Dermot Rooney left prison . . . days later he was dead
The Irish Prison Service says it is moving towards the “structured” release of vulnerable prisoners
A few months after Dermot Rooney died, his family received a letter from a woman in Donnybrook, Dublin, where he used to sleep rough. She spoke of his “thoughtful and sometimes humorous” nature, and how when Dermot learned of the death of her eldest son he “actually prayed for him there and then” and he later called to her house with a Mass card.
She wrote: “When I say that Dermot was a gentle man I really mean that in every sense of the word.”
Dermot Rooney, originally from Shankill, Co Dublin, took his own life aged 53 a few days after he was released from prison. It had been his first time in jail, brought about by minor charges arising from drink and drug addictions. His behaviour had become more erratic after the death of a friend in Wexford before Christmas 2010.
Intimidated in prison
When he was taken into custody on January 24th, 2011, “we thought at least he is in a secure environment; he will be fed and get attention, and he will come out after six months”, his brother Gerry recalls. But “he was hugely depressed and intimidated in prison. A weak lad like Dermot is easily picked out. I was frightened visiting him and I had a prison officer next to me. The other prisoners see someone like Dermot and it’s just fun for them to mess around with him.”
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Dermot was first placed on the D wing in Cloverhill for vulnerable prisoners and transferred to Wheatfield, which was not informed of his full personal and medical history – something that was criticised by an independent report.
Focus Ireland visited him three times in prison to prepare accommodation for him on his release, but a day before a fourth meeting the charity was informed Dermot had been given temporary release.
“I couldn’t believe this,” says Gerry Rooney, who had also arranged a further appointment with prison authorities to visit his brother. “I rang them and said how can you put a vulnerable prisoner out with no one to see him? How can you not hand him over to somebody? And they just said, ‘Oh lucky him’ . . . Dermot was just put out on the street.”
A Wexford address that was entered on his release papers was no longer available to him as it was boarded up, and Gerry Rooney says he advised both prison staff and medical staff of this fact. Moreover, the Garda had an outstanding warrant for his arrest at the address – and had this been checked Dermot might never have got temporary release, says his brother.
A few days after Dermot was let out on May 23rd he withdrew some money from his bank account and went missing. His family searched for him in his usual haunts around Donnybrook and thought he may have left for England – “he had this idea he was like Al Capone and he’d go on the run” – but on August 6th they received a call to say Dermot’s body had been found. He had hanged himself on the banks of the Dodder, and had been dead for an estimated two months.