1,000 signatures reached
To: Minister for Justice and Equality Helen McEntee
Implement the 2019 Parole Act
Implement the 2019 Parole Act and support victims.
Why is this important?
Any prisoners serving a sentence longer than 8 years are allowed to apply for parole halfway through that sentence. Being approved for parole would grant them early release from prison. Someone sentenced to life in prison can apply after 7 years. The parole board is an administrative collection of members who advise the minister for Justice and Equality on the applications from long term prisoners. The members include senior officials from the department of justice and equality, the head of the probation service, the medical director of the central mental hospital and various community representatives. At the moment the applicant must go before a parole board who will assess their progress and examine how they have engaged in reformative work while in prison and a number of other factors including;
* Whether it is reasonable to grant early release based on the nature of the offence
* Whether they want release
* Whether there are any compassionate grounds that would grant special consideration
* Whether they have engaged with therapeutic services within prison to combat their offending behaviour
* And whether their release would be considered a threat to the safety of the community
Their recommendation is passed to the serving minister for justice and equality who must then either accept, deny or accept it in part. When a prisoner is not recommended for release, they will have their case reviewed every one and a half to three years. This means that the families of victims must prepare themselves to write a statement each time between the seven-year mark and when the perpetrator is eventually released on license. This is a traumatising task for those bereaved by homicide or victims of crime.
A piece of legislation that would increase the minimum term served before convicted killers could apply for parole to 12 years was first proposed to the government in 2016. It was enacted in July 2019 and would mean that the parole board would become an independent body outside of the government becoming more transparent and accessible for victims. The new parole board would be made up of people who are appointed by the Minister for Justice who would have an understanding of the prison system, the law and the impact on victims.
This would remove politics from the parole process.
The Parole Act was passed in 2019 and a year later it has still not been implemented. Convicted murders have been eligible for parole during this time, the Act would have been retrospective and ensured they had to serve a minimum of 12 years so the Department of Justice has let down victims and their families with the delay.
Sinead O'Leary was the victim of a random, vicious knife attack which left her fighting for her life, and ended the life of her best friend Nichola Sweeney. Her attacker, Nichola's murderer, Peter Whelan, has been up before the Parole board numerous times, he has also been granted day release and neutral venue visits in the area where he committed the horrific assault.
The Parole process has left Sinead feeling re-traumatised and disposable, and it has devastated Nichola Sweeney's family. . Here is Sinead's account;
"The process has been soul destroying, painful and confronting. Peter Whelan deemed my life to be without worth, he deemed Nichola’s life to be without worth and he continues to do so. Allowing this monstrous individual to have access to the Parole Board 7 years before he was due to even begin serving his sentence for her murder devalues Nichola’s life.
Recommending and permitting temporary day releases after serving a mere four years, not even the minimum seven-year term of this sentence, devalues Nichola’s life and Nicholas families trauma.. Reducing the sentence of attempted murder by four years devalues my trauma.
Whelan may display ‘good behaviour’ in prison but Whelan has done this before. He reportedly was a ‘model client’ during a 4-month stay in a substance abuse treatment centre which his parents enrolled him days after he assaulted the girls on New Year’s Eve, yet two weeks later he launched his frenzied attack on Nichola and I. To be blunt, prison is not the real world. It is simply controlled compliance. Compliance should not be rewarded, it should be expected. What happens to someone as disordered as Whelan when all the strict controls of prison are replaced with the myriad of choices, stresses, and temptations of the real world?
I was 19 years of age when Peter Whelan tried to kill me. I was at the beginning of my adult life, no longer a child, with a world of possibilities ahead of me. Instead, I entered adulthood in a world of pain and trauma. I spent my 20th birthday recovering in a hospital bed reeling from the reality that my best friend had been murdered. While the man who tried to kill me slept soundly in his cell despite the horror he inflicted upon Nichola and I. I have spent subsequent birthdays mourning the life of my best friend and the life that was taken from me. For I am serving my own life sentence because of the actions of Peter Whelan.
In 2019, I was told that not only had Whelan had three meetings with the Parole Board, in 2010, 2014 and 2018, but that he had been recommended for three-monthly neutral venue visits with family in Cork. And to my shock and disbelief, he had actually been in Cork based on this decision several times. This information was absolutely devastating to Nichola's family and I. We were completely blindsided.
The position I have been put in is not right and not just. My life is not is not liveable with Whelan returning to my community, to Cork, in any capacity. I feel I must advocate for not only myself and my right to a peaceful and safe life, but for my family and for the wider community to have peaceful and safe lives from this dangerous unremorseful individual. And of course I feel I must advocate for Nichola and her family's ongoing trauma."