State unlikely to contest Keegan lawsuit case

It is thought highly unlikely that the State will contest the Keegan family's lawsuit following a public apology from the Minister for Justice in the Dáil on Friday.

It is thought highly unlikely that the State will contest the Keegan family's lawsuit following a public apology from the Minister for Justice in the Dáil on Friday.

The family of Noel Keegan, who died following an assault on Park Road in Longford on New Year's Eve last, confirmed last week that they are taking legal action against the State after it emerged that Martin McDonagh, the man who assaulted Mr Keegan, should have been in prison at the time of the incident.

Speaking in Dil Eireann on Friday, Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern apologised to the Keegan family over 'failures in procedures' which led to the temporary release of Martin McDonagh from prison.

It is now probable that the State will not contest this case and will make arrangements for the payment of compensation to the Keegan family.

In the Dil, the Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern said: "Very serious errors were made in this case, there is no doubt about that. It is our responsibility to ensure safeguards are in place to reduce the risks involved in a system which processes over 400,000 criminal prosecutions every year."

The Minister's statement was made following the release of a report by Judge Michael Reilly which was commissioned to investigate the circumstances surrounding the release of Mr McDonagh from prison. The damning report outlines serious failings, particularly in terms of communication between the different agencies of the Justice System.

In the report, Judge White says he has not set out to 'scapegoat public servants' but he stated the report "identifies a litany of flawed systems, outmoded work practices and the failure of organs of the 'justice family' to communicate with each other which combined with lapses of judgement, misjudgements and inattention to detail ended in tragic consequences, namely, the death of Mr Noel Keegan."

The report was released last Tuesday evening after Martin McDonagh was sentenced to five years in prison for assault causing harm to Noel Keegan on Park Road, Longford on December 31 last. Mr Keegan died from a heart attack following the assault. Mr McDonagh was also sentenced to three years for assaulting Noel's wife Marie and causing her harm on the same date.

After Mr McDonagh was arrested in relation to the assault, it emerged that he should have been in prison, serving a four-year sentence imposed on him in relation to a different incident. However the warrant for this sentence had not been issued by the Circuit Court.

Mr McDonagh, who had been serving a two year sentence in relation to another offence, had been granted temporary release on November 27, 2009 and was due to return to Castlerea Prison on December 4, 2009. He subsequently was arrested in relation to a different matter on December 27 and brought to Longford Garda Station but was released. Four days later, he was involved in the assault on Mr and Mrs Keegan.

Solicitor for the Keegan family, Lorna Groarke said that "due to inexcusable and catastrophic failings and administrative errors on the part of the State, Martin McDonagh was wrongfully allowed out of prison and was therefore free to carry out a devastating and entirely unprovoked attack on Marie Keegan and the late Noel Keegan."

In a statement the family said: "The late Noel Keegan was a member of our Defence Forces for over 30 years. He served his country well, both at home and overseas and this State, though the State's organs did not serve Noel or Marie or their family well.

"We acknowledge that the facts surrounding the death of Noel and the assault on Marie are of national interest, however, it must also be acknowledged and respected by all that the stark realities surrounding the death of Noel and the assault on Marie are lived every day by us.

"Today is the 348th day that we have spent without Noel who was a wonderful, loving and much loved husband and father. Our loss is huge and heartbreaking and continues."