thrilled to see courting her daughter, he drew rave reviews: “a man without an abusive bone in his body” (the parish priest); “the gentlest soul you could meet” (the girlfriend).
Just what this respectful soul was doing crouching over a semi-naked, semi-conscious, bruised and bloodied young woman beside a rubbish skip in a pub car park in the middle of the night they couldn’t explain.
The purpose of the procession to the dock, where Foley was awaiting sentencing, was perceived by many as a display of naked hostility against the woman for taking a stand against an obviously well-connected local man. Since she was almost alone in the public gallery, and the shameful priest’s laughable explanation for ignoring her was that he “didn’t know her”, she was clearly the outsider.
It’s not the first time that a controversy with a similar theme has happened in the area.
In the mid-1990s a man named Liam Sheehy violently raped a local woman who’d given him a lift in Duagh. A local vet, a businessman and a retired school principal joined the parish priest in giving character evidence on his behalf but did not deny the seriousness of what Sheehy had done. While both character referees and Sheehy’s family strongly disapproved of it, the victim’s family was subsequently subjected to a campaign by locals, and bitterness over the incident survives to this day.
Sheehy compounded his crime by trying to blame the woman, just as Foley’s blatant lies and sheer contempt for his victim disgusted the trial judge. Foley referred to her as “yer wan”, and pretended he’d stumbled upon her lying by the rubbish skip, until CCTV footage showed him carrying her there.
He then claimed they’d had consensual sexual activity, even though the bruises on her wrists and lacerations on her lower legs and thighs were consistent with being dragged along the ground. And this gentle soul the local priest considers to be “very respectful of women”. If that constitutes respect, I’d hate to hear Fr Sheehy’s concept of discourtesy.
There are no conceivable circumstances that would mitigate Foley’s behaviour but perhaps the subtext is that, because this girl got drunk and flirted with her attacker, she was asking for what she got.
Just over a week ago, new statistics confirmed that alcohol is a factor in almost three-quarters of all rape and sexual assault cases reported in this country. And there has been understandable sympathy for drunken men who’ve found themselves accused by equally drunken women when neither one could fully remember or describe their sexual contact.
Foley’s victim was profoundly drunk on the night in question. She admitted in court that her recollection of the night was sketchy, and she might have had a hard time being believed next day if the gardai hadn’t arrived in time to find Foley positioning himself over her stripped and near-comatose body as she lay dumped on the ground alongside the rubbish.
Foley, a bouncer who must have seen lots of young women in such a drunken, defenceless state in the past, wasn’t too drunk to know what he was doing. On the contrary, he was sharp enough to spin a tale to gardai which, again, would have been difficult to disprove if not for the security camera. He almost got away with it; no wonder he feels so aggrieved.
So along with Foley’s notoriety, the victim’s exile and the parish priest’s despatch to the clerical equivalent of gardening leave, there’s likely to be one further consequence to this case. Depressingly, it’s one the parade of locals may have intended.
In future, rape and sexual-assault victims will think twice about making a complaint, especially if their attacker is from a popular local family in a small rural town.
Even with garda witnesses on the scene, even with CCTV records of the incident, even with the attacker caught in the act, they’ll still be doubted, whispered about and boycotted. By contrast, the Sharia law requirement that a rape victim produce five independent witnesses to save herself from a stoning looks positively reasonable.