Why Rambo should not have been jailed

IF people who don’t pay their TV licences have to go to jail then, of course, Ray Burke should have had his porridge as well. But the case of Rambo highlights just why putting people in prison is such a bad idea.

There is a guy who has had experience of running half the ministries in the state. By all accounts he is a highly intelligent and talented man. He did wrong and was convicted of it. Now he will spend the next three months or so being a burden on the state and wasting his time.

With a little imagination Ray Burke and his talents could have been put to good use. Could he not have been asked to do community service or work for the voluntary sector?

He was sentenced to 4,380 hours in jail. Even if he was employed by the Simon Community, say, answering the phone for the same number of hours, or picking the litter off Dollymount strand, we would all be better off. He would still have lost out on his liberty, he would have had to maintain himself and he would have given something back.

Every year fine-defaulters, petty thieves and other non-violent offenders are sent to prison. It causes disruption to their employment, stigmatises their families and costs a fortune. Despite all the evidence that jailing people does little to stop them reoffending (except when they’re in jail, naturally), and all the reports that recommend non-custodial sentences, we continue to believe in the idea of prisons.

The bottom line is that only violent people should go to jail. The rest of the convicted population of Ireland should be part of a process that involves the victim (in the present system the victim seems to be completely forgotten) and involves some form of accounting where the victim and the taxpayer comes out on top.

Ray’s fruitless restorative justice

Ray Burke was convicted of tax offences and is now serving his time with other villains.

However, the difference between Ray and many of the other inmates of Mountjoy is that Ray gave the goods back.

There’s a lot of talk these days about restorative justice, the system where villains make amends to their victims and avoid going to jail.

Ray had already made amends before he was sent down. He paid all the tax he owed. Plus interest. Plus penalties.

He got bugger all thanks for it. If only all those shoplifters and car thieves were made to pay back some of what they steal.

Worse to come?

Actually, Rambo’s tax offences are paltry compared to the findings of the Flood Tribunal.

Justice Fergus Flood found that Mr Burke was in receipt of corrupt payments – from builders and in connection with Century Radio.

Corruption is in itself disgraceful but is also hugely damaging to the economy and the country. For a minister of this republic to use his office for personal gain is nothing short of treason.

I don’t know if this will reach the courts but, if it does, it’s far more serious than not paying your tax.