NewsCrime Desk

Murdered girl's dad says bring back the death penalty

Donal Kealy holding a picture of his murdered daughter
Donal Kealy holding a picture of his murdered daughter

THE father of a woman murdered 23 years ago said convicted killers like sadist Graham Dwyer should either get the death penalty or only leave prison in a coffin.

Donal Kealy’s daughter, Catherine, was brutally strangled to death in a car in a car park in Nenagh, Co Tipperary, in 1992.

Her boyfriend Anthony Kiely was sentenced to life for murder in 1992 and Donal thought he would spend the rest of his life behind bars.  

However, after a decade in jail he was regularly allowed out on temporary release and by 2007 he was freed on a permanent basis. He re-built his life with an outreach worker he met while he was behind bars and has since married.

Donal, who turns 80 in June, said he backed Rachel Callaly’s father Jim’s call for a referendum on bringing it back following the conviction of twisted killer Graham Dwyer. 

“I’d be fully with it. They’re crying out at the moment for prison spaces. If the death penalty is on the books you wouldn’t be worried about prison spaces. There’d be a lot of cost cutting too. When they abolished the death penalty it could have been a mistake because they didn’t replace it with stricter prison sentences.”

He said if they were not willing to bring back the death penalty, authorities should ensure life means life. 

“Why does a judge say a mandatory life sentence? When I came out of the court in 1992 I thought a life sentence meant life. [Then justice minister] Marie Geoghegan-Quinn told me a couple of months afterwards it was seven years plus. The word life shouldn’t be used when it’s only a few years in Ireland.”

He also lashed out at the easy regimes for prisoners who have access to flat screen TVs satellite channels, games consoles and other privileges. 

“For people serving life they should get rid of colour televisions, special menus, cooking courses and concerts and all that. It should be brought home to them every day what they did.”

He said the murder of a family member is brought home to their relatives every day. 

Catherine Kealy

“I buried my wife two years ago. She had 18 years in a nursing home after my daughter’s murder because the pain was unbearable. It affected all my family in different ways.”

“It’s crazy what’s allowed to happen in Ireland. We must be the laughing stock all over the world the way criminals are treated. If there was a stronger deterrent there wouldn’t be as much murder or as much crime. 

“A friend of mine said the other day the only way murderers should get out of prison is when they are carried out by the undertaker.”

While in prison, Kiely got a job earning €600 a month to coach kids in a social intervention community programme about steering clear of a life of crime.

He even met his girlfriend Annie Clarke in Cloverhill prison where she ran an anti-violence programme for prisoners. They had breakfast in Clondalkin each morning, when

Kealy got the 79 bus from prison to his job in Galenstown Community Centre.

It was a blatant violation of the terms of his temporary release, as was repeated drug test failures – none of which affected his release 15 years after he was sentenced to life.

Donal has met a number of politicians including Taoiseach Enda Kenny, justice minister Frances Fitzgerald and Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin to complain about murderers being released on parole but said he felt none of them were willing to do anything about it. 

“When you meet the Minister for Justice you get Holy Mary talks. I don’t want soppy talks; that’s no consolation to me or deterrent to murder,” he said.

Donal said he wasn’t going to give up his quest to change the justice system in Ireland.  

“I could be at home feeling sorry for myself since Catherine died but I’m hoping justice in Ireland will change. I got a few health scares there recently but I’m still around. If the system changes my fight will be well worth it. If it happened to one of the politicians there would be an uproar. They’d change the rules overnight.”

Jim Callaly, the father of murder victim Rachel Callaly who was murdered by her husband Joe O’Reilly, called for the reintroduction of the death penalty earlier this week. 

READDad of murdered Rachel O’Reilly wants death penalty for Graham Dwyer

He said the money spent on keeping killers locked up would be better spent on housing the homeless or in hospitals. 

“My own personal opinion is that they’re not worth the food it takes to keep them alive,” he said.

Amnesty International said the number of countries with the death penalty has fallen from 42 countries in 1995 to 22 last year.

 Colm O’Gorman of Amnesty International Ireland described the decrease as a significant progress. 

“140 countries are now abolitionist, that’s a huge step forward in the last 30 years,” he said.