A depraved mother who tortured her six children with years of incest and abuse in a "House of Horrors" in the west of Ireland was jailed for seven years today.
The 40-year-old alcoholic, from Roscommon, admitted she was the worst mother in the world after she put her youngsters through a harrowing catalogue of neglect including forcing her 13-year-old son to have sex with her.
She is the first woman in the history of the Irish state to be convicted of incest.
The woman, who cannot be named to protect her children, was sentenced to seven years after pleading guilty at Roscommon Circuit Court to 10 charges, including two of incest, two of sexual abuse and six of neglect and wilful ill-treatment and neglect of the children between 1998 and 2004.
Judge Miriam Reynolds told the court that the children had been failed by everybody.
"Any possibility of them having a normal and proper life has been stolen from them by this woman who called herself their mother," the judge said.
"They feel guilty. They feel they did something wrong. I can assure them that they did not."
The judge has also suggested that new laws may be needed to deal with incest cases involving mothers.
"The children have to know that this is wrong and that their mother was punished for it. She must be punished for it," she told the court.
Judge Reynolds imposed 10 sentences ranging from 18 months to seven years - the longest term for sexual assault - all of which will run concurrently.
Horrific details of how she abused her children were laid bare yesterday.
Six young children were forced to endure years of depravity at the family home, described in court as a "house of horrors". The court yesterday heard that:
- One of the children, a 13-year-old boy, was forced to have sex with his mother on four occasions.
- He and his brothers and sisters were dirty, smelly, hungry, cold and lived alongside rats and mice.
- Their mother admitted a total of 10 charges, including two of incest, two of sexual abuse and six of neglect and wilful ill-treatment and neglect of the children.
- The 40-year-old, who cannot be named for legal reasons, is the first woman in the state to be convicted of incest against one of her children and is due to be sentenced today.
The offences took place at the family's three-bedroom bungalow in Co Roscommon between 1998 and 2004. Childcare staff told Roscommon Circuit Court yesterday that a right-wing Catholic organisation was behind a High Court move to prevent the children being taken into care.
Senior childcare officials with HSE West outlined their views to Judge Miriam Reynolds after details of the nightmare existence of the six young children were revealed.
In an interview with gardai in 2006, she admitted that her children were often blue with the cold, only had dinner twice a week and had lice crawling around their bodies.
"It was a house of horrors ... with bells on," the woman told gardai.
She added: "I can safely say I am the worst mother in the world ... I don't deserve to get them (the children) back."
The children are now all living with foster families, they are all extremely damaged and one of them has threatened suicide.
The oldest boy, in a victim impact statement, said he would never forgive his mother.
Since 1996, home-help and social workers had been visiting the family because of childcare issues, but Judge Reynolds expressed her concern that it had not been until 2004 that the children were eventually taken into care.
Senior childcare workers with HSE West told the judge that on September 30, 2000, a voluntary agreement was reached between the health board and the mother, to have the children cared for by an aunt and uncle.
But the mother had become involved with "a right-wing Catholic organisation" to finance and support her going to the High Court to get an injunction restraining the Health Board from acting.
The mother personally moved the injunction at the High Court three days later, Judge Reynolds heard.
HSE West childcare manager Paddy Gannon said that after she obtained the ex-parte injunction restraining the Health Board for carrying out the care arrangement, she personally presented it to childcare officials in Co Roscommon.
"It was a bolt from the blue," said Mr Gannon.
"The Health Board was prevented from moving the children from the home as part of a care plan."
Mr Gannon said that around the time of the High Court application, he received correspondence from Mina Bean Ui Chroibin, stating that it was support the family needed and not intrusive action by the health board.
Mr Gannon intimated that he believed Bean Ui Chroibin's organisation was behind the application to the court, but he had no evidence to that effect.
Because of improvements at the family home up to May, 2004 -- largely brought about by the "shock" of the circumstances leading to the High Court action, Mr Gannon said -- the health authorities did not move to take the children from the family home until the abuse was reported to them by one of the boys.
Yesterday, a stunned courtroom listened to shocking details of the family's home life.
From the time they were born until they were placed in foster care in 2004, the children were subjected to appalling neglect and a range of disturbing abuse, the court heard.
In a statement taken in June 2005, one of the boys described his home as a kip.
It was always untidy with rubbish thrown everywhere. The house was always cold and the walls were damp. The range was only lit once a month and the children were left alone at night while their mother went to the pub.
He and his brother were left to care for the younger children and their mother would come home at between 3am and 4am, very drunk and arguing.
His sister, now aged 12, told a similar story in her statement.
Any food she got to eat was cold and when her mother was drunk the house was "scary".
She was bullied at school and the other children called her smelly.