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Grieving mum ‘sickened’ by President’s prison visit to watch play by wife killer

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OUR AGONY: Siobhan Kearney's sister and mother, Brighid and Deirdre McLaughlin, have spoken of their distress at the President attending Wheatfield Prison to
watch a play

OUR AGONY: Siobhan Kearney's sister and mother, Brighid and Deirdre McLaughlin, have spoken of their distress at the President attending Wheatfield Prison to watch a play

MURDERED: Siobhan Kearney

MURDERED: Siobhan Kearney

President Higgins

President Higgins

Brian Kearney, who killed his wife Siobhan

Brian Kearney, who killed his wife Siobhan

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OUR AGONY: Siobhan Kearney's sister and mother, Brighid and Deirdre McLaughlin, have spoken of their distress at the President attending Wheatfield Prison to watch a play

THE mother of murder victim Siobhan Kearney has told President Michael D Higgins of her heartbreak at his decision to be a guest at a play in Wheatfield Prison last Friday produced by wife-killer Eamon Lillis.

Speaking about the trauma and grief of her daughter's murder, Deirdre McLaughlin said that she can never forget the horrific events of six years ago, on February 28, 2006, when her daughter's body was found in her south Dublin suburban home. Beautiful mother-of-one Siobhan Kearney was strangled with the cord of a vacuum cleaner.

Her mother said she is "sickened" at hearing that Mr Higgins, who she voted for in the presidential election, attended a performance of The Happy Prince in Wheatfield Prison on Friday in which Lillis, 54, was heavily involved.

"This is giving him a big ego, it is turning him into a mini-celebrity and I don't think the President should endorse this, and I have written to tell him that" she said. "I know that this is about Lillis, not Kearney, but it is bringing up the same feelings for all of us, the thought of President Higgins driving out of the Aras and turning into Wheatfield for a 'private viewing' of a play featuring this man like that ...

"Since our Siobhan was murdered we are living an alternative lifestyle, it is like a bomb went off in our family and all the other families who have suffered something similar must feel the same," she says.

Deirdre talks wistfully about her daughter's beauty, her personality, her cooking skills and her generosity, which she weaved together into a beautiful life in Dublin and in Majorca where she ran a small hotel.

"She would always have too much food, so she'd stop down the quays in Dublin on her way home and give the food to the homeless people she met. I think of her all the time."

Sitting in the foyer of the Killiney Castle Hotel yesterday, Deirdre and her daughter, the artist Brighid McLaughlin, take turns in talking about Siobhan and the horrible death she met at the hands of her husband Brian Kearney, who is now serving life in prison for her murder.

"People talk about 'closure', I hate that word," said Deirdre vehemently, "that is something that is never going to happen in the case of Siobhan -- our family are never going to forget ...

"We are dignified, but I am cracking inside," said Brighid.

"I am not cracking, I am furious," added Deirdre referring to what she calls the "hurtful" decision of the President to attend Friday's prison performance.

"The victims of crimes of violence are part of one big beating heart ... the Kearney's have a beating heart, even if their son is in jail, we have none. I want him and others to pay for the crimes they committed," she said.

Deirdre McLaughlin reminisces about how she and her husband Owen reared their family, Deirdre, Aishling, Siobhan, Brighid, Caroline, Annie, Owen John and Niamh in The Ward in Co Dublin "never thinking that one day Siobhan was going to be choked to death and left hanging like that.

"I knew when I saw her lying on the floor of the bedroom that he had done it, I couldn't walk back down the stairs. There are things that you remember -- like the guard, Mick Gibbons, who said an Act of Contrition in her ear -- I don't think I ever thanked him, it's in my mind constantly."

Both Deirdre and her daughter Brighid insist that they have nothing against the other prisoners or their performance. But they are furious that by attending a private viewing, the President has in a way conferred on it the imprimatur of the Irish State.

"I am afraid of nothing, it left me stronger than I ever was before," said Deirdre about her daughter's murder. "No, I am also furious that this golden girl is gone, and I will never see her again."

She speaks about the strength and resolve of all the McLaughlin family, and Brighid talks of the support of her husband Graham O'Donnell. But there is no doubting the distress that the presidential visit to see a play featuring Eamon Lillis has caused her family.

"I am sure it must be causing terrible distress to the family who suffered at his hands, but that is their private business and I don't want to intrude into that," she said, "but I do want the man I voted for as President to know how I feel about this."

Following his visit to Wheatfield, the President released a statement saying he would make it "a priority" to visit "the most excluded in our society, including those in institutional care."

He added: "I am of course conscious and very sensitive to the fact that many people in our prisons have committed violent crimes and caused grave hurt and distress for many people and I would not wish my support of rehabilitation to be in any way seen to be minimising the gravity of the crimes that have been committed."

Letter to the President:

For the attention of Michael D Higgins, President of Ireland

7/3/2012.

I feel saddened that I have to write this letter.

I watched you receive the Seal of Office when you became the President of Ireland. With the wealth of experience you have you were the only person for this important position.

I have read great things about you.

I also love poetry and the arts. I felt a great kindness towards you, because in my opinion you are a man for all seasons, a man of the people.

All that changed last week when I was informed you planned to attend a performance in Wheatfield Prison of The Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde.

I was not very happy reading this as one of the actors in this play has already taken a life.

The mayhem that is left behind after such an event never goes away. The family are left with no coping skills, their hearts broken because there was no hugs, no 'see you later', they just vanished from the face of this earth.

Siobhan was our flesh and blood -- she is the bones of us and the heart.

I feel if you had spoken to some of the families who are affected by violent crime you might have been better informed.

I find it very upsetting that a gentleman who holds the highest office in the country finds it necessary to attend such a performance in Wheatfield Prison as I believe it will indulge a killer.

There has to be something more useful you can do that day.

I wish you well in the future.

Deirdre McLaughlin.

Mother of Siobhan Kearney, murdered by Brian Kearney, serving a life sentence in Wheatfield Prison.

Sunday Independent