Rochestown murderer Peter Whelan will be locked up until at least 2025 under the new Parole Act, the Government has confirmed.
“The act would apply to the case in question,” said a spokesperson for Justice Minister Charles Flanagan. “Under the 2019 act, life-sentence prisoners will become eligible to apply for parole after having served 12 years of their life sentence. This does not mean, of course, that they would be granted parole at that time.”
The department also confirmed that the act would apply both to new sentences and retrospectively.
“This new threshold of 12 years for eligibility will apply to life-sentenced prisoners regardless of whether the sentence was imposed by the courts prior to or after commencement of the section,” it said.
The statement has been welcomed by the families of Whelan’s victims. The Sweeney and O’Leary families are now calling for the minister to commence the act quickly, so that it is in force before Whelan’s next parole hearing, currently scheduled for November 2020.
Nichola Sweeney, aged 20, was killed in her bedroom in April 2002 by Whelan, a neighbour who was not known to her. He stabbed her friend, Sinéad O’Leary, then 19, so viciously in the same attack that he broke a knife in her body.
Whelan was sentenced to 15 years for Ms O’Leary’s attempted murder and to life for Ms Sweeney’s murder. The sentences were to run consecutively. However, to the families’ horror, Whelan has been released for day trips to Cork under escort after serving just six years for Nichola’s murder.
The families fear these escorted day releases will help the killer build a favourable case for early release. However, Mr Flanagan said that once the Parole Act 2019 has been commenced, it would apply to this case, and the act specifically provides for Whelan’s unusual consecutive sentencing.
“Where a prisoner is serving consecutive sentences, one of which is a life sentence, they will become eligible to be considered by the new Parole Board only after they have served 12 years of the life sentence,” said the Justice Department spokesperson. “In other words, they will need to complete the determinate sentence before the 12-year eligibility count even begins.”
The Parole Act 2019 was enacted in July, but it must be commenced by the justice minister before it takes effect. This should take place over the coming months, but an early general election may delay this process.