Govt to ensure equal sentencing for women and men in incest cases

The Government has said it will ensure that men and women found guilty of incest are treated equally in law when new sexual offences laws are published later this year.

Currently a woman found guilty of incest can be sentenced to a maximum of seven years in jail, while a man can be sentenced to life in prison.

Reform Alliance TD Denis Naughten has brought a bill before the Dáil to change the law in the wake of the Roscommon incest case.

In the only case of its kind in the history of the state, a woman was jailed in 2009 for seven years after she was convicted of 10 counts of incest, sexual abuse and neglect of her children.

"This discrepancy (in sentencing between men and women) came to the fore during the sentencing of a woman in January 2009 who was convicted of incest and sentenced to the maximum seven years by Roscommon Circuit Court," Deputy Naughten said on his website.

"At the time the judge in that case pointed to the need for legislative intervention to remedy this discrepancy and there was a public call from legal experts to have equal sentencing for men and women convicted of incest...The purpose of this Bill is to do exactly that and to have the option of life imprisonment open to judges upon conviction of either a male or female."

Justice Minister Alan Shatter said that, while he is not opposing Deputy Naughten's bill at this stage, he will not allow it to pass into law as the incest laws as a whole need to be strengthened, and the sentencing discrepancy will be addressed as part of his own planned reforms by the end of the year.

"Prohibited relationships for the purposes of incest offences are based on a close degree of blood relationship and incestuous acts (under the Punishment of Incest Act of 1908) are limited to sexual intercourse," he said.

"So any other sexual interference of any nature by a parent or a very close relation of the child's does not (currently) fall under the offence of incest."

Minister Shatter said the new laws on sexual offences will tackle abuse by adoptive and foster parents and the by partner of a parent.

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