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Eamon Keane: Three years in prison for killing a young teacher is an insult to all of us

"WE have lost our beautiful son, inspiring brother, most loyal friend, all our hopes were destroyed, our futures are ruined forever'' -- Martina Casey on behalf of the family of Brian Casey.

Christmas Night in Ennis, Co Clare. The midnight hour approaches as 26-year-old Brian Casey stands in O'Connell Square.

The young schoolteacher is out in the company of friends. As the clock moves towards midnight a scuffle breaks out. In the ensuing fracas, a man is seen to move towards Brian. A second man jumps in. Within minutes Brian Casey lays unconscious on the ground. Two days later the popular GAA clubman from Lisseycasey is dead.

Killers

This week at Ennis Circuit Court his killers, Harry Dinan (31) and his nephew Kevin (24), received jail terms of five and four years apiece after they pleaded guilty to Brian Casey's manslaughter.

The sentences, while legally sound, were an affront to morality. Attacking and unlawfully killing a man with a deadly weapon -- a fist -- and beating him while he lay unconscious may well result in actual time served of around three and four years.

We know that on that fatal night the two thugs, who had a string of prior convictions, were in a scuffle with some of Brian Casey's friends. Brian's only involvement was to pick one of his friends off the ground.

Then, as he stood standing with his hands in his pockets, Harry Dinan hit him with what was described in court as a 'haymaker'. The word negates any accusation of serious intent.

In reality, it was a savage, unprovoked, cowardly blow.

The force shattered Brian's jaw at two points. He hit the ground instantly and his skull shattered on impact. What was a winter night sky became a world of dark unconsciousness.

Brian Casey never woke up. The dreams, hopes and plans of a life lay unspoken, silenced by the thug's fist. As Brian lay on the ground, the second attacker, Kevin Dinan, hit him with up to "four to five punches".

The sentence for Brian Casey's family and his girlfriend, Cecilia Talty, is a lifetime of grief.

The judge in question, Justice Carroll Moran, could only sentence on the manslaughter conviction. Manslaughter means that there was no premeditated attempt to kill Brian Casey.

Instead he died as result of the unintended consequence of the punch. To use the judge's words "the case is a one-punch case".

But hang on. Did anyone ask Harry Dinan what did he thought the consequence of hitting a defenceless man (who had his hand in his pockets) such a savage blow that it knocked him off his feet, might be?

I can only presume that the learned judge took into account the evil of attacking a man who is lying prostrate on the ground and battering him with punches, when he sentenced Kevin Dinan to just four years.

You did, didn't you judge?

Manslaughter sentences in Ireland vary greatly.

The maximum is a life sentence, while the norm tends to be six to 10 years. Judges are obliged to consider the principal of proportionality. The sentence must be proportionate to the gravity of the offence and also the circumstances of the convicted person.

So Ronnie Dunbar got sentenced to life for the manslaughter of Melissa Mahon, the Sligo teenager; while Eamonn Lillis got seven years for the manslaughter of Celine Cawley.

Unlike the UK, judges in Ireland cannot direct a minimum amount of time to be served.

But, dear God, isn't it about time we all stood up and said enough is enough? You can kill a man and serve three years -- is that right?

Look at the system that Dermot Ahern and his Government have 'developed' over their past 20 years in power. Harry Dinan had 64 previous convictions and was on temporary release from prison. Why was this thug out?

Kevin Dinan had 17 previous convictions, was on bail and awaiting sentence having pleaded guilty to burglary charges. Why was he out on bail with a record like that? The answer lies again in our overcrowded prison system and a backlogged courts process.

Blows

So Brian Casey's killers will be out in a few years. They will walk the streets of Ennis, where they will be free to rain further blows on innocence if they so choose.

For the pupils of Brian Casey, an inspiring teacher, they have learned a sad and traumatic lesson. A lesson about how we administer justice in this country.

Is this the value we put on this beautiful young man's life? Four and five years jail time for his killers.

A nation's parting gift to the memory of Brian Casey.


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