THE youngest brother of murdered Nichola Sweeney says he would not be able to stay in this country if her killer Peter Whelan was released.
Christopher Sweeney was just four when 20-year-old Nichola was murdered and her friend Sinead O’Leary was left fighting for her life in the Sweeney family home in 2002.
In the random and motiveless attack, Nichola was stabbed 11 times by Whelan; Sinead was stabbed more than 20.
An emotional Christopher tells RTÉ Prime Time tonight: “I just feel that I was kind of robbed. Everyone always tells me, all her friends, all my family, what a wonderful human being she was. Like, if he was released, and I mean this, I couldn’t stay in Cork, I couldn’t even stay in Ireland, I’d have to leave. I feel so sorry for my parents, for Sinead, for my brother Sean, his wife Orla, and their baby Nicola.”
Sean’s baby daughter was named after his murdered sister.
The Sweeney family and Sinead O’Leary are angry that Whelan has been granted three separate escorted day releases by the Parole Board, approved by Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan, even though he is only six years into a life sentence for the murder. He has already served 12 years of a 15-year sentence for the attempted murder of Sinead O’Leary, with three years’ remission for good behaviour.
The Court of Criminal Appeal ordered that he serve the life sentence after the sentence for the attempted murder.
He has returned to Cork on each of the day releases. He also returned last week to visit his mother’s remains in a funeral home, in compassionate leave granted by the Irish Prison Service.
Sean said: “This killer should not be allowed in the area. I don’t want to be looking over my shoulder. No victims, you know, families who have lost loved ones through murder, they shouldn’t be petrified.”
He recalled: “That night, my last night with my sister, has haunted me forever. I was 17 years old at the time.”
Friends had persuaded him to join them on a night out and he said: “The last words Nichola said to me that evening were just to tell me how nice I looked.”
Sinead O’Leary told the programme that it is only in recent years that she has been able to “finally feel kind of safe again and that I can have a life now.”
But she said the revelation that Whelan has been on two visits to Cork this year, escorted by prison officers, has changed her life forever again because “I am not being protected”.
Nichola’s parents John and Josephine also spoke of their torment on the programme, explaining that they had returned to Ireland from London to live in Cork just a few years before the killing.
The couple and their youngest son, Christopher, were in London when the murder occurred. Nichola and Sean had remained in the family home in Cork.
John said Whelan had committed a monstrous act in their home that night, for no reason.
Josephine, who became aware of the attack when she rang the family home from London just minutes later, recalled that she had spoken to Nichola earlier in the night and her daughter was excited when telling her about watching a programme called Stars in Your Eyes.
In the days before the interviews were filmed, Josephine said she had looked at some footage of Nichola and had felt for a short time that she had her daughter back. But she said: “Then suddenly I realised she wasn’t, she was taken from me in the most horrendous way.”
A spokesman for Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said: “The distress that the events referenced have caused the Sweeney family and Ms O’Leary is unimaginable. The minister sympathises greatly with Ms O’Leary and the Sweeney family.
The spokesman added: “It is very important not to conflate very limited day release under escort and supervision with the release of an offender on parole. They are not the same thing. And it does not necessarily follow that escorted day releases lead to release on parole in the short or medium term.
“Long-term imprisonment does not simply involve locking prisoners in cells for a defined time period. The prison services work on an ongoing basis with offenders as both punishment and rehabilitation are cornerstones of our criminal justice system.”