Mother hits out at appeals by wife-killer

The mother of Rachel O’Reilly has criticised the law for allowing her daughter’s killer repeated chances to challenge his conviction.

Rose Callaly said she faced a “daily battle” to live with the death of Rachel at the hands of her husband Joe in 2004, and not knowing when he would next get another attempt at freedom was adding to her stress.

“If you allow for one or two appeals, that should be it. I can’t really get my head around how there can be appeal after appeal after appeal. It just doesn’t make sense to me.”

Mrs Callaly was speaking on Ireland AM on TV3 as Joe O’Reilly prepares for the latest in a series of attempts to overturn his conviction.

He was found guilty of beating to death 34-year-old Rachel, with whom he had two sons, in 2007. He has twice appealed his conviction without success.

He then applied to have his case declared a miscarriage of justice, and although those proceedings were struck out earlier this year as he was not ready to go to hearing, he was given liberty to re-enter his application and is preparing to do so.

“If you had something positive when a sentence is put in place, you can relax in a way,” Mrs Callaly said. “It never takes [the loss] away but at least you would know for that length of time, you child is having justice.”

John Whelan of Advic, a group representing families of murder victims, said the criminal justice system does not pay enough attention to the bereaved.

“The scales of justice are completely in favour of the perpetrator in these cases and the families are more or less put to side,” he said.

“The whole idea that someone can sit down after seven years in front of a parole board and look for their freedom, I don’t think people understand the stress and worry that causes families.”

Mr Whelan lost his sister, Sharon, and his two nieces, Zara, 7, and Nadia, 2, on Christmas Day, 2008. Local man Brian Hennessy had strangled Sharon in her Kilkenny home and then set the house on fire, killing the children as well. He initially got three life sentences, those for the children to run concurrently, but successfully applied to have all three run concurrently, so effectively just one life sentence will be served.

A survey of Advic members found that 90% believe murder sentences to be too lenient. Mr Whelan hopes to bring those findings before the Oireachtas Justice Committee.

In Ireland a life sentence averages about 17 years and Advic is calling for a switch to the UK model where a system of minimum sentences applies and life means life in prison.

The committee is seeking submissions on the issue of restorative justice which aims to take greater account of the impact of crime on victims and urge offenders to take genuine responsibility for their wrongdoing. Submissions should be made by Sept 13 to restorative@oir.ie.

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