Mickey Harte under fire over reference for sex attacker who assaulted woman
Top GAA manager Mickey Harte has been criticised by a victims' group for providing a character reference for a man who admitted sexually assaulting a woman and throwing her half-naked from a van.
The row erupted after it emerged Mr Harte – whose daughter Michaela was murdered during her honeymoon in 2011 – gave a reference for Tyrone man Ronan McCusker.
The 27-year-old, from Ballygillen Road, in Cookstown, pleaded guilty at the Crown Court in Londonderry on Monday to sexually assaulting the 47-year-old.
The court heard McCusker carried out the attack after meeting the woman in a bar following a Cemetery Sunday service near Magherafelt on June 28, 2010.
He admitted that he threw the woman from a van while she was naked from the waist down.
Eileen Calder, from the Rape Crisis and Sexual Abuse Centre in Belfast, said that Tyrone GAA boss Mr Harte should have considered how providing the reference would impact on the victim's family.
"I think it is just awful, Mr Harte needs to look at how that will reflect on the GAA," she said.
"I think he should have said it was inappropriate as an official of the GAA to say anything."
Mr Harte's 27-year-old daughter was murdered while on her honeymoon in Mauritius.
Ms Calder added: "I do not want to say anything that causes his family any more pain but they need to think what this woman's family has been through."
Mr Harte could not be contacted for comment on Monday night.
During the court case McCusker also pleaded guilty to taking his father's van without his authority, driving while disqualified and driving without insurance on the same date.
A prosecution barrister told Judge Piers Grant that McCusker's victim was found after the attack lying semi-naked on the side of the Ballymulligan Road near Magherafelt by two men.
The barrister told the court that the defendant admitted engaging in sexual activity with the woman, whom he knew, after both of them had consumed a large amount of alcohol following the Cemetery Sunday service.
"She was then physically ejected from the van and left in a state of nakedness," the barrister said.
The barrister added that though the woman sustained minor injuries she would continue to be under the care of a consultant psychologist for several more months.
Defence barrister Brian McCartney QC told Judge Grant that the defendant "comes from a highly regarded family in mid-Ulster who are widely known within the GAA.
"The families involved have known each other for generations, they go to the same church, to the same parish functions, they cheer on the same teams, they all know each other," he said.
Mr McCartney then handed in a reference on behalf of McCusker from Mr Harte.
"This is a man who is one of the most successful managers in GAA history and this is a man who is no stranger to sorrow and to terrible tragedy. Yet because of his knowledge of this young man and of his family, he has submitted a character reference to this court," he said.
Mr McCartney said that McCusker "is shamed by and remorseful for what he has done."
Sentencing was adjourned until Thursday and McCusker was remanded in custody.