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Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael clash over TD Éamon Ó Cuív’s prison visit to criminal Jonathan Dowdall

 – 10h ago

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have clashed over Éamon Ó Cuív’s decision to visit gangland criminal Jonathan Dowdall in prison.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin’s spokesperson said Mr Ó Cuív had sufficiently explained his decision to visit the former Sinn Féin councillor-turned-criminal when he was on the republican wing of Portlaoise Prison.

“I think it is a matter for the deputy and I think he explained the situation,” said Mr Martin’s spokesperson at a briefing for journalists.

Speaking at the same event, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar’s spokesperson said: “I couldn’t imagine it is the sort of individual that a member of Fine Gael would normally be in the practice of visiting in jail.”

However, Justice Minister Helen McEntee defended the Galway West TD, saying he has done a “huge amount of work” with prisoners in recent years.

“I know he has been engaging to try and bring about positive results in a number of different areas, particularly around subversive prisoners in the last number of years,” Ms McEntee said.

Mr Ó Cuív admitted he visited Dowdall when he was imprisoned for a vicious attack that included waterboarding his victim.

During an interview on Galway Bay FM, he said he regularly visited prisoners detained for republican terrorist activities and said he “doesn’t deal with gangland criminals”.

“I’ve never visited them and I have no connection with them but I’m sure other people are doing great work with them,” said Mr Ó Cuív.

“The work I do is mainly concentrated on republican prisoners and I’ve been doing that work openly for years.

“I think there has been very good practical results from that work and one that in my view has saved a lot of lives.”

Dowdall was in prison not for terrorist activities but because he and his father tortured a man they believed was trying to defraud them.

They were apprehended when gardaí found footage of the attack which the pair had recorded on a mobile phone.

Mr Ó Cuív said “everyone was blindsided” when it emerged Dowdall was involved in the most notorious gangland murder in the country’s history.

Dowdall admitted in court he was involved in facilitating the Regency Hotel murder of David Byrne which led to 18 retaliation killings.

Dowdall has since turned state witness and is expected to testify in the ongoing trial of Gerry ‘The Monk’ Hutch.

Mr Ó Cuív said: “As far as I know, the prison authorities had been preparing him for release, and remember prisoners are normally released, there’s very few prisoners that won’t get released. And what you work towards is making sure they don’t get involved in criminal activity again and lead useful lives, and education is a big part of that.”

Mr Ó Cuív said he and Dowdall had discussed “mundane” issues such as prison conditions and the criminal’s release.

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