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Sunday 21 September 2014

Fresh FF trouble as TD wanted killer put in open jail

O Cuiv admits plea on behalf of 'body-in-freezer' criminal

Shane Phelan Public Affairs Editor

Published 21/06/2014 | 02:30

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Former Gaeltacht Minister Eamon O Cuiv was scathing
Edward Griffin
Micheal Martin has 18 months to prepare Fianna Fail for the next election

FIANNA Fail leader Micheal Martin is facing a fresh crisis after another frontbencher admitted intervening in the criminal justice system.

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Agriculture spokesman Eamon O Cuiv made representations on behalf of a drug dealer who killed an associate and stored his body in a freezer for five years.

Mr O Cuiv claimed he was "justified" in writing a letter on behalf of Edward Griffin, who was seeking to be moved from a high-security facility to an open prison.

However, the disclosure heaps further pressure on an embattled Mr Martin, who has resisted calls for the sacking of the party's justice spokesman Niall Collins.

Mr Collins has refused to resign over revelations this week that he wrote to a judge asking for a man convicted of drugs offences not to be sent to prison.

Now the Irish Independent has learnt his frontbench colleague Mr O Cuiv, who was a cabinet minister from 2002 to 2011, made representations to the Irish Prison Service on behalf of a number of criminals.

These include killer Griffin and an unidentified prisoner serving a life sentence.

Speaking to broadcaster Claire Byrne on RTE Radio One earlier today, Mr O Cuiv defended the move.

"Now in a lot of cases in the people I would be dealing with would be quite marginalised and wouldn’t have access to the huge advice that maybe middle class people would have and they do rely on people like us to make a case on their behalf.

"I obviously fully accept... the decision of the authorities."

Mr O Cuiv said he understood party leader Micheal Martin's wish to have a cross-party policy in place to deal with such issues.

"What I would love is that the whole issue would be teased out in detail in an Oireachtas committee.

"This is quite a tricky issue. It is a very very difficult issue. There are so many different angles to it. I don’t think it’s quite as black and white as maybe you are making out.

"And I do think long and hard on all of these cases. You do recognise that I have never gone behind the door in the work I have done with prisoners. I have done it very publicly. I have made a lot of statements about it. It’s a well known fact that I have worked on prisoner issues for a long time."

Mr O Cuiv also stated his belief that party colleague Niall Collins should not step down from his position.

Victim support group AdVIC condemned Mr O Cuiv's actions, saying they made "a mockery of the criminal justice system".

The organisation called for the practice to be banned.

Its chairwoman, Joan Deane, said: "It is absolutely outrageous in this day and age that any elected representative would find it appropriate to make representations on behalf of a convicted killer.

"What type of message does that send to families of victims of homicide, who are the people left with the real-life sentence as we will never see our loved ones again?"

Details of Mr O Cuiv's representations emerged following a freedom of information request by the Irish Independent.

Galway man Griffin (51) was jailed for eight years in 2009 for the manslaughter of criminal associate Patrick McCormack.

Griffin beat McCormack to death with a wheel brace before storing his victim's body in a chip shop freezer, where it lay undiscovered for half a decade.

The body was found under boxes of frozen fish in June 2007 when the owner of the premises went to tidy the freezer ahead of a Department of Marine inspection.

A post-mortem later revealed McCormack's hands had been tied and that he had suffered 40 injuries, 17 of which were to the head, including three fractures.

Trial judge Mr Justice Paul Carney said Griffin had displayed "a callous disregard for all human decency".

Griffin applied to be moved from the high-security Midlands Prison to Shelton Abbey open prison in 2012. Mr O Cuiv subsequently wrote to the Irish Prison Service in July of that year asking to be informed when a decision was made on the application.

He was told that August the request had been refused.

When contacted by the Irish Independent, Mr O Cuiv said: "Yes, I did write for Edward Griffin."

He said he was "not in any way embarrassed about making the representation".

"I know the circumstances of the case, but I can't discuss them," he said.

Release

In July 2012, Mr O Cuiv also wrote to the Irish Prison Service seeking to know when a man who had served 14 years of a life sentence would be released.

He was told the inmate was not due to be referred to the Parole Board until the following year.

In a further letter in December 2012, addressed to Prison Service boss Michael Donnellan, Mr O Cuiv asked if a Castlerea inmate could be released for Christmas to visit his family. However, he was told the prisoner was not being considered for temporary release.

"I believe in the circumstances of the cases that the representations made were justified," Mr O Cuiv told the Irish Independent.

He said it was well-known that he worked with prisoners and was part of a group of TDs who visit Maghaberry Prison in the North.

The records obtained by the Irish Independent show there has been a marked decline in the number of Oireachtas members writing letters seeking special treatment for inmates.

Just a handful submitted representation letters since 2012. The fall-off comes in the wake of a series of controversies about the practice.

Among the other TDs who wrote letters regarding prisoners was Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, who contacted then Justice Minister Alan Shatter last January seeking the release of 79-year-old anti-war activist Margaretta D'Arcy "immediately on humanitarian grounds".

He said Ms D'Arcy, who was jailed over her refusal to sign a bail bond to stay out of unauthorised areas of Shannon Airport, was being held in a high-security environment at Limerick Prison, was in "ill health", was "not a criminal and poses no danger to the public".

Mr Shatter responded that she had access to 24-hour nursing care and daily access to a doctor. Ms D'Arcy was eventually released in March.

In July of last year, former Ceann Comhairle Seamus Kirk sought the 24-hour release of a prisoner he said may have terminal cancer. Meanwhile, Enterprise Minister Richard Bruton and his FG colleague Terence Flanagan both wrote to Mr Shatter about constituent concerns that a convicted murderer had been released and was living in a halfway house in Coolock, Dublin.

Mr Shatter responded that the matter would be raised with officials, but it is unclear if any action was taken on foot of the TDs' letters.

Irish Independent

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