Judge criticises media for attacking prison sentences instead of addressing rehabilitation issue

Judge David Riordan says prison is least visible part of criminal justice system

A Circuit Court judge has criticised some sections of the media for attacking sentences imposed by the courts rather than addressing the more complex issue of rehabilitating prisoners.

Judge David Riordan said he knew of no colleague who took pleasure in sentencing anyone to a custodial term but that there were some offences which warranted them.

He said the prison system was the least visible part of the criminal justice system as prisoners are removed from society.

Going in and coming out of prison was not like “turning on and turning off a light switch” but was a complex matter which posed challenges both for society and for the individuals themselves, who he said may have difficulty accessing accommodation and social welfare when released.


“I think it’s regrettable the energy that is expended by some sectors of the media and some social media when criticising some sentences is not more fruitfully applied to the more complex difficult work that has to be done in the area of rehabilitation and re-integration of discharged prisoners,” he said.

“I think most fair minded and reasonable members of society would prefer a greater emphasis on securing a safer society by helping such re-integration take place than by expressing swingeing views on retribution that really gets us nowhere.

“The ‘us and them’ paradigm of some media may sell newspapers but it doesn’t make society any safer and indeed it may engender social alienation.”

Judge Riordan paid tribute to groups in Cork who work to help to re-integrate inmates into society on their release from jail.


He chose to highlight the issue of prisoner rehabilitation and re-integration at his retirement when he stepped down after a 22-year career on the bench, first in the district court in Dublin, Tipperary, Waterford and Cork and then on Cork Circuit Criminal Court.

Don McCarthy BL, father of the Cork Bar, led the tributes to Judge Riordan, saying that his experience, training initially for the bar and later working as solicitor - equipped him well to serve as a judge.

Terry O'Sullivan, president of the Southern Law Association, said Judge Riordan's experience as a solicitor meant he knew the needs of the legal profession but more importantly the needs of their clients. He said he had always discharged his duties as judge with "kindness and care".

Solicitor Noel Doherty, representing family law solicitors, said Judge Riordan displayed "clarity, courtesy, respect and patience" to people appearing before him on family law matters while Chief Supt Barry McPolin said he always ran his criminal courts with "great precision and efficiency".

Tributes were also paid to Judge Riordan by governor of Cork Prison, Pat Dawson; Sinead Carroll of the Probation Service; and Elisha D'Arcy, Mary Crowley, and Martin O'Donovan of the Courts Service.

Judge Riordan thanked his wife Patricia and court staff including registrars, Richie O'Connor, Paddy Whelan and Martin O'Donovan, judicial assistants Andrea Gilligan and Rebecca Moynihan and Garda Denis Ring, who is in charge of court security, for their invaluable help and support over the years.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times