Families of murder victims demand reform of life sentencing

Campaign aims for adoption of tariff-based release system to set minimum sentences

The Bishop family are thankful the man, who brutally murdered their 18-year-old daughter as she walked home from a Halloween disco, is back behind bars.

Jillian Bishop was found naked, with a pound coin lodged in her throat in the garden of a house in Bray in 1991.

Her killer, Michael McLaughlin, was released in 2017 after serving 26 years of a life sentence. However, he was returned to jail after it was revealed he harassed a teenage girl during his release.

The Bishops joined other families of murder and rape victims outside Dáil Éireann on Wednesday to demand a restructuring of life sentencing and the terms of parole.


The Sentencing and Victims Equality group (Save) are campaigning for an end to concurrent sentencing for murderers and rapists; the adoption of a tariff-based release system, whereby individuals must serve a minimum period before they meet the requirements for concessions and release; an end to day release and parole; and the establishment of a State-sponsored body to help victims’ families.

Ciarán Bishop (74), the father of Jillian, said McLaughlin had been “out walking the streets of Dublin eyeing up young girls and nobody even knew who or what he was”.

“A life sentence isn’t served on the inside. These people come out at 40 and have their whole lives ahead of them.”

As the law currently stands, people sentenced to life, including convicted murderers, are eligible to apply for parole after serving seven years of their sentence.

Mr Bishop said he does not believe people such as his daughter’s murderer can be rehabilitated.

“There are good people in this world, but there is evil as well,” he said, adding that it is the families of victims who serve the real life sentence.

“The perpetrators are cared for, but there is nothing for families of murder victims. Who rehabilitates us? Who gets us up in the morning for a brighter day? We lost that heartbeat and life has never been the same,” he said.

Trained workers

John Whelan, who runs Save and is the brother of Sharon Whelan (30), who was murdered along with her two children Zarah (7) and Nadia (2) in 2008, called for a trained worker to be allocated to each family "at the very beginning to help them through all of the paperwork and the difficulty that lies ahead of them".

Another protester said the system was “completely outdated” and “not fit for purpose”.

She said her life was "turned upside down" two years ago when her 52-year-old mother was brutally raped by Anthony Cassidy on her way to the shop in the early hours of the morning. Her mother was left with brain injuries and mobility issues, while her rapist was given 18 years.

“I don’t understand why they cannot give the big lads – the murderers and the rapists – real life sentences,” she said. “Everybody here is serving a life sentence.”

She said her mother’s life was destroyed.

“She is kind of childlike now. She will know someone’s name but she needs prompting,” she said. She described herself as “lucky”, because Cassidy will be on the sex offenders’ register for the rest of his life. For those who were not charged with sexual offences, no equivalent register exists.

A Department of Justice spokesman said the Minister “is very conscious of the grief and pain suffered by families of victims of murder”.

“He takes great care in carefully considering the recommendations of the parole board in each such case.” He also said the Minister is working with the Opposition on progressing a Bill to create a new statutory parole board.

Ellen O'Riordan

Ellen O'Riordan

Ellen O'Riordan is High Court Reporter with The Irish Times