Families of homicide victims renewed calls at the weekend for the Government to back legal proposals which would allow for minimum terms to be applied to murderers.
They are backing a bill, currently going through the Oireachtas, which would give judges the option of imposing a sentence that a person convicted of murder must serve before being considered for release.
AdVIC, the advocacy group of families and friends of homicide victims, said that at the moment they have “no idea” how long killers of their loved ones will serve.
It said that the guidance to the courts they are calling for would give families clarity and a “sense of justice”.
The charity is supporting the Criminal Justice (Judicial Discretion) (Amendment) Bill 2019 introduced by Senator Marie Louise O’Donnell. Speaking at their Remembrance Service on Saturday, AdVIC vice-chairperson Joan Deane said: “Unfortunately, it feels like families and friends of victims are the only people who suffer a real-life sentence in Ireland.
“Not only have we been robbed of someone close to us, but we have to suffer through numerous indignities as part of the Irish criminal justice system.”
She added: “We have no idea how long killers will serve, when guidance on a minimum sentence would give families clarity and a sense of justice has been done.
Instead, we are left to be re-traumatised when murderers are eligible for parole after seven years, unnecessarily having to worry about whether our loved one’s killer will be released.
Ms Deane said Senator O’Donnell’s bill would bring about a simple change, similar, she said, to what was in practice in Scotland. AdVIC said that the bill would, for the first time, give judges discretion as to whether they wished to recommend a minimum sentence for those convicted of murder.
All people convicted of murder in Ireland receive a mandatory life sentence. Even when they are released from prison they are on licence for the rest of their lives, meaning they are recalled to prison if they breach the terms of their licence.
“This is, therefore, not a custodial life sentence, but a notional one,” said AdVIC. “At the seven-year mark in a murderer’s life sentence, the Parole Board can assess their suitability for release, and, thereafter, every three years.
In Scotland, life sentences must be handed down for murder, but judges have to, by law, set down a punishment part of the sentence.
Commenting on the service, in St Anne’s Church on Dublin’s Dawson Street, Ms Deane said: “Our Remembrance Service is an opportunity for family members and friends to remember their loved ones, as well as an opportunity to connect with other people who have shared the same loss.”
The service was attended by Garda Commissioner Drew Harris, whose father, Alwyn Harris, was murdered in an IRA bombing in October 1989.