Law abiding citizens throughout the country will have been appalled with the revelation late last week that a man convicted of the manslaughter of a Garda had successfully succeeded in absconding from the prison in which he was housed.
But what has proven to be most disconcerting is the fact that the prisoner, who had an astonishing 91 previous convictions, had been detained in one of just two open prisons in Ireland, Loughan House.
The twenty six year old had been convicted of the manslaughter of a young Garda following a high speed chase in December of 2009 which ended when he crashed into a marked patrol car in Co. Donegal. The incident resulted in twenty-four old Garda Gary McLoughlin suffering multiple injuries and succumbing to those injuries just a day later.
The driver of that vehicle was jailed for seven years last July for the manslaughter of Garda McLoughlin and was also found guilty of the reckless endangerment of the officer’s life.
However, despite being just seven months into his sentence, the convicted man, Martin McDermott, was moved to Loughan House in Co. Cavan last year.
What has astonished the vast majority of people in this country is how a man convicted of such a serious crime, and just months into his sentence, could be transferred to an open prison, which enjoys an extremely relaxed regime and where inmates are almost literally trusted not to walk out of the jail’s gates.
The revelation must have come as a huge shock to Garda McLoughlin’s family, colleagues and friends. They will have, rightly, expected that a man convicted of such grave offences, and who had a grievous history of offending, would have been housed in a secure facility, where he would have experienced sanctions which reflected the gravity of his actions.
To house a man with an obvious disregard for the law in an open house is an absolute disgrace. One would have thought that open prisons were most suited to those who had paid the penalty for their crimes, who were in no danger of re-offending and who were about to be re-entered into society.
To place an individual barely into a lengthy sentence into an open regime sends out all the wrong signals. For victims it adds to the devastation they are already experiencing. It must be horrifying for them to know that whilst their loved one will enjoy no future, those who have perpetrated such terrible crimes are enjoying life in an open prison, instead of paying their due debt to society.
It was only right that Justice Minister Alan Shatter and Taoiseach Enda Kenny apologised to Garda McLoughlin’s family for the distress caused to them by the incident.
Mr. Shatter has requested a report on the matter from the new director general of the Irish Prison Service and has stated that the report will cover the full details as to how and why Mr. McDermott was transferred from a closed prison to an open centre.
That report must be comprehensive and must address the concerns of the community at large. But of paramount importance is that it addresses the distress of the McLoughlin family. They have tragically lost a treasured son in this terrible affair and they must now be told why the man involved in this dreadful crime was housed in a facility from which he could so easily abscond.