'Nothing has changed' since Ballycotton murder-suicide in 2010

One year after the tragic and senseless deaths at a lonely farmhouse in Kanturk - has anything changed in how Ireland tackles the growing problem of familicide? Neil Michael reports
'Nothing has changed' since Ballycotton murder-suicide in 2010

Una Butler has been campaigning since 2010 to make it mandatory for partners to be involved in the mental health treatment their partner receives in a relationship where there are children. Photo: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

Every time Una Butler hears about murder-suicides, she freezes.

In the past two years, four separate tragedies have stopped her in her tracks. She copes by switching off.

Una’s husband John killed their daughters, Ella, two, and Zoe, six, at their home in Ballycotton, Co. Cork, in November 2010, before taking his own life. He had struggled with mental ill-health and had only been released from the mental health services six weeks earlier.

Una has been campaigning ever since to make it mandatory for partners to be involved in the mental health treatment their partner receives in a relationship where there are children. 

She says she can’t speak for others who are faced with the sort of scenario that happened near Kanturk almost one year ago, in the early hours of Monday, October 26.

 The O’Sullivan family farm at Assolas, Kanturk, Co. Cork, where Tadg, Mark and Diarmuid O’Sullivan all died. Photo: Dan Linehan
The O’Sullivan family farm at Assolas, Kanturk, Co. Cork, where Tadg, Mark and Diarmuid O’Sullivan all died. Photo: Dan Linehan

Three men from the same family – Tadg, Mark and Diarmuid O’Sullivan – all died in and around a farmhouse at Raheen, in Assolas, near Kanturk in North Cork.

The inquest jury would later find that Tadgh, 60, and Diarmuid, 23, took their own lives and they would also find that 26-year-old Mark, who was shot seven times, was unlawfully killed by his brother and father.

Una only speaks about her own enduring and wretched heartache in circumstances where it might help raise awareness for her campaign. “I actually go numb,” she said, of how she reacts when she hears about a murder-suicide in the news.

“It's like a protection. I'm actually protecting myself.” She said her reaction is always the same because of the devastation that she knows is ahead for the family, friends and community of those involved.

“It’s not just the immediate family, but it's like peeling an onion. There are so many other people that have been exposed to, you know, the devastation that it creates amongst the community.

“It lasts a long time, it's always there. It's always there for the community, it's just devastation.” The horror that visited her family that day will never leave her.

“For me, it will be with me till the day I die.

“It's very, very difficult living with how this happened, to be living without your children. There are so many unanswered questions.

“You know, I still ask questions. How can something like this (happen) . . . it's surreal. How could something like this happen, you know? Did this really happen?

“It's like, you know it's like something that you read about or watch in a film. It’s there but it's just... devastating. And that the most unfortunate thing is my husband. It's sad for him.

Even though I won't ever forgive him, he was a nice person, believe it or not. It was mental health and that's a very sad thing about it.

She is convinced her husband could have been stopped and her children could still be alive today, which is why she is devoted to doing what she can to stop another family from going through what she is going through.

Sadly, in just two years, more families have been left wrestling with similar tragedies.

Four more tragedies in less than two years

Deirdre Morley killed her children - nine-year-old Conor McGinley, seven-year-old Darragh McGinley and three-year-old Carla McGinley - at their home in Parson’s Court, Newcastle, on January 24 before attempting suicide last year.

Their memory is constantly kept alive on the heartbreaking Twitter account @conorsclips where their father Andrew posts photos of them growing up.

Deirdre, who survived her suicide bid, was found not guilty of their murder by reason of insanity earlier this year.

The deaths of her children were followed by those of Mark, Diarmuid and Tadg O’Sullivan.

And then, just a few months later, in February this year, brothers Willie, Paddy and Johnny Hennessy from Curraghgorm, near Kildorrery, Mitchelstown, died.

Willie, 66, and Patrick, 60, were found dead at their family farm, while the body of 59-year-old Johnny - who had killed them - was later found in the River Funshion 5km away.

The brothers were known locally as The Saints, and surviving friends and family remain baffled as to why Johnny did what he did. One theory is that a row had broken out among the brothers over both the sale of cattle and the distribution of wood cut on the family farm.

And just last month, Maurice ‘Mossie’ O’Sullivan took his own life after the 63-year-old former school bus driver killed his partner Eileen O’Sullivan, 56, and the couple’s 24-year-old son Jamie at their home near Lixnaw, Co. Kerry.

Locals and Gardaí remain baffled as to the motivations behind Maurice’s terrible actions. After the tragedy in Kanturk, there were calls for more to be done in helping resolve land disputes.

"We need to learn lessons"

And after the most recent murder-suicide, in Lixnaw, Co. Kerry, there were calls for a wider debate about the issue of murder-suicides as a whole. Taoiseach Micheal Martin called for lessons to be learned and hinted that further control on gun ownership might need to be considered.

He said he would like to hear a “full analysis from all authorities from different disciplines and the gardaí and try and get a sense of what happened”.

And he added: “It has happened elsewhere as well in the country in recent times, and it is a very significant worry.

“I think we need to reflect on that and learn lessons from it and then apply it in a number of areas and I don't want to pre-empt what happened here, but I think we can't ignore events of this kind.” But if Una Butler’s experience is anything to go by, anybody expecting something to change any time soon from Kanturk or other such tragedies - they really shouldn’t hold their breath.

“I feel completely frustrated,” she says of her efforts to change the law since her family died on November 16, 2010.

“I got up to the Dáil, I met with Jim Daly when he was Minister for Mental Health. I met Kathleen Lynch when she was Minister for Mental Health. I met with Helen McEntee when she was Minister of Mental Health, and to be honest with you, it got me nowhere. 

"There wasn't any changes made. There haven't been any changes.” 

She has warned Andrew McGinley to, in effect, manage his own expectations of how his own campaign for change will progress.

“I said to Andrew, like, just mind yourself because every time you go to a meeting you're very positive, and it’s very encouraging and (you are told) ‘we're going to do something' but that never came to anything,” she said.

The husband of Deirdre Morley (pictured), Andrew McGinley, has started his own campaign since his wife killed their three children - nine-year-old Conor McGinley, seven-year-old Darragh McGinley and three-year-old Carla McGinley. Photo: Family Handout/PA
The husband of Deirdre Morley (pictured), Andrew McGinley, has started his own campaign since his wife killed their three children - nine-year-old Conor McGinley, seven-year-old Darragh McGinley and three-year-old Carla McGinley. Photo: Family Handout/PA

“Every time you go to a Minister, it's all in writing and you think you're going to get somewhere and you don't get anywhere, and nothing has been changed.” 

After the events in Lixnaw, farming representatives appeared to suggest gardaí could do more to prevent these incidents occurring.

A garda spokesperson said at the time that the force does recognize the potential impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on society and individuals and that, as a result, it had significantly increased the focus on community policing and community support right across the country.

However, they added that “societal-wide issues” such as the mental health of individuals are “not the responsibility of An Garda Síochána alone”.

Familicide review

In the next few weeks, there will be recommendations from the delayed Familicide and Domestic Homicide Research Report, which Charlie Flanagan commissioned in 2019. The report Mr Flanagan commissioned was as a result of the deaths of the Hawe family in Co. Cavan in August of 2016.

Clodagh Hawe, 39, and her children Liam, 13, Niall, 11, and Ryan, 6, were all killed by her husband, and their father, Alan at their Ballyjamesduff home on August 28, 2016.

The report is expected to recommend changes to the way the State supports the families of those who die in familicides. It is also expected to recommend that a “tailored” version of the sort of domestic homicide reviews that happen abroad be brought into Ireland.

As well as testing the effectiveness of the State’s response to domestic homicides, such reviews would also - ideally - help change relevant government policy.

A spokesperson for the department told the Irish Examiner this week that when she gets the report, Minister of Justice Heather Humphreys will examine it in detail and “is committed to considering any recommendations made as a priority”.

Quite what changes will come about after the publication of this report and how fast this change takes place remains to be seen. In the meantime, the gardaí themselves are involved in at least two reviews related to the recent spate of murder-suicides.

Brothers Willie and Paddy Hennessy from Curraghgorm, near Kildorrery pictured in 2009. The brothers were known locally as The Saints, and surviving friends and family remain baffled as to why Johnny did what he did. Photo: Seán Burke/Provision
Brothers Willie and Paddy Hennessy from Curraghgorm, near Kildorrery pictured in 2009. The brothers were known locally as The Saints, and surviving friends and family remain baffled as to why Johnny did what he did. Photo: Seán Burke/Provision

The Garda Ombudsman is currently involved in the Mitchelstown case because it is understood gardaí spoke to Johnny Hennessy after they received a call from a member of his family on the day of the murders.

Also, the jury in the inquest into the deaths of Tadg, Mark and Diarmuid O’Sullivan last October said a review of protocols should be undertaken where third-party concerns are raised, especially where firearms are involved.

A relative of the family had told gardaí she was “extremely concerned” about the safety of Mark and his mother Anne just days before he was killed by Diarmuid and Tadg.

Gardaí began that review of protocols in August as soon as they received the exact wording of the jury's recommendation, which came at the end of the inquest at Mallow Coroner’s Court in front of Coroner Dr Michael Kennedy on August 4.

If anything comes of either review, it will ensure at least something positive came of the awful tragedy. Such a hope, however, has yet to be fulfilled for the likes of Una Butler and Andrew McGinley.

According to Una's own research, since 2000, at least 53 children (under 18) have been murdered by one of their parents in 37 incidents. They involved 20 fathers and 17 mothers, with 60% of them having previous contact with the psychiatric services.

Like Una, Andrew wants changes to the Mental Health Act 2001 so families can be more involved in the care of their loved ones. He referenced Una’s case in a recent interview with the Irish Examiner.

After the most recent murder-suicide, in Lixnaw, Co. Kerry, involving the O'Sullivan Family - (left to right) Mossie, Eileen and Jamie - there were calls for a wider debate about the issue of murder-suicides as a whole.
After the most recent murder-suicide, in Lixnaw, Co. Kerry, involving the O'Sullivan Family - (left to right) Mossie, Eileen and Jamie - there were calls for a wider debate about the issue of murder-suicides as a whole.

Of her, he said: “She campaigned and nothing has changed and here I am 10 years later with the loss of Conor, Darragh and Carla.

“The lessons which should have been learned from the sad loss of Ella and Zoe should have led to improvements in the Mental Health Act. This, in turn, would have prevented the deaths of Conor, Darragh and Carla in our opinion. 

“And I (wouldn’t) be the last grieving parent who has to talk about being excluded from the care and treatment of their loved ones.” Sadly, only time will tell if - 11 years from now - Andrew is still trying to get the Mental Health Act changed.

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