'I know that he is hated but I won't let killer Nash down'
A Dublin woman who has spent nine years visiting convicted killer Mark Nash in prison says she doesn't expect people to understand why she cares for him and regularly visits.
Martina Courtney (52) goes to see Nash - the only man in Ireland serving life sentences for two double murders - twice a week in the Midlands Prison.
However, despite his brutal crimes, Martina says she visits because she cares about him.
Martina has more experience than most when it comes to the horrors of murder. Her only brother, Sean Courtney, has served a life sentence for the killing of Patricia O'Toole in the Dublin mountains more than 20 years ago. It was through Sean that she met Mark.
"Everyone is a human being at the end of the day. Maybe I wouldn't be in this situation if Sean hadn't have done what he done," Martina said.
"I just look at things different now, obviously. I'm a bit more open-minded than somebody who has never been involved in murders," she added.
"I used to try to explain to people that there are victims on both sides in a murder, but it's not fair to say that to the families of those that died because it's kind of insulting."
Martina started seeing Mark Nash through an Alternatives to Violence Programme (AVP), she said.
"Sean did an AVP himself. It's a group scenario thing. It was more like role play, anger management basically.
"I never knew who Mark was, and when I went in they didn't know I was Sean's sister. Mark told me later in the course what he was in for. I didn't tell anyone about me until the very end," Martina said.
"When I found out about Mark I saw him as a man that had nobody. Then I just wrote to the governor and asked could I go in and visit him.
"We just struck up a very good friendship and that was it. I get on great with Mark, and Mark gets on great with me. I don't even know how to explain it to you," she said.
"I get a call from him every day. I'm not somebody going in blindfolded, like totally infatuated with Mark. Not at all."
Asked if she ever considers Nash's victims, Martina paused.
"I never think about what Mark is in prison for, and I don't mean any disrespect with that," she says.
"I see Mark as a person. I watch him dealing with it. He does really and truly show you remorse.
"When the anniversaries are coming up, he worries about the kids that were left. He has said to me: 'I've left four orphans'.
"He knows that he's hated - and who could blame people for hating him," Martina added.
"I wouldn't be afraid of Mark. He's done a lot of work to try and sort things out."
Nash recently lost his case to try and get back to Arbour Hill, threatening to kill himself and going on hunger strike before the case was heard. Martina said the move to the Midlands Prison has had a bad effect on him.
"Since they put him down to the Midlands Mark thinks he's going backwards. There is no death penalty in this country, but by putting him down to the Midlands they might as well have killed him. He has nothing, no goals," she says.
"I don't expect anyone to feel sorry for Mark. Jesus, why would they?"
Asked if she thought she would ever have a life on the outside with Mark, Martina said she does not know.
"He's not going to get out in the morning. I'm not stupid. I'm not going to turn around and say 'Oh yeah, he's going to get out in 20 years, I'm going to sit there and wait'.
"I like to think that I bring some of my life to Mark. I share some of my life with Mark and try to help what he's going through. We get half-an-hour twice a week," she said.
"We never get alone time. You just say what you have to say, just be somebody there to talk to and feel that somebody cares."
"Travelling further to see Mark now that he is in the Midlands Prison instead of Arbour Hill does bother me. But a prison is a prison at the end of the day, you have to work around it, you have to agree with the judges at the end of the day. Mark is doing his time. I'm just basically his support. The man has no support. Who has he got? He's got nobody.
"I won't let him down. Not for the world, I wouldn't let him down. But if he's staying down there I can see him pushing me away because he's just going further and further into himself.
"So it would be more he'd say to me one day not to bother coming."
"Then again, I could get a call to say that he's dead. I'm down as his next of kin. My biggest fear used to be that he would go into an unmarked grave or something if anything happened to him. I wouldn't let that happen. There's no way I would let that happen," Martina adds.
Asked if a call to say Nash was dead would shock her, Martina said: "No."
"It wouldn't shock me. You're asking him to stay, to stick around, but for what? He has nothing to look forward to."
Asked if her reasons for seeing Mark might be a subconscious way to try to rationalise the actions of her brother, to try and understand what being a killer is, Martina thought for a while.
"Maybe. I don't know. I think I'm basically just a compassionate person. I really do," she says.
"But if I knew anybody that was going to do what I do I'd tell them 'No'. It's heartbreaking.
"You see one side of a man that everybody else doesn't see, but it's hard to defend him because of the crimes. Don't get started is my advice."