Shaneda Daly, who suffered sexual abuse at the hands of her father, opens up about restorative justice and how it can bring healing
The room in Arbour Hill prison was empty, apart from a long rectangular table and several chairs. Shaneda Daly was sitting at one end of the table, patiently waiting for the door behind her to open.
“I had asked that I be seated in the room when he entered,” she told the Irish Independent.
“I remember in court, when he was being sentenced, that my legs we re shaking, so I didn’t want to walk into the room like that.”
She often fidgeted with her hands, another symptom of nervousness, so she rested them on the table, one on top of the other.
When the door finally opened, her father walked in – a convicted sex offender who pleaded guilty to 227 charges of rape and abuse of his eldest daughter Shaneda when she was aged between six and 17.
“I could hear him snivelling when he came in,” said Ms Daly of her meeting with ex-prison officer Harry Daly a month before his release in 2011. “Then he came across in front of me and I could see he was crying. This man, he always seemed so big and nasty when I was younger but then just to see him sitting there struggling, it was empowering.
“They gave me the option to see him after he completed his sentence but I wanted to see him in there, to see him trying to compose himself.”
Restorative justice involves enabling victims and perpetrators of crime to speak to each other, if they want to do so. The process is simple: if someone admits responsibility for a crime and their victim is identified, they can both be asked if they wish to meet or to communicate indirectly.
A trained facilitator – typically a garda, probation officer or mediator – prepares each party and facilitates the meeting to ask questions and ensure that everyone is safe.
The goal is to involve those most affected by crime in finding ways to address and repair harm, and prevent it from happening again. The process is entirely voluntary, but there must be agreement to participate from both sides.
“I wasn’t aware that restorative justice existed until I rang the prison looking to get on my dad’s visiting card,” said Ms Daly.
“That was the only way I thought I could confront him. When someone rang me back they mentioned restorative justice, but I had never heard of it. They explained it to me and after a year or two I decided it was something I wanted to do.
“I went to Dublin to meet someone from the probation service and the woman I met asked me what I wanted to get out of it. I was angry after the court bit was done. I always felt like you are left rotting to the side, no one ever comes to see are you ok and I felt that there were things I needed to say to him.”
The benefits of restorative justice are well known. It can significantly reduce reoffending rates and is particularly effective at diverting youths from crime by showing them the effects of their actions.
Perhaps most importantly, it restores a sense of agency and control to victims. They are no longer merely a witness in their own case; they can confront the offender on their terms.
Despite developments in the area over recent years, the provision of restorative justice in Ireland remains patchy, with most victims and offenders still not offered the opportunity to participate.
Recent figures show that the number and proportion of restorative cautions for young offenders have decreased year on year, while there is no or a limited capacity to deliver restorative justice with adult offenders in much of the country.
“People don’t really know about it,” said Dr Ian Marder, lecturer in criminology at Maynooth University.
“The culture in Ireland and in many countries is that it is not systematically offered to people where it is available. The other thing is that it’s not always available. For example, there are some parts of the country that have very good NGOs (non-government organisations) that deliver restorative justice but they may only receive cases from one referral pathway.
“For example, there is an NGO in Dublin that delivers restorative justice in adult cases in between conviction and sentencing when the courts make a referral, but with adult cautions there is no capacity to deliver restorative justice anywhere in the country.
“Likewise, in between charge and conviction it is not used anywhere in the country for adults. Then in theory, post-sentence for community sentences say, probation has the capacity to deliver restorative justice, but really only where a victim or a judge asks them to explore it.
“The only way it will become a truly mainstream approach is if it is offered to everyone and available in the whole country at every point in the process.”
Although originally introduced here to deal with youth offending, restorative justice is increasingly being suggested for more serious crimes such as sexual and domestic abuse.
Restorative justice does not advocate abandoning traditional forms of justice, but supplementing them with a focus on the needs of those involved. Shaneda Daly said it must always be victim-initiated and victim-led.
“I know this isn’t for everyone, but I feel like it helped me,” she said.
“I told him how it had affected my life, that I had gone into depression and that two of my kids had gone to live with their dad because it was so bad.
“I told him that I had no confidence growing up and that was all to do with him. That it’s taken me thirty-something years to be even able to look at myself in the mirror.
“Finally, I told him I wanted no relationship with him, that if he sees me or my children on the road, to walk the other way. It was like taking my power back.