A man who sexually assaulted his four young daughters in a “horror of a home” has been jailed for four and a half years. Judge Patrick McCartan said that Mayo native Bernard Cunningham (66 ) has never shown any remorse for subjecting his children to “unspeakable mental and physical cruelty”. Last April a jury at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court returned unanimous guilty verdicts on eight charges of indecent and sexual assault committed between 1978 and 1992.
Cunningham, of Royston, Kimmage Road West, Dublin, had pleaded not guilty to the charges. At his sentence hearing Judge McCartan noted how Cunningham had met the case by instructing his lawyers to put it to his daughters that they were lying. He noted the “absolute absence of any remorse” and said the victims had been subjected to the most protracted and careful probing during cross-examination of their testimony.
The women have waived their right to anonymity so that their father can be identified. The eldest daughter, who was the first and youngest victim, was subjected to the most serious of abuse, the court heard. Cunningham began abusing her in the late 70s when she was about five years old.
He took her into his bedroom and undressed himself and simulated sex between her legs until he climaxed. This woman described her father as a “very violent man” and a “manipulative, powerful bully”. She said he was a “street angel, house devil” who would brainwash people. She told Gerardine Small BL, prosecuting, that Cunningham was “the nicest person to anyone looking in” but behind closed doors he was drinking heavily and would get great enjoyment out of seeing his daughter crying and making inappropriate comments when she was physically developing.
A number of references from Mayo people who know Cunningham and knew about his convictions described him as a kind and compassionate man. His partner of 19 years, who continues to support him, told the court that he was a kind man who cared for her dying brother. Judge McCartan said that although the referees were well meaning, he could not marry their comments to the evidence of Cunningham's cruelty. He said the victims were reared in a “horror of a home” where because of their father's drinking they were subjected to “sustained abuse, physical, mental and sexual”. He said in the absence of one word of apology or remorse it was difficult to show the mercy that someone of his age might otherwise deserve. One woman told the court that she had suffered from bulimia, self-harm and mental health problems as a result of the abuse.