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Friday 9 December 2016

Gerry O'Carroll: Garda killer's case highlights all that is wrong with the Irish justice system

Martin McDermott's on the run.
Martin McDermott's on the run.

DO we have a justice system in Ireland that acts as a genuine deterrent?

I sometimes wonder. Usually when I read of cases like that of Martin McDermott.

You might remember this individual. He killed Garda Gary McLoughlin in 2009 by ramming the officer's patrol car.

He was given a seven-year sentence for manslaughter. Eight months later McDermott, who was - incredibly - being housed in an open prison, escaped and fled the jurisdiction.

He was eventually caught in Northern Ireland and sent back to jail where - incredibly - he was 'punished' by being forced to serve an extra 14 days behind bars.

Then - incredibly - he was released early, after serving just four years.

escaped

Why? Good question, you might ask. Maybe, when he wasn't escaping and going on the run, he was a model prisoner.

It makes a mockery of our justice system that this violent thug, who escaped from prison, was given the benefit of remission on his sentence.

This criminal should have served every day of his sentence - but instead, he was released early.

Perhaps he was reformed? you ask. Think again.

It's now emerged that McDermott is on the run once more, after an incident in which he crashed a vehicle in Letterkenny last week and fled the hospital where he was being treated.

Gardai now want to question him as he's off the road on a driving ban after killing Garda McLoughlin.

Some years ago Michael McDowell, then Minister for Justice, commented that the justice system favoured the criminal and not the victim and this needed addressing.

McDermott's case is the latest to convince me that he was correct in that analysis.

In the not too distant past garda killers like McDermott could have faced the death penalty, before it was removed from our statute books.

Conviction for capital murder of gardai on duty still merits a statutory 40 years imprisonment but, luckily for him, McDermott was prosecuted on a manslaughter charge.

But his case is just a single instance of our peculiar Irish brand of justice.

At times I despair at the total lack of consistency in sentences handed down by our courts for those convicted of crimes of murder, rape and assault.

Some years ago a judge sentenced a businessman to six years in prison for failing to pay the correct import duty to the Revenue Commissioners on imported garlic. This was later reduced on appeal.

Yet, a garda killer like McDermott gets only seven years and walks out of jail a free man after serving four.

These glaring imbalances in our legal system are eroding confidence and trust in our courts to safe guard and protect our lives and liberties.

Enda Kenny and his Government haven't appeared all that concerned to date.

But now that there's an election coming up, do they intend to do anything about it?

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