Leitrim’s Councillors are insisting that someone must be held accountable for the decision to transfer convicted garda killer, Martin McDermott from Portlaoise Prison to the low security facility Loughan House prior to his escape last month.
Mr McDermott who had previously escaped the same facility in 2007 was found guilty of a number of crimes including the manslaughter of Fenagh native, Gda Gary McLoughlin while on duty in Co Donegal in 2009.
He was ordered to serve a seven year custodial sentence but only months into this stretch he was inexplicably transferred to Loughan House, a facility which is meant to serve as a holding centre for prisoners convicted of minor offences or those reaching the end of a lengthy sentence and requiring support to help them gradually begin the process of preparing for release into society once more.
Since Mr McDermott, who had 91 previous convictions, did not fit either of these criteria, councillors said they were baffled as to how such a criminal was cleared for transfer.
In a motion put before Monday’s Council meeting, Cllr Caillian Ellis proposed that the council write to the Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter, seeking a full inquiry as to how McDermott was transferred to Loughan House.
“This was a complete mess up by the prison service in this country,” he told the Council chamber.
“I don’t accept the response given by Minister Shatter following McDermott’s escape. I believe that he offered only a makeshift apology to the family of Gda McLoughlin who were deeply traumatised to discover the person who murdered their son was serving out his sentence in Loughan House, which is so close to where they actually live.
“This has been an incredibly distressing and insulting event for them and it is unacceptable to think that the person responsible for making the decision to send McDermott to Loughan House, is still working in the prison service.”
Cllr Ellis asked the council to write to the Minister and also demand that he name the person responsible for the decision to move McDermott and to also personally guarantee that this prisoner would not be sent back to Loughan House but would be, instead, housed in a prison more reflective of the seriousness of the crimes he has been found guilty of.
Cllr Gordon Hughes agreed that answers were needed and he welcomed Minister Shatter’s announcement that the matter would be the subject of further investigation. However he commended the Minister for his “prompt statement” on this matter and said that it was clear from the statement made last week by the Minister, just how strongly he felt about the situation. Cllr O’Rourke described the situation said the fact remained that Mr McDermott was sentenced to jail for very serious offences and Loughan House was not the correct facility in which he should have been serving that sentence.
“It is horrendous that the McLoughlin family have to see this splashed across the news. The Minister has said that this situation won’t happen again but I don’t think that is enough. That falls well short of explaining exactly why this happened in the first place,” said Cllr O’Rourke.
Cllr Martin Kenny agreed that “somebody needs to take responsibility for this decision. When you see a man jailed for six years for failing to pay the duty on garlic and then you see someone convicted of killing a garda on duty serving his time in a centre like Loughan House it seems incredible,” he said. “I think that the Minister needs to find the person responsible for this transfer and make them responsible for their actions.”