Rape Laws in Ireland

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Rape is a serious criminal offence in Ireland and anyone who has been accused of rape, or arrested in relation to such an offence, should speak with a solicitor specialising in criminal law as soon as possible. If you need to speak to a solicitor today, call Daniel Kreith on (086) 076 2191.

As solicitors specialising in this field, we understand the intricacies of Irish rape laws, and have set out some brief information below to help you understand the legal framework surrounding rape offences in Ireland.

Common Law:

In Ireland, rape is essentially non-consensual sexual activity. Until 1981, Irish rape law was based on the common law offence of rape. However, in that year, the Irish legislature passed the Criminal Law (Rape) (Amendment) Act, which introduced a statutory offence of rape. The common law offence of rape has not been abolished in Ireland, and the 1981 Act simply created a new offence.

Section 4 Rape:

Section 4 of the Criminal Law (Rape) (Amendment) Act 1990 sets out the offence of rape in Irish law, and it is the primary statute that deals with rape in Ireland. It defines rape as any non-consensual sexual intercourse, and the offence can be committed by both males and females.

The main difference between section 4 rape and what is commonly referred to as “common law rape” is that section 4 rape is a statutory offence, while “common law rape”, as the name suggests, is a common law offence. Common law rape is defined as non-consensual sexual intercourse, and prior to the introduction of the 1990 Act, it was the main way in which rape was prosecuted in Ireland.

However, the 1990 Act largely replaced the common law offence of rape with the statutory offence of rape set out in section 4. The statutory offence of rape is more comprehensive than the common law offence, as it includes a wider range of sexual activities, such as anal and oral intercourse, and provides more detailed definitions of key terms such as consent.


The penalties for rape in Ireland are severe. If convicted, the offender can face life imprisonment. However, the penalties may be mitigated depending on the circumstances of the case. In some cases, a lesser sentence may be imposed. In theory, it is also possible for the court to impose a fine and/or community service as an alternative to imprisonment, although this is rare.


Defences to rape charges in Ireland include honest belief in consent, reasonable mistake as to the victim’s age, and coercion by a third party. However, the burden of proof is on the accused to establish their defence on the balance of probabilities.

Average Prison Sentence:

The average prison sentence for rape in Ireland depends on the circumstances of the case. However, the maximum sentence for rape is life imprisonment. Sentences for rape are determined by the judge after considering a range of factors such as the seriousness of the offence, the harm caused to the victim, and the offender’s previous convictions and personal circumstances.


Rape is a serious crime in Ireland, and those accused of it face severe penalties if convicted. If you or someone you know is facing rape charges, it is crucial to seek the services of an experienced solicitor. With the right legal representation, you can protect your rights and interests and receive the best possible outcome.

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