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Thursday 8 December 2016

Anton Savage: Killer is serving three life terms - why does it feel two don't count?

Brian Hennessy
Brian Hennessy
Kees Veldboer
Wine and cork
Enda Kenny

On Christmas Day 2008, Brian Hennessy knocked on the door of the Co Kilkenny home of Sharon Whelan. He was a relief postman and knew she lived there with her two kids, Zara (7) and Nadia (2).

When she answered the door, he assaulted her, raped her and strangled her to death. He did it silently enough that the two girls did not wake. As they slept he remained in the house, planning how to cover his tracks.

Eventually he came to a decision. He carried Sharon's body into the room where her children lay. Then he crept out, and set two fires inside the house. The resulting blaze choked Zara and Nadia. Brian Hennessey then went for Christmas dinner with his family.

DAMAGE

Days later the autopsies on Sharon, Zara and Nadia revealed that the two little girls had soot and smoke in their lungs, but Sharon did not. That, plus the damage done to her windpipe by her murderer's hands showed gardai this was no accident.

They found Hennessy, arrested him, and interviewed him, repeatedly. He protested his innocence, repeatedly.

In the face of forensic evidence, he broke, and admitted killing Sharon and her daughters (but he denied rape).

A court found him guilty and he was given three life sentences - two to run consecutively and one to be concurrently. In other words, one wouldn't count.

Sharon's family were pleased. Her brother John says the gardai told them it was unusual for such long sentences to be handed down.

Turns out they were right. The sentencing was overturned on appeal and now all three sentences run concurrently.

Brian Hennessy raped Sharon Whelan and murdered her, Nadia and Zara on Christmas Day 2008. He's up for parole in the spring of next year.

John Whelan says that Brian Hennessy is essentially serving one sentence for three murders. Therefore the death of two of his family members were meaningless in the eyes of the State.

He has a point. If Brian Hennessy had walked from Sharon Whelan's house leaving Zara and Nadia sleeping upstairs, he would be serving a life sentence. Just as he is now.

He would be eligible for parole in spring. Just as he is now. Suffocating two kids had no difference on the sentence the courts left him with. Something is wrong with that.

The answer is not Old Testament retribution - we don't need capital punishment or whole-life sentencing.

But don't we need something that means you are actually punished for the separate things you do?

Bernie Madoff, the New York financier convicted of white-collar fraud in 2009, was sentenced to 150 years. He will die in jail. He did not rape anyone. He did not murder anyone. But he is serving 150 years.

Brian Hennessy should be given the opportunity to return to society, to prove he changed and can contribute. But our laws should not let that happen yet.

 

We need our own Ambulance Wish Foundation to comfort the terminally ill

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Kees Veldboer is a Dutch man with an idea we should all rip off.

He used to be an ambulance driver. One day he was driving a terminally ill patient between hospitals and was told to park up and wait, as the receiving hospital wasn't ready for the patient.

During the lull, he got chatting to his passenger. The man, Mario, told him that before he became ill he was an avid sailor and was deeply sad that he would die without ever getting to see the sea again.

So Kees had an idea. He called in some favours and, with a bit of help, brought Mario to the harbour and the ocean, one last time.

Since then, he has developed an organisation of 200 volunteers who have granted 7,000 wishes for terminally ill people - bringing them to the place they want to visit one more time before they go.

Hospice

He has even taken a patient to the top of a snow-covered mountain where they used to ski.

It is not a medically useful act. These patients will not get better, they will not recover.

But that makes it no less important. For someone in late stage illness, or in hospice care, the chance to go to that one place, one last time must be unimaginably precious. Kees maintains that he can see the people relax and become at ease as the trips end. In his interpretation it's as if people become ready to let go.

The Ambulance Wish Foundation has expanded into Belgium, Germany and Austria and is in talks to try to get into Britain.

If it doesn't make it to Ireland, the HSE or a private ambulance provider should team up with a charity and see if a similar service could be developed here - people in palliative care rarely have much to look forward to, so wouldn't this be a great move?

 

It's proper wine, not 'whopper' wine

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Burger King is making wine. Now, before you jump in the car and race to the drive-thru, it's only in Spain. The 'Whopper'- brand red wine is being launched to celebrate the fast-food chain's presence in that country (where they tempted customers into their restaurants decades ago by adding wine to their menus).

The best bit of the whole endeavour is they are using bottles with corks. Not for them the better, more reliable and cheaper screw-top. No, no. Not Burger King. They want a proper cork.

As odd as it seems to say - Burger King has just proved itself to be pretentious. I bet Ronald Macdonald would have to the good grace to use a screw-top - and a straw.

 

Guessing dates is just a waste of time

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Speculation is rife that we will have a November election. Let's be clear, one person alone knows the date for the election, Enda Kenny (left), and until he announces it, there's every chance he may change his mind as circumstances dictate.

A discussion about when the election will happen is the political equivalent of pre-match previews: a bunch of people trying to fill air-time without actually saying 'none of us have a bleeding clue what will happen'.

Such speculation always goes hand-in-hand with that other great space-filler: the argument about pre-election spending to buy the election.

That's what happens before elections. It always happens. So let's stop acting shocked by something as predictable as dawn.

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