Representation for criminals is part and parcel of clientelism culture in politics
WHY do politicians write letters on behalf of convicted criminals?
The question arose earlier this week following the intervention by Fianna Fail justice spokesman Niall Collins in the case of a convicted drug dealer.
Now we know his frontbench colleague Eamon O Cuiv sees no problem with writing letters on behalf of prison inmates.
There have been several examples in the past similar to Mr O Cuiv's intervention on behalf of convicted killer Edward Griffin.
The type of letters sent by politicians to the Department of Justice and the Irish Prison Service are not ones seeking leniency or mitigation of a sentence.
In the main they seek other preferential treatment, such as prison transfers.
Victims' groups are highly critical of the practice.
AdVIC (Advocates for Victims of Homicide), for example, wants such representations outlawed.
This newspaper previously revealed how the then Mental Health Minister, John Moloney, asked prison authorities to consider special treatment for a contract killer, Raymond Ryan, who shot a man dead for €12,000.
Ryan was seeking a transfer to a prison with better training facilities, a request which was declined.
We also revealed how former Defence Minister Willie O'Dea facilitated 29 representations seeking special treatment for prisoners over a five-year period, including a rapist, a murder suspect and a number of drug dealers.
Both shipped criticism for their actions, with the family of Ryan's victim calling on Mr Moloney to resign.
Perhaps as a result of this sort of adverse publicity, the number of politicians writing letters on behalf of prisoners has dwindled in recent years.
Another reason for the fall-off in letters of this type may be the fact they rarely if ever have any impact on decision-making processes in the Department of Justice or the Irish Prison Service. So why do some politicians still make such representations?
The answer would seem to be that writing letters on behalf of criminals and/or their families is part and parcel of the clientelism culture of Irish politics.
When asked why he did it, Mr O Cuiv said it was in no way different from sending a letter to the Department of Social Protection on behalf of a constituent.
He also insisted he was not trying to influence the decision-making process but merely assisting an inmate to get information about the status of a transfer request or something similar.
Nevertheless, there is not much transparency surrounding the practice.
As things stand victims are not informed if a political representation is made on behalf of someone who committed a crime against them. It can also be difficult to get access to the full details of such letters, even under the Freedom of Information Act.
Were measures put in place to remedy these deficiencies, it is doubtful politicians would continue to facilitate efforts by criminals to get preferential treatment.