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A lawless nation.

Friday May 29 2009

THE city of Galway was deeply horrified by the murder of Manuela Riedo in Autumn 2007. As a guest of Galway, like many other students Manuela was beginning her independent life adventure. Everything lay ahead of her.

Unfortunately, this included Galway-born and reared Gerald Barry. Yesterday we learned that this murder was committed while Barry was under investigation for raping another 23-year-old foreign national only seven weeks previously.

We also learn that the murder was committed while Barry was on bail for offences linked to his breaching of a protection order. How could someone perpetrate a rape and murder, while under investigation and while on bail?

It beggars belief that a man with a previous history of repeated vicious and violent assaults, who choose the most vulnerable for his victims -- young students in a foreign city, and an elderly man living alone whom he blinded -- was granted bail under any circumstances.

Like many others, I feel ashamed at how our legal system and our care systems have failed the Riedo family and the French woman who Barry yesterday pleaded guilty to raping. I mention our care systems because, once again, we hear the phrase "dysfunctional family background" in our courts.

Objections

The 2007 Criminal Justice Act empowers garda officers of the rank of superintendent or higher to object to bail on the grounds that an accused is likely to commit a serious crime while on bail. Justice Minister Dermot Ahern confirmed in 2008 that the number of suspected criminal offences committed by those on bail had increased by 60pc in four years to almost 24,200 -- up to 25pc of recorded crimes. In 2009, a man convicted of raping a boy when the child was aged between five and 10 years of age was remanded on bail until sentencing.

How is it that a repeat offender, who has committed the most serious of crimes, is granted bail? How are communities to protect themselves from high-risk and known repeat offenders?

It is abundantly clear that reliable risk assessment must inform decision making in our legal system. It is clear that with some individuals it is almost inevitable that further harm will be caused by their release into society.

The rate of recidivism by sex offenders is debated, but it is clear that some offenders pose less of a risk than others. Increasingly reliable risk assessment is available, meanwhile, to inform decisions about sentencing and the type and duration of inter-agency supervision prescribed for prisoners after their release.

By the time of his release, Barry will be subject to the integrated sentence management plans under development in the Department of Justice. Barry is likely to still be in his 40s when released from his current life sentence. I am yet to be convinced that some offenders, based on reliable risk assessment, should not remain in prison until such time as they demonstrate a reduction in risk.

Following her murder on the area known as "the line", a set of lights has been installed so that this area is not as dangerous. To some Galwegians, these are known as the Manuela lights. I wonder what lights are required to make our legal system safer for victims and their families -- what will it take for our legal system to come to terms with high-risk, known, repeat offenders?

The RCNI is the national representative body for rape crisis centres in Ireland. Information on all rape crisis centres is available on the website: www.rcni.ie

Fiona Neary is executive director of Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI)

By Fergus Black

Friday March 27 2009 Irish Independent.

A GRIEVING mother told yesterday how she warned about the danger posed by Gerald Barry seven years before he went on to murder Swiss student Manuela Riedo.

Marie Phelan, whose son Colm died violently in 1996 following an attack by a group of young men who included Barry, said she was "absolutely horrified" to discover that he got out of jail and was able to kill.

Barry was just 16 when he led a gang that set upon Colm and his friends following a night out in Galway in July 1996. The talented hurler died later from head injuries. Barry was jailed for five years following his conviction for violent disorder arising out of the attack.

Last weekend, he was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Ms Riedo in Galway in October 2007.

Yesterday, Mrs Phelan went on air to relive the trauma over her son's death when her warning about Barry in August 2000 was replayed on RTE's Liveline programme.

"He (Colm) was just the unlucky one that didn't come home to us. My family are devastated," Marie said then.

"It just doesn't help these youngsters when they go to jail. They need something else. They need somewhere to be educated, to learn how to love and live and behave when they are out.

"I hope no family will ever go through what we have gone through, getting that phone call in the middle of the night to say our son was dead. No mum or dad, brother or sister wants to hear that."

Mrs Phelan recalled yesterday how gardai had contacted her family to tell them that the man charged with Manuela Riedo's murder was the same man who had attacked their son years earlier.

"I was absolutely horrified that that he got out and was able to kill someone else and that there was no help to rehabilitate him back into society. They are coming out of prison worse people than going in."

The Riedo murder trial had brought back all the trauma surrounding Colm's death, she said.

Warned

"Colm would be 39 now. No one can walk the streets anymore. Everybody is afraid to go out at night," she said.

"It's gone so bad that I'll just have to appeal again to people to stop and think about what they are doing. If they could come into someone's homes and see the devastating affect that all this has on the families of the dead people they murder."

Mr Phelan said the last few weeks had been very hard and painful for her family but she expressed the hope that Gerald Barry would be left in prison this time. She claimed the killer enjoyed the "limelight" and warned that if he got out of prison he would "do it again for the same reason".

"I wouldn't want to see him (Barry) walking the streets again unless he has received a lot of therapy. He is a very sick man who needs lots of help," she added.

- Fergus Black