herald

Friday 9 December 2016

Failure to deal properly with sex offenders heaps pain on families

Murder victim Joyce Quinn
Murder victim Joyce Quinn

There is no such thing as a sex offenders' register here. At least, not in the sense that you might understand what a register should be.

While the term "sex offenders' register" is routinely used in Ireland, there is nothing you can access yourself. You, as a member of the public, can't just google it or pop into your local garda station and ask to have a look.

If, for example, you're a parent or teacher and feel uncomfortable about the fact that an individual, who has no children, is hanging around a playground, you can't find out their history.

If the way he acts, what he does, the way he looks, makes you feel uneasy, the best you can probably hope for is to ask a garda who you know personally if he knows anything about this guy.

There is, however, the Sex Offenders Act. This law means that those who are convicted of certain sexual offences are obliged to provide their name and address to the gardai following their release from prison. This is the "register".

There's all sorts of arguments against these types of registers. Many say when it comes to stopping sex assaults, these measures do more harm than good.

Some criminologists, academics and judges are challenging their effectiveness in reducing sexual assault. (Most sex offenders for example, never become part of the criminal justice system and therefore aren't affected.)

Right now almost 1,500 people here sign on and give their name and address to gardai.

More than 100 sex offenders are expected to be released from Irish prisons this year.

Another man who is expected to be released in the near future is the man who murdered and raped Joyce Quinn in 1996.

Kenneth O'Reilly pleaded guilty to murdering Joyce but he was never charged with sexual assault and rape.

He had stabbed her in the heart and drove her car to a secluded location before raping her and stabbing her in the neck.

The State Pathologist Prof Marie Cassidy told the inquest that the injuries to her body were consistent with "forced penetration".

But because he wasn't charged with a sex crime he won't be flagged as a sex offender.

Then there's Brian Hennessey. He raped and murdered Sharon Whelan on Christmas Day in 2008 and also murdered her two daughters, seven-year-old Zara and two-year-old Nadia.

Pain

When he's released, he won't be registered as a sex offender either. The State didn't proceed with a rape prosecution.

So neither of these men underwent sex offenders' treatment in prison and neither will be subject to the sex offenders act.

They will have served their sentences and are free to live life as any other citizen.

Imagine the pain of the families of these women. Imagine how they must feel as the release date of their loved one's murderers approaches.

The families of the women and children killed in these horrific crimes say their pain is made even worse by the fact that they won't be recognised as sex offenders.

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