Cork murder victims' families demand changes to the parole system

As the families of murder victims seek changes to the Irish system of parole, Ann Murphy talks to two Corkwomen about different experiences in Ireland and Australia.
Cork murder victims' families demand changes to the parole system

Adam O’Keeffe, who is now serving a life sentence for the murder of Amy McCarthy in 2017. He will be eligible to apply for parole in around four years time.

Every day, Liz Hannon wakes up thinking of how her sister Noreen died — murdered 35 years ago, just months after arriving in Australia.

Today, Briton Barry Whiteoak remains in prison in Australia, despite regular attempts to get parole. So far, all his bids have failed. If he ever is granted parole, he will be deported to the UK.

However, vehement opposition to each application for parole is made by Noreen’s former boyfriend, Australian Michael Maher.

Liz Hannon said this, and media coverage of the case each time helps to ensure Noreen’s killer remains behind bars.

And she said Whiteoak’s lack of remorse is a key factor in why he has so far been denied parole.

She explained that there has been no trace of remorse, according to psychiatrists' reports furnished at the time of each parole hearing.

Ms Hannon has recently thrown her weight behind a campaign by families in Ireland who have come together to form a group to lobby for improvements to the justice system for families of murder victims.

The group, SAVE (Sentencing and Victim Equality), recently demonstrated outside Government Buildings, demanding changes to the parole system.

They also demand a State-funded organisation to support families of all victims of violent crime.

The action followed recent high profile cases where killers were granted day release from prison. They included double murder David Curran is serving a life sentence for murdering two Polish men in Dublin in 2010. He has been granted release from prison to meet family members.

Dubliner Brian Kearney has also been recommended for visits with family in neutral venues. He is serving a life sentence for the murder of his wife Siobhan, since 2008.

Two Corkwomen, Debbie McCarthy and Debbie O’Leary, travelled to Dublin to take part in the action, in memory of their niece, Amy McCarthy, from Mount Carmel Road. The 22-year-old mother was murdered in a squat on Sheare’s Street on April 29, 2017.

Her boyfriend, Adam O’Keeffe from Midleton, was convicted of her murder. He had pleaded guilty to manslaughter and denied her murder.

A post mortem examination revealed she had died from blunt force trauma and manual strangulation.

The court heard O’Keeffe killed her because he believed she had cheated on him while he was in prison.

He is now serving a life sentence.

But Debbie McCarthy said that the family of Amy lives in dread of the day when he will be eligible to apply for parole in around four years time.

She highlighted the family’s pain that O’Keeffe is automatically entitled to seek parole after spending seven years in jail.

Families of murder victims who are demanding an overhaul of sentencing structures including day release scheme,the protracted parole system and the place families occupy in the mind of the protesting outside the department of Justice, Dublin. Picture: Gareth Chaney Collins
Families of murder victims who are demanding an overhaul of sentencing structures including day release scheme,the protracted parole system and the place families occupy in the mind of the protesting outside the department of Justice, Dublin. Picture: Gareth Chaney Collins

At the moment, their concern is raising Amy’s young son, who is now three and who has no idea that his mother was killed by his father.

Debbie is critical of a lack of emotional support too for the families of murder victims. She said that while counselling is provided to offenders in prison, none is offered to victims’s families.

She added: “The gardaí and the detectives were really good. But the family got no support for counselling, got no direction. The emotional support is missing.”

The McCarthy family and others lobbying for improvements for families of homicide victims also want to see an end to concurrent sentencing for murderers being sentenced for more than one murder.

They believe a life sentence should be handed down for each murder and that they should be served consecutively, instead of concurrently.

And the McCarthy family also has concerns that when they are notified about when O’Keeffe is eligible to apply for parole, he will be able to read any objections sent to the Parole Board, opposing parole.

Day releases such as those granted to Brian Carney and David Curran have been branded “a joke” by Debbie McCarthy.

She asked: “Why should they have rights like that after killing someone? It is unacceptable.”

She said further protests to highlight concerns of murder victims' families will be held in the coming months.

And she added that several families from across the country have made contact with SAVE since the Dublin protest in recent weeks.

Liz Hannon said that even though her sister’s case was in Australia, and her murderer has served over three decades in prison, she is supporting the work of SAVE in a bid to help other families who go through the same pain as her family did.

She stressed that families in Ireland need to be heard and that people need to become less complacent about violent crimes like murder.

And she says that for her, she is lucky that she does not have to lie in bed at night seeing the face of her sister’s killer in the dark.

She said: “He is locked up on the other side of the world and I have never seen his face. I don’t know what he looks like.”

She adds that the Hannon family have had justice for their sister because her killer has spent so long in jail. But she said that she still opposes his release because the family do not want him to be in a position to cause pain and grief to other families.

Proposals to change parole eligibility rule should be reconsidered

PROPOSALS to increase the minimum number of years before a lifer is eligible for parole should be reconsidered, according to the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT).

While the body welcomes plans to tackle reform of the Irish parole system, the IPRT believes the point at which a prisoner becomes eligible for parole should not be increased.

Currently, a person on a life sentence must have served seven years before becoming eligible to apply for parole.

The Parole Bill 2016, brought forward by Fianna Fáil’s Deputy Jim O’Callaghan, advocates that a person serving a life sentence should not be eligible for parole until after having served a minimum period of 12 years.

Fianna Fáil Spokesperson for Justice, Jim O’Callaghan TD. Pic: Gareth Chaney Collins
Fianna Fáil Spokesperson for Justice, Jim O’Callaghan TD. Pic: Gareth Chaney Collins

However, in its submission on the bill, the IPRT said: “Life sentence prisoners are reviewed every three years until they are recommended for release. The seven-year minimum term is the beginning of a review process and not the point of release. The interpretation of the proposed increase in minimum term by decision-makers is crucial in terms of its potential impact on time served.

“Is the twelve-year minimum term to operate as the default point at which a life sentence prisoner is to be released?”

The IPRT wants an independent Parole Board to be set up on a statutory footing, which the Trust believes would remove political control from the decision-making process on parole applications.

“The parole system in Ireland should be coherent, transparent and fair, and it must be removed from political control,” Executive Director of the IPRT Fiona Ní Chinnéide said. “This will benefit everyone. The distress that can be caused by unclear or inaccurate information should be further minimised through improved investment in victims support services.”

She added: “Parole plays an important role in public safety through supporting the safe re-integration of people serving long sentences back into the community. It is incredibly important that the parole legislation strengthens timely engagement with rehabilitative services in prison and supports progress towards eventual safe release back to the community.”

The aim of the Parole Bill 2016 also includes provision for the creation of a an independent parole board.

Under Deputy O’Callaghan’s proposals, the membership would include a chairperson who “holds or has held judicial office as a judge of the Circuit Court or of the Superior Courts or is a practicing academic, barrister or solicitor of at least 10 years standing”, as well as “at least four members who are appointed as panel convenors selected through a competitive selection process coordinated by the Public Appointments Service”.

The proposal also recommends that a psychiatrist, a psychologist, a representative from the Irish Prison Service; a current or retired member of the gardaí, from superintendent level or higher; a probation or welfare officer, and a person nominated by the Irish Penal Reform Trust be members of the board.

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