Letters to Minister express anger about judges and lenient sentencing

Majority of messages received by department seek harsher punishment of criminals

Unpaid prison labour, minimum sentences for child abusers and the castration of convicted rapists were some of the suggestions received by the Department of Justice from the public last year.

In dozens of letters and emails, members of the public voiced their frustration, fear and anger with judges, the Government and the criminal justice system in general.

The correspondence, comprising some 80 messages, seems to reflect a public perception that crime is getting worse and judges are too easy on repeat offenders.

Some of the letter-writers expressed concern to Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan about not being able to walk down the street at night while others suggest judges, and the politicians who appoint them, are out of touch.


Prominent or particularly shocking reports of cases in the media tended to result in a spike in letters.

An RTÉ Prime Time report on Keith Burke, who was jailed for 6½ years in April 2018 for the rape of three foster children, prompted about a dozen people to write to the Mr Flanagan or the Department of Justice to complain about what they saw as an overly lenient punishment.

“He should have been castrated in the first place. And then jailed for the rest of his life. His sentence HAS to be reviewed,” one correspondent wrote.

Another asked Mr Flanagan to have the judge retire or make sure they never received another sex case “as they clearly have no idea about justice, which is a rather unfortunate quality in a judge”.

“I would urge the minister to introduce a mandatory sentence of 15 years for child rape and also to ban concurrent sentencing as the criminal needs to pay for his crimes and also the victims need justice,” one person wrote.

“I implore you to set about writing [sic] this wrong,” another woman wrote about Burke’s sentence. “I am willing to help you in any way that I can. I really hope you read this email and that it sits in your mind.”

Longer sentences

One man said he would “happily” pay more in taxes so longer sentences can be handed down.

“Why can’t we take a leaf out of the book of the USA (I realise they are on the other extreme but still) when it comes to sentencing,” said another.

In most cases the response from the department was the same: Thanks for your letter, but the Minister can’t interfere with the decisions of the judiciary.

This explanation served only to anger some writers further. “I’m not accepting this answer anymore, it is you the government who set minimum sentence,” one responded. “Can’t you see that sentencing in Ireland is clearly not working . . . as a result I will not be voting for this government again since you are clearly failing victims of crime.”

Not all correspondents were in favour of tougher sentences, however. One woman compared prisons to the mother-and-baby homes and suggested inmates should be able to gain remission by completing work in the community.

Another went further, suggesting inmates be made to work in “a prison factory” to “generate money for the State”.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times