Decision on garda killer departed from norms
THE IRISH Prison Service departed from its standard practices when transferring garda killer Martin McDermott to Loughan House open prison, opting not to seek Garda advice as it normally would when transferring prisoners jailed for killings.
It is unclear why the Garda’s advice was not sought. Some sources suggested concerns around a conflict of interest because McDermott had killed Garda Gary McLoughlin during a high-speed chase.
Director general of the prison service Michael Donnellan issued an “unreserved and full apology” for the debacle when he appeared before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality yesterday.
He said the decision to transfer McDermott (25), Raphoe, Donegal, earlier this month from the high-security Midlands Prison in Portlaoise had been taken by a review group at that prison.
“They did not attached sufficient weight to the gravity of [McDermott’s] offence,” he said.
Mr Donnellan apologised to Garda McLoughlin’s family and colleagues, revealing he had met the deceased’s family members on Wednesday before a report into the case was released by Minister for Justice Alan Shatter.
He added McDermott’s absconding from Loughan House for a number of days before returning voluntarily during a period in jail in 2007 “should have sounded a lot of alarms” for those who decided at the start of March to send him back there during his current sentence.
The Garda Representative Association said the report published by Mr Shatter “raised more questions than it answered”.
Mr Donnellan told the justice committee yesterday that it was decided at a meeting of the sentence review team in the Midlands Prison on February 23rd that McDermott was suitable for transfer to the open prison in Blacklion, Co Cavan. He was less than half-way through his seven-year manslaughter term.
The decision had been made on the basis of his apparent desire to avail of educational opportunities at Loughan House and because it would be easier for his family to visit him. However, he accepted this emphasis on the “rehabilitative perspective” was wrong.
In the future, any transfer of prisoners serving sentences for crimes where people had lost their lives would be subject to an additional layer of review to ensure such a case did not reoccur.
The PSNI arrested McDermott in Derry the day after he absconded. He assaulted several police officers and has been jailed there for four months in the North, after which he will be extradited to the Republic to complete his manslaughter sentence.
Mr Donnellan said that last year there were 86 cases of people absconding from Loughan House, the majority of whom returned voluntarily days later.
However, 19 of those were still unaccounted for and there were cases of people who had absconded in 1995 still unaccounted for. He added some 951 prisoners were on temporary release from jails across the prison system.
Fianna Fáil’s justice spokesman Dara Calleary said while he respected Mr Donnellan’s record, as former head of the Probation Service, and his progressive plans for the prison service, the McDermott transfer was a “dark chapter” for the prison service.
He said this was particularly so given McDermott’s record of convictions (more than 90) and the fact he had been disciplined several times since being jailed in December 2009.
PRISON TIMELINE McDERMOTT ESCAPE
November 27th, 2007:
Martin McDermott escapes from Loughan House open prison while serving one of several sentences for various offences including drink-driving and driving without insurance. He is apprehended within three days.
December 13th, 2009: He is spotted by gardaí speeding from a petrol station in Co Donegal. Officers go in pursuit and McDermott crashes into a marked patrol car. Garda Gary McLoughlin dies the next day from his injuries. July 22, 2011: McDermott is convicted of the involuntary manslaughter of Garda McLoughlin and given an eight-year sentence. He pleads guilty to dangerous driving causing death, drink-driving, driving without insurance and driving while disqualified. He has 91 previous convictions.
March 3rd, 2012: McDermott is transferred at his own request from Midlands Prison to Loughan House to be closer to his family. March 15th: He walks out of Loughan House and across the Border into Northern Ireland. March 16th: McDermott is found by PSNI officers in Derry.
March 18th: He pleads guilty to six charges related to his arrest and is refused bail in Derry. He is later sentenced to four months.