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'Awful fright' Fine Gael TD harassed by online troll who sent her porn videos tells of terrifying ordeal

Ms Carroll MacNeill was subjected to a three-day barrage of unsolicited messages and explicit content.

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Jennifer Carroll MacNeill, leaving Dublin Circuit Criminal Court. PIC: Collins Courts

Jennifer Carroll MacNeill, leaving Dublin Circuit Criminal Court. PIC: Collins Courts

Jennifer Carroll MacNeill, leaving Dublin Circuit Criminal Court. PIC: Collins Courts

A FINE Gael TD has said she was “terrified” by a campaign of harassment by an internet troll who sent her sexually explicit videos, and inappropriate texts with kiss and love heart emojis.

Jennifer Carroll McNeill was targeted by Gerard Culhane (43), who sent her a barrage of messages and clips he had taken from pornographic websites, via Facebook messenger.

Giving victim impact evidence at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court, The Dun Laoghaire TD said the messages had left her with a “cold sense of dread” and she had not known if she was going to be hurt or attacked.

Judge Patricia Ryan adjourned the case to a date in October, for a probation report to be produced before sentence is handed down.

Culhane (43) of Marian Place, Glin, Co Limerick, pleaded guilty to harassing Ms Carroll MacNeill (41) at unknown places within the state on dates between January 13, 2020 and March 26, 2020.

The court heard in January, Ms Carroll MacNeill was subjected to a three-day barrage of unsolicited messages and explicit content.

Detective Sergeant Rachael Kilpatrick told prosecutor Pietr Le Vert BL that Ms Carroll MacNeill received messages from a user she did not know, including three videos of a man performing a sex act on himself.

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Gerard Culhane (43) of Marian Place, Glin, Co Limerick, pleaded guilty to harassing Jennifer Carroll MacNeill TD. (Pic Collins Courts)

Gerard Culhane (43) of Marian Place, Glin, Co Limerick, pleaded guilty to harassing Jennifer Carroll MacNeill TD. (Pic Collins Courts)

Gerard Culhane (43) of Marian Place, Glin, Co Limerick, pleaded guilty to harassing Jennifer Carroll MacNeill TD. (Pic Collins Courts)

The first video showed a man masturbating and she was "shocked and surprised" to get the video which was "most unwelcome." She found it "disgusting" and frightening and did not know why it was sent to her. The video was accompanied by winking, smiley face and love heart emojis.

There were two other sexually explicit videos showing a male torso, one in pink underwear, the other in tracksuit bottoms. As soon as she saw what was going on, she turned away and did not watch the rest.

She later received messages including one saying "stay warm, gorgeous" with a thumbs-up emoji, and another which read "love your campaign poster". She was sent a picture of a man "suggestively" pulling down his boxer shorts.

Ms Carroll MacNeill was also sent a picture of herself taken at the 40-foot in Sandycove in a swimsuit, with a message saying: "you look so sexy, Jen, what a great body you have."

She did not respond to any messages but "did not know where it was going" and it put her on edge, so she contacted the gardai, the court heard.

When she was elected, she received a message saying "congratulations" and that he had seen her on the Tonight Show "looking beautiful and glamorous."

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Messages continued, with one reading: "swit swoo" with a fire emoji.

She found it all "creepy, freaky and frightening."

A garda investigation identified Culhane and when officers arrived at his home, he immediately said he knew why they were there. He confirmed he had sent Ms Carroll MacNeill "pictures" but nothing abusive.

The pictures and videos were not of him but were downloaded from a porn site, he said.

Ms Carroll MacNeill said she did not want to be addressing the court but she had to “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.”

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Jennifer Carroll MacNeill TD (Photo: Steve Humphreys)

Jennifer Carroll MacNeill TD (Photo: Steve Humphreys)

Jennifer Carroll MacNeill TD (Photo: Steve Humphreys)

“I do not choose to be sexualised in this way, to be in media articles with sexual content, " she said, "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. I do not want to be a victim. I perceive that this impacts me negatively professionally, as well as the very personal impact. I take pride in my work and I am a private person and I just don't like it."

Ms Carroll MacNeill said what happened “gave me an awful fright” at a time when she was “very much in public” during an election campaign.

“I had to question my personal safety for the first time, and that's something I have never been confronted with in my life before in such a direct way,” she said. "I don't like to admit it but it rocked my personal life and my sense of security: It also made me very aware of how my family and close team treated me differently, whether it was intentional or not, everyone was just suddenly on a higher alert, more concerned and more protective of me, my physical being and my emotional wellbeing.”

“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.

“That morning, suddenly and without warning, I was afraid for the first time…for the first time I felt there was a real, actual risk to me. I felt it, and I couldn't see it.

"I didn't know where it was, I didn't know what the nature of it was. Ok this was just a video, but what next? Was it just a video? Was it a precursor to something else? Was this person far away, or were they just over there? Were they crossing the road towards me? What were they going to do? Would they be waiting for me somewhere? Was I going to be hurt? Was I going to be attacked?”

“It was something that was just on my mind all the time, it was a sort of cold sense of dread no matter where I was, at home, out canvassing, wherever," Ms Carroll MacNeill continued.

"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.”

Culhane had no previous convictions, was unemployed and lived at home with his parents, the court heard.

Karl Monahan BL, defending said Culhane's social outlets had shrunk at the time, he was "not in a happy place" and was spending his time unhealthily.

He struck up conversations with some women on Facebook messenger and contacted Ms Carroll MacNeill because he was "curious to see could he engage her in conversation."

He did not intend to cause her any distress or alarm and Culhane described his actions as "stupidity," Mr Monahan said.

Culhane was very remorseful and felt shameful and guilty. Mr Monahan asked the judge not to impose a custodial sentence.

In court to support Ms Carroll MacNeill were her husband and former Irish rugby player, Hugo MacNeill; her parliamentary assistant Amelia Francis; Fine Gael Parliamentary Party Chairman Richard Bruton TD; Brendan Griffin TD; Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown councillor Marie Baker and former TDs Helen Keogh and Mary Flaherty.

Culhane had €1,000 in court as a token of his remorse, which was paid to a charity nominated by Ms Carroll MacNeill - a women's refuge.

Judge Ryan said she wished to see a probation report before proceeding to sentence. She adjourned the case to October 21.

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