A group representing the families of murder and manslaughter victims has called on the Government to bring about changes that would mean killers are not eligible for parole until their minimum sentence has been served.
Their demand comes as the Irish Penal Reform Trust has said any meaningful reform must see parole decisions removed from political control.
Kathleen Chada is a member of Sentencing And Victim Equality (Save), a group that has written to Charlie Flanagan, the justice minister, calling for:
- The introduction of minimum sentences for all categories of homicide;
- No parole until the full minimum sentence has been served;
- The end of concurrent sentencing;
- the end of reward day release;
The establishment of a state-funded agency to assist and support the families of victims of all violent crimes.
In 2014, Kathleen’s then-husband Sanjeev Chada from Carlow, was sentenced to two concurrent life sentences for killing their sons Eoghan, 10, and Ruairí, 5.
He had driven them to Mayo, where he strangled them, and their bodies were discovered in the boot of his car after he crashed near Westport.
“I’m at a slightly different stage in the timeframe compared to other members, I haven’t had to go through it yet, but some have gone through their second or third parole application,” Ms Chada told the Irish Examiner.
“What we feel is that if sentencing itself was fair and just, parole wouldn’t be so much of an issue, if a judge was in a position to hand down a minimum tariff after, and only after, which point parole is a possibility.
“For example, my ex-husband is serving two life sentences running concurrently. If a judge were to sentence him to 20 years after which parole is a possibility, even allowing for good behaviour and possible rehabilitation, I don’t think 20 years is unreasonable, even for what my ex-husband did.
“At Save we’re not out for revenge, we’re not about locking the door and throwing away the key, but we are about being fair and balanced.
“He can apply for parole after seven years, and while I’ve been reassured there’s no chance Sanj would get parole if he applied then, I still have to go through that process. I still have to be prepared, to build myself up for it and then go through it all again a year and a half to three years later.
“The thing that gets forgotten is the impact on families. There’s a huge emotional impact and the energy to build yourself up to writing another victim impact statement, to wondering whether it might or might not be this time.”
Fíona Ní Chinnéide, executive director at the Irish Penal Reform Trust, said parole decisions must be coherent, transparent, and fair, and removed from political control.
At present all parole decisions are signed off by the justice minister of the day, who is presented with case-by-case recommendations by the parole board.
Ms Ní Chinnéide said this could mean the final decision-making is susceptible to outside pressures or stories in the media. The IPRT wants such decisions to rest with a fully independent Parole Board, which would be comprised of members appointed through a public appointment process that would assess the skills of applicants to ensure they are appropriate for the position.