MICHAEL Quinn may only be 22 years old, but already his name is enough to strike fear into the hearts of the community in which he grew up. And if his name strikes fear into the hearts of people who have mostly never crossed his path, how much more terrified must his past victims be?
Many believed that the eight years he received in 2007 for the brutal double-rape that shocked and sickened not only West Belfast, but the entire country, was not enough. But let’s be clear about one thing: we believe that he was subjected to due process, that he served his time and that he was entitled to be allowed to go ahead and live his life. Unfortunately, Michael Quinn himself did not see it that way, for on his release he embarked on a crime spree that has seen him back in court, and even returned to jail, for a series of crimes, among them car theft and burglarly.
Quinn was under no illusion – because the courts told him so when he was released after serving only half of his original sentence – that further brushes with the law would see him returned to jail. And this community hoped that when he did indeed end up back the in dock, he would be ordered to serve the four years that he had avoided on his early release. Both were badly mistaken because in the event, Quinn received a slap on the wrist and a nominal jail sentence for his further crimes.
What message did that send out to the young thug? Well, the message was that he can do whatever he wants and the chances of him going back to jail are slim to none. And that came to pass this week when, on being convicted of a further breach of the conditions of his Sexual Offender Protection Order he received a suspended two-month jail term. Drinking alcohol in defiance of the Order is a very long way from being the worst thing that Quinn has done since his release in 2009, but it is only the latest in an aggregation of offences and breaches that illustrate all too clearly that Quinn has no intention of quietly moving on with his life. The vast majority of the people of West Belfast – indeed, the vast majority of the people of the entire city – hoped that Quinn’s more serious post-release convictions would be the trigger to send him back to jail for four full years. They were to be disappointed. Then the people hoped that this latest breach would finally convince the courts of Quinn’s determination to give them a two-fingered salute at every available opportunity. They were to be disappointed yet again.
Not that the courts are eternally unwilling to return people to cells in which they had spent long periods. Republican prisoners out on licence are condemned to live their lives under a Damoclean sword of doubt and uncertainty. They can be – and are – returned to jail not for having committed heinous offences or flagrant breaches, but by the capricious stroke of a British politician’s pen. As we speak, men and women have been ripped from the bosom of their families by this very means.
Meanwhile, Michael Quinn leaves the court a free man – again. And the city is left to wait and wonder what his next and inevitable crime will be.