By Isabel Hayes
A Donegal man who sexually exploited a 15-year-old girl he met on a youth mental health website has been jailed for 12 months.
Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard Donnchadh McGinley, then aged 34, watched the victim's favourite film, Frozen, with her before trying to have sex with her.
McGinley, described by the defence as a “vulnerable” artist with few social skills, viewed the teenager as his girlfriend, the court heard previously.
McGinley (36) with an address in Iona Road, Letterkenny, Co Donegal, pleaded guilty to one count of sexually exploiting a child in a Dublin apartment between January 3 and 4, 2015. Another count of meeting a child for the purpose of child exploitation was taken into account. This is a child grooming offence, the court heard.
Sentencing him today (Friday), Judge Melanie Greally said the court was dealing with consensual but wholly age-inappropriate sexual activity. She said it did not appear McGinley had set out with predatory intentions.
She took into account several factors including his guilty plea, his good character and testimonials, remorse, personal difficulties and the fact that he was at a particularly low point in his life at the time.
Garda Maria Cox told Eilis Brennan BL, prosecuting, that McGinley was living in Dublin in late 2014 when he got chatting to the teenager on Talklife, a messaging app for young people struggling with mental health issues.
The Talklife website describes it as a peer-to-peer support network.
It states it is: “A safe environment for you to talk about life's ups and downs plus all those little bits in-between”.
The pair told each other their real ages and continued messaging, before meeting in a park in Kildare. They met a few more times in the park and once in the cinema, occasionally “kissing and cuddling”, the court heard.
In January 2015, he invited the girl to come to his friend's apartment in Dublin, as his friend was away. The pair met at 9am on January 3, went to the apartment, drank tea and watched the film, Frozen. “It was her favourite film at that stage,” Ms Brennan said.
They then went into the bedroom, where McGinley helped the girl get undressed. They engaged in some sexual acts and he tried to have sex with her but she was “too tense and afraid”, the court heard.
“He told her he didn't want to cause her pain,” Ms Brennan said. The pair then got up and got dressed. “He asked her if she wanted tea,” Ms Brennan said.
The pair later fell asleep in the apartment and when the girl woke up the next morning and turned on her phone, she discovered her family and friends were looking for her. Gardaí had also been informed.
The girl's parents picked her up at a bus stop close to the apartment and she told them what had happened. All contact between the pair ceased and McGinley was later arrested and charged.
In a victim impact statement read out in court by Ms Brennan, the girl, who was in court for the sentence hearing, said she found it hard to cope after the incident.
“In some way, I feel I lost part of my childhood,” she said. “I never had any dealings with the gardaí before and I was overwhelmed and anxious...I don't trust people as easily as I used to.”
McGinley, who has no previous convictions, told gardaí that he had bonded with the girl as they both suffered from depression.
Defence barrister, Tara Burns SC, said McGinley wished to apologise to the victim, whom he viewed as his girlfriend. She submitted that he felt it was a “serious relationship”.
“He never even considered that this would have an effect on her,” Ms Burns said. “He saw it as a relationship where each person benefited, where clearly this was not the case. It has had a significant effect on her life and how she sees the world.”
Ms Burns said McGinley, an artist, was a “vulnerable person with few social skills”, who was isolated at the time of the incident. He suffered from a depressive illness and anxiety.
A psychological report was handed up in court along with a number of testimonials. Several family members were in court to support him.
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