A Limerick man who repeatedly sexually abused a young child 21 years ago has avoided a prison sentence.

The accused man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was given a three-year suspended sentence at the Central Criminal Court.

Isobel Kennedy, SC for the accused, who was 16 at the time of the abuse, said he is now married and living in America and that any conviction could prevent him returning. She had asked the court last week when evidence was heard to consider applying the Probation Act.

Applying the Probation Act means that no conviction is recorded against an accused, allowing them to retain a clean criminal record.

Mr Justice Paul Carney said that although the defence counsel had made a very forceful plea on the man's behalf, he refused to "massage" the sentence in such as way as to deceive the US authorities.

He ordered the man to enter a bond of €1,000 and to keep away from the victim forever. He also declared the man a registered sex offender.

The now 37-year-old man pleaded guilty at the Central Criminal Court to attempted rape on the basis of full details of the offending being heard by the court.

The abuse occurred during the summer of 1993 in a wooded area near the man's home. His victim was between six and seven years old at the time.

Prosecuting counsel Maurice Coffey BL read from the complainant's victim impact statement.

The victim wrote that he still suffers night terrors as a result of the abuse.

"He has caused an irreparable amount of damage to my life", the victim wrote. He called his abuser "aggressive, manipulating, dominating and most of all, a predator".

He said he always felt the man would come back to get him and he has nightmares of him chasing him through the woods.

A local garda told the court that the abuse started when the boy found the accused reading a pornographic magazine in the woods. The accused then put his hand on the child's genitals, causing him to run away.

On another occasion the accused brought the boy into the wooded area where he had laid down a blanket. He molested the victim and tried to orally rape him. Afterwards he warned the boy not to say anything.

The garda confirmed that similar incidents happened several times throughout the summer before they stopped in September.

Ms Kennedy said her client has since moved to the US where he is married. Ms Kennedy said that after the victim went to gardaí in 2012 the accused voluntarily came back to Ireland to be interviewed.

She said he made full admissions, was deeply remorseful and later wrote a letter to his victim apologising for the abuse. Ms Kennedy said he pleaded guilty on the earliest possible date.

Last week after hearing the submission by the defence, Mr Justice Carney asked: "If I apply the Probation Act what do you think every rape crisis centre and tabloid newspaper in the country is going to do?"

"And they're not going to go after you Ms Kennedy," he continued.

Ms Kennedy told Mr Justice Carney that she was mentioning the Probation Act because of the strong mitigation in the case and the effect a sentence will have on the man's family.

After the hearing last week, the judge said the normal practice would be to remand the man in custody pending sentence.

However he said he was remanding him on continuing bail because putting him in custody might "pre-empt his position vis a vis the US."

"If I give effect to the submissions by Ms Kennedy, I know where society will direct its anger and it's not going to be at Ms Kennedy," Mr Justice Carney added.

Mr Justice Carney said the mitigating factors included that the offences were of very great antiquity.

He said the accused was 16 at the time and had been experiencing considerable bullying.

He noted that when allegations were raised, the accused travelled back voluntarily to Ireland to deal with them and made admissions which were more extensive than the allegations made against him.

The judge also said the accused was not likely to re-offend.

"However the gravity of this offence must not be lost sight of in any way," concluded Mr Justice Carney.