A Fine Gael TD has said that a man’s decision to send her sexually explicit videos meant she was filled with a “cold sense of dread” and concerns for her safety during the 2020 election campaign.
Jennifer Carroll MacNeill took to the stand to read her victim impact statement during the sentence hearing of 43-year-old Gerard Culhane, who sent her three sexually explicit videos and messages in the early months of 2020.
Culhane, 43, of Marian Place, Glin, Co Limerick, pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to harassing the woman at unknown places within the State on dates between January 13, 2020 and March 26, 2020. He has no previous convictions.
The court heard that during that time, Culhane sent the TD 13 messages, including three sexually explicit videos, which he later admitted to gardaí he had downloaded from a pornographic website.
Ms Carroll MacNeill said she was in middle of a general election at the time and the harassment from Culhane was “extremely difficult to deal with”.
“I do not wish to be here,” the deputy said before she added that “with every fibre of my being” she didn’t wish to waste the time of the court, the gardaí or the Director of Public Prosecutions. But because Culhane sent her “unsolicited images ……we all have to be here”, she said.
She said she would rather spend her time more constructively working in the Oireachtas, serving her constituents and spending time with her young son.
“But because some man thought it was ok to invade my life and my mind and my sense of security because of whatever twisted purpose he got out of it, I have to use my time to pursue it,” she said.
“I do not choose to be sexualised in this way, to be in media articles with sexual content. But because some man decided to send me sexually explicit videos, it is there for ever more for everyone to see. All of this is without my consent,” Ms Carroll MacNeill said.
She said didn’t wish to be “a victim”. “I am a private person and I just don’t like it,” the TD said, before adding she was “keen to downplay” the case.
Ms Carroll MacNeill said at the time, she was worried for her safety because she was in the middle of a general election during which time the main objective is to go out and meet as many members of the general public as possible.
She said she got an awful fright when she received the messages and she didn’t want to worry about her safety at the time. “We all needed to get on with the job”, she said.
Ms Carroll MacNeill said she was on high alert and her team and close family were more protective of her.
“No one should have to get unsolicited sexual content. It greatly impacted me in the process of
trying to become an elected representative,” she continued.
“When you are running an election, the key objective is to physically meet people. I was afraid for the first time.”
She said there was “a real actual risk” to her. “I felt it, and I couldn’t see it.”
She felt didn’t know where the threat was, or what the nature of it was. “Was the person far away from me, crossing the road towards me. What were they going to do? Was I going to be attacked?”
She said at the time she had “a cold sense of dread” and spoke of a reluctance to smile, to put out her hand and engage.
“But in my mind, whether rationally or not, this person, whoever they were, now had every opportunity to simply walk up and see me up close and be near me. And this terrified me. I just didn’t know where it would go and I thought, I’m not putting up with this,” the TD continued.
She said the impact of Culhane sending her these messages had a wider effect on her family, her husband, parents and sister and said “something of this nature” can just “creep into your life” while out walking with her husband and her dogs, having coffee with her mother or sitting watching television with her son.
Judge Patricia Ryan adjourned the case for finalisation to October 21, after she acknowledged that a previously ordered Probation Report had not been prepared for the hearing. She said she didn’t want to adjourn the case but was reluctant to finalise the case without that report. Culhane was remanded on continuing bail until October.
Detective Sergeant Rachael Kilpatrick told Pieter Le Vert BL, prosecuting that the messages came from a Facebook account in the name of a “Kevin Walsh” and involved three videos, one of which showed a male masturbating.
She said this video was sent to Ms Carroll MacNeill and accompanied by a winking, a smiley face and love heart emoji.
She received a further message that night which was a thumbs up saying “Stay warm gorgeous” with a second thumbs up. A further message said “Hi Jen, you will be the best-looking TD in the Dáil in a few weeks”.
Later that same evening, she received two further messages, one which read, “love your campaign poster, you look stunning in it” and another message which said, “I must have a hot bath” followed by a winky, thumbs up and love heart emoji.
A further message was sent showing a man looking in a mirror, suggestively pulling his boxers shorts down.
Det Sgt Kilpatrick said Ms Carroll MacNeill woke the following morning to find six additional messages from the account. One was of a male, wearing pink underwear, masturbating, along with a winking, kiss and love heart emoji.
Another was a video in which a penis and hands could be seen but Ms Carroll MacNeill didn’t watch the rest of the video.
She was also sent a photograph of herself taken at the 40 foot in Dun Laoghaire along with another politician, previously published and attached to it was a message: “You look so sexy. What a great body you have.”
Det Sgt Kilpatrick agreed that Ms Carroll MacNeill did not respond to any of the messages she received.
She contacted the gardaí to report what had happened and seek advice. The messages, photographs and videos were sent between January and March 2020.
A garda investigation was launched to try and establish the identity of Kevin Walsh and Culhane was ultimately nominated as a suspect. A warrant was executed to search his home in Limerick in July 2020.
Det Sgt Kilpatrick said Culhane immediately admitted that he knew why the gardaí were there. He handed over his phone and provided gardaí with his password for Facebook.
He admitted that he sent male nude messages and acknowledged that he had received no responses to his messages. He said the videos and images were not of himself rather he had downloaded them from pornography sites.
Det Sgt Kilpatrick agreed with Karl Monahan BL defending that Culhane, who lives in Limerick with his parents, has not come to garda attention before or since.
She agreed that he expressed remorse, made admissions and apologised. He said it was “stupidity” that made him do it, adding, “if I could take it back I would”.
He had €1,000 in court to offer as a token of his remorse, which Ms Carroll MacNeill has indicated that she would like to be donated to Aoibhneas Womens Refuge in Coolock, Dublin.
Mr Monahan said his client has been unemployed since 2004 and lives off social welfare payments. He stopped drinking in 2017 which led to him becoming socially isolated as he stopped meeting friends.
Counsel said Culhane later enrolled in a computer course which led to him being introduced to the internet. He began to communicate with others via Facebook and struck up conversations with people.
“Unfortunately, he then began contacting the complainant, because he was curious to see if he could engage with her,” Mr Monahan said. He said Culhane continued the communication because he had not been blocked and he hoped that at some point Ms Carroll MacNeill would respond.
“He was not in a happy place in his life at the time. He acknowledged the fear she would have experienced and did not intend to cause distress or alarm,” Mr Monahan said.
Counsel said Culhane understands that it was unacceptable behaviour. He still has the support of his family but the case has been embarrassing for both him and his family, Mr Monahan said.
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