More than 400 criminals who were sent to jail are instead serving their sentences at home in their own communities, the Minister for Justice has confirmed to Galway TD Noel Grealish.
The Independent Deputy received the information in response to a Dáil query he had tabled in the wake of confirmation that a convicted Galway sex offender is serving a five-year jail sentence in his own home.
The wheelchair-bound paedophile, convicted of abusing a 13-years-old girl, cannot be accommodated in prison due to the nature of his disabilities.
Deputy Grealish quizzed Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald in a Parliamentary Question on the facilities available in Irish prison to cater for offenders with disabilities, the cost of converting cells for such use, and how many were serving sentences at home because they could not be accommodated.
In reply, the Minister revealed that last week there were 429 prisoners serving their sentence in the community, the majority of whom were living in their own home.
But, she added: “The majority of these would not have been released from prison due to a physical disability or medical condition.”
However, the Minister said she could not confirm the cost of keeping a prisoner in their own home — it has already been estimated that it will cost the state about €2.2m to pay for round-the-clock monitoring by prison officers of the Galway paedophile.
Minister Fitzgerald said that when medical requirements or the severity of the disability of a prisoner are such that medical advice is that prison is not a suitable environment, alternatives such as release to an appropriate medical facility, or to another more suitable environment are considered.
“Such persons may be subject to supervision or not, depending on the circumstances. A person who breaches a condition is deemed to be unlawfully at large,” she added.
She confirmed that there were currently 16 adapted cells available throughout the prison system for people with a physical disability, with a further two coming on stream with the opening of the new Cork Prison in early 2016.
In addition the original design of the Dochas Centre lent itself to disabled use with minor adjustments if required.
However, Deputy Grealish said he was unhappy with the Minister’s reply, which he said did not sufficiently explain why a convicted paedophile could be allowed serve a five-year sentence in the comfort of his own home.
“My point is that for a fraction of what it costs to keep this man guarded by four prison officers working in two 12-hour shifts — it’s been estimated to be about €1,600 a day — a cell could be converted to meet his needs.
“I don’t think there is anyone in the country who wouldn’t rather see the money being spent on ensuring that a convicted sex offender is put behind bars.
“I know that his victim has also spoken out on this matter and we owe it to her, as a society that wasn’t able to protect her when she was a child back in the 1980s, to ensure that justice is served now at least.
“She went through enough trauma at the time of the offences, and again in bringing this case before the courts, without further distress now being placed on her.”
The man at the centre of the controversy, Martin Davoren (61), originally from Corcullen, Moycullen, but now living in Cairéal Mór, Castlegar, was sentenced to five years in prison at Galway Circuit Criminal Court last July for indecently assaulting a then 13-years-old in the late 1980s.
He was brought to Castlerea Prison to serve the sentence imposed by the Circuit Court but was sent home because his medical requirements could not be met.
Paralysed from the waist down following a car accident at the age of 22, he is now serving his sentence from his apartment, guarded round the clock by four prison officers.