One of Ireland’s most notorious rapists was permitted “an unprecedented” visit from eight people in his unlocked prison cell recently.
Midlands Prison Service staff said the visit to Tipperary man James O’Reilly, who was convicted in 2020 of repeatedly raping and abusing his seven daughters and his sister, presented a security risk and was “immoral”.
“Eight people went in there, anything could have happened,” one prison staff member said.
“After 7.30pm, we have a skeleton staff. We hold some serious convicts in the Midlands Prison, and we have rules. Nowhere in the rules was this allowed.”
O’Reilly, who is in his 70s, was convicted of 58 counts of rape and nine counts of sexual assault on his family over a 23-year period.
He also starved, beat, and threatened to kill his victims. He made one of his young daughters pregnant and continued to abuse her, only stopping when she threatened him with a knife.
O’Reilly’s cell in the G1 division is close to notorious murderer Gerald Barry, who killed 17-year-old Swiss student Manuela Riedo in 2007, and Graham Dwyer, who is serving a life sentence for murdering childcare worker Elaine O’Hara in 2012.
Eight people were nearby in a notorious criminal’s unlocked cell with little to no supervision at night, prison staff told the Irish Examiner.
It is understood that the visit of five women and three men was allowed on compassionate grounds as O’Reilly is ill.
However, his daughter Helen O’Donoghue, who O’Reilly repeatedly raped and abused, said that allowing the visit was horrifying.
“It makes me angry,” she said. “He took our lives from us, he took our dignity, took our right to education. He gave us no special treatment, so why should he get special treatment now?
“I don’t know why he’s getting special treatment when he’s sick. He never gave us any special treatment when we were sick.”
Following sentencing, Ms O’Donoghue and her sisters asked how the authorities, including schools, social workers, and medical professionals, made no attempts to save them from the abuse which “was hitting them in the face”. They asked whether the abuse was ignored because they were Traveller children, “already looked down on, discriminated against, and denied their basic human rights”.
Discussing last Friday’s incident, one prison worker said: “There were eight people, six arrived at 7.10pm. Another two arrived at 8.35pm. They all exited the prison at 9.15pm.
“This is unprecedented in the Midlands [Prison]. I have seen nothing comparable to what happened on Friday night.
“Numerous prisoners have been very ill, and they have not been given the same treatment.
It’s going to cause problems within the prison. It’s going to be seen as unprecedented, favourable treatment.
“There’s a prevailing concern around the country about abuse of women and misogyny at the moment, and this did not go down well at all. Especially the nature of the person involved, and what he did.”
Another prison officer said the visit happened late at night “under cloud of darkness”.
“It seems so immoral for something like this to happen, particularly with the type of crime this man committed,” they said. “And there were eight of them in quite a small cell. Anything could have happened.
“We have security measures in place under which a prison visit normally takes place. There’s a structure there. There are rules. And it’s watched full-time on camera.
“None of this happened, because it happened in the cell — not somewhere designed for visits.
“I have deep concerns over security.”
Staff said that there would have been one or two prison officers on duty in that area at the time, managing 45 prisoners.
The Irish Prison Service declined to comment.