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O'Dea helped 29 prisoners seeking special treatment

DEFENCE Minister Willie O'Dea facilitated almost 30 representations seeking special treatment for prisoners including a rapist, a murder suspect and a number of drug dealers.

Last night he insisted he was merely passing on representations on behalf of the relatives of inmates and denied any of the prisoners involved were linked to feuding gangs in Limerick.

However, victims' group Advic described the minister's behaviour as "appalling" and called for the practice of TDs facilitating prisoner representations to be outlawed.

Details of 29 representations -- all between 2002 and 2006 -- were made available to the Irish Independent after initially being withheld by the Department of Justice for five months.

The department's delay in releasing the documents under the Freedom of Information Act is being examined by the Office of the Ombudsman.

Unsuccessful

Three unsuccessful representations -- including ones seeking temporary release and a prison transfer -- related to a 44-year-old Tipperary man serving five years for raping his ex-girlfriend at knifepoint and threatening to kill her.

Michael McDowell, who was then justice minister, sent Mr O'Dea a letter saying he was refusing a representation seeking the early release of the rapist. However, Mr O'Dea denied last night that any early release representation was facilitated by him.

Mr O'Dea also facilitated representations seeking the transfer of a murder suspect back to Limerick from a Dublin prison, the Christmas Day release of a drug dealer and the temporary release of another drug dealer so he could get married. All of the representations were rejected. The minister stopped the practice in December 2006 -- the month before a furore erupted when it emerged Fianna Fail TD Tony Killeen had facilitated representations seeking the release of a murderer and the early release of a sex offender.

Defending the representations, Mr O'Dea told the Irish Independent: "I never argued a case or sought leniency."

He also said: "I never sought mitigation or leniency of a sentence for any prisoner involved in criminal feuding."

Mr O'Dea said two-thirds of the representations were made between June 2002 and September 2004, when he was Minister of State at the Department of Justice and "was perceived as having responsibility for such issues". "I was not making representations," he said. "I was effectively relaying requests that had been made to me in the belief that I had responsibility for this area."

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Mr O'Dea also insisted that outside of this period he usually advised constituents to write to the Minister for Justice themselves.

"I would only draft a letter where I was passing on questions from the families or when the family was seeking information as to the status of an existing request," he said.

"A great majority were sent on behalf of elderly or ill parents seeking transfers for their children to Limerick prison from prisons in Dublin or Cork so they could visit them."

However, Advic slammed Mr O'Dea for facilitating the representations.

"For a Minister of Defence to behave in this fashion is unbelievable," said Advic joint secretary Joan Deane. "There is no excuse for it.

"It is appalling that the due process of the justice system is not being allowed to take its course without such representations. Such representations should be banned."

Despite defending the representations he facilitated, Mr O'Dea said he would be supportive of any legislation banning TDs from making them.

"I don't think it is a particularly good use of a public representative's time," he said.

"It is hard to refuse a request from a mother or father of someone in prison where there are some difficult circumstances, but we also have to bear in mind the suffering their child's actions imposed on their victims of their crimes."


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