This country needs to do more to support people on the fringe of society, the consequence of failing people is the incubation of dangerous personalities, criminal minds, and saboteurs of humanity.
Last week Gene Kerrigan spoke out about racism shown towards the Traveller community, in his column he wrote;
"The Travellers are not a problem - the poverty, isolation and intolerance within which they live is the problem."
If we are to accept this then the same can be said for the state’s failure to care for troubled youths, the state’s failure to provide support for members of the homeless community who suffer from mental health issues, and the state’s failure to provide care for repeat offenders with addiction issues.
Eoin Berkeley went into foster care at the age of four as his mother had psychological problems which were compounded by alcohol. He did not have a secondary school education and had speech and language issues when he was younger. He was kicked out of school at the age of 12 for "extreme violence" and never went back or had a job. At the age of 14 his foster care situation broke down because of his behavioural difficulties and he was institutionalised at Ballydowd, a facility for “unruly youths”. Since leaving Ballydowd he has lived in unemployment and homelessness.
Berkeley previously pleaded guilty to possessing a replica AK47 in a public place on 29 May 2016. At the time he had 24 previous convictions including a charge for possession of a knife, possession of cocaine and criminal damage to the marble plinth and granite pillars of the Central Bank building in Temple Bar in April 2016.
Earlier this year Berkley pleaded not guilty to causing criminal damage with chalk graffiti on the George Bar in May 2017. Despite allegedly admitting the crime to gardaí, he was granted a dismissal following a number of technical arguments made by his defence.
A month before the abduction and rape of the 18 year old Spanish student a Garda inspector in the Dublin city area directed Berkley's detention under the Mental Health Act. He was seen by a doctor who deemed him fit to be released.
When Gardaí arrested Berkley for the rape crimes he was taking an anti-psychotic drug, this was not prescribed but rather was procured on the streets. Berkley had been self medicating in the absence of state care and supervision. In custody Berkley used his own blood to write the words “I'm so sorry” on the walls of a prison cell.
Prior to his trial a doctor examined Berkley and tried to carry out certain psychological tests, Berkley threatened him with physical harm. The doctor concluded Berkley had a significantly compromised development and suffered from a severe personality disorder.
During the trial the Judge heard he told his victim that he'd stopped having feelings about people since the age of ten and said he had cut the paws off his household pets. The judge said he was not optimistic about the prospects of rehabilitation.
This is the mentality of the courts, a system of judgement based on the merits of good and evil from a time when 90% of crimes were committed by witches and agents of the devil.
The reality of course is that people are very complex but when you have someone with a history of criminal offences it’s easy to throw them to the wolves. It’s a lot harder to convict someone when they’re a rugby player from the other side of the tracks.
I’m not sure prison is the right place for Eoin Berkley but it’s the place he’s ended up, because the crime he committed was indefensible. I’m also not sure Eoin Berkley will ever be able to help himself with his psychological issues and wonder what answer prison brings other than locking our problems away.
What I am sure of is that Eoin Berkley isn’t simply an anomaly who fell through the cracks; he’s the result of vast inequality and poor investment in mental health and drug treatment facilities. You can lock up the products of a failed system but you can’t simply lock the problems away.