Today’s papers are all reporting the sentencing of Kerry bouncer Danny Foley yesterday. What’s newsworthy isn’t the seven years he got (with the final two suspended) or even the brutal facts of the case. The thing that has people’s blood boiling this morning is the amount of support Foley had in court yesterday, with a procession of well wishers queuing to shake his shake his hand as the court filled for the sentencing.
The case has been discussed on radio, tweeted about on Twitter and will undoubtedly be the subject of a lot of comment over the next few days. But there’s one thing most people seem to be forgetting. This isn’t unusual. People convicted of crimes have friends and families just like anyone else. In a lot of cases those friends & family will strenuously support their loved ones. People have a tremendous capacity to believe the best in someone if the alternative makes the world into a dark and scary place.
I’ve been working in the courts for three years and counting. I used to cover the sex trials a lot more than I do now. I’ve seen incest cases where the victim sat alone with someone from Victim Support while the rest of their family sat smiling and waving at her abuser. This support isn’t just limited to rape cases. In murder trials the accused will usually have their own cheer squad. It’s more unusual for this support to continue past conviction but it’s definitely not unique.
The victim in yesterday’s Listowel case said, in her victim impact statement, that she had felt judged in the small town. Even though her name had never been reported, everyone knew who she was and she had even been approached and asked if she was sorry to have pursued the case.
Shocking though this is to hear, it also is a long way from being a unique occurrence. It’s one of the things that the victims of these crimes have to consider when they report an assault to gardai. Earlier this month the Rape Crisis Centre launched the study “Rape & Justice in Ireland”. They found that only 1 in 10 cases of suspected rape reach court giving us one of the lowest prosecution levels in court. Unfortunately though, Ireland is still a country that clings to conservative values. We support priests who’ve been caught abusing children and frequently find it easier to assume that a woman who’s raped, in some way had it coming.
Attitudes are changing, slowly, there are still swathes of Ireland that will bow to the respectable male pillar of society and trample over their victim to greet them. The women and children who are the victims in these cases are nothing more than dangerous, malicious outcasts whose clamour threatens to rock the boat.
My first reaction when I read about the Listowel case this morning was one of irritation. It was no different from the over excited stringer who proudly reports that the judge in a murder trial refused leave to appeal (as they always do) and another reason why every journalism student should cut their teeth in the courts. But that’s not it.
Working in the Four Courts I’m used to seeing things that really should make my blood boil. Things that I wouldn’t even comment on any more because they happen so often. The media rarely pick up on rape cases. The anonymity of both victim and accused doesn’t make for particularly strong copy and there are just so many of them that they simply don’t make news any more. Until you get a case like this.
I’ve commented before here that on any one day the majority of the crimes passing through the Central Criminal Court will probably be against women or children. A colleague from New Zealand once told me that there are so many wife killings in New Zealand the papers similarly don’t cover them. It’s the old chestnut of familiarity breeding contempt and apathy.
So when we’re confronted with these attitudes, when the unpalatable status quo suddenly hits us in the face,we get upset. But a couple of days outrage are unlikely to make a difference. Something far more fundamental needs to change. Only then will scenes like those at Danny Foley’s sentencing become truly shocking, because they go against the grain of the Irish psyche. At the moment, sadly, that just simply isn’t the case.