The family of a taxi driver stabbed to death three years ago has said the justice system has failed them.

Joseph Hillen, 24, of Glendesha Road, Forkhill in Co Armagh was convicted by a jury last year of the manslaughter of 53-year-old Martin Mulligan at Carnmore, Balriggan, Dundalk, Co Louth, on 28 September 2015.

From the outset of the trial he admitted the stabbing, but denied the charge of murder.

At the Central Criminal Court Ms Justice Eileen Creedon imposed a seven year sentence with the final year suspended.

Ms Justice Creedon said it was clear Mr Mulligan's death had a profound effect on his family.

She said he was a family man whose loss could never be repaired.

The judge said Hillen was entitled to credit for his offer to plead guilty to manslaughter because that was the ultimate verdict of the jury.

In mitigation she took into account his offer of a plea to manslaughter, his acceptance of responsibility, the remorse shown, his young age and the fact that he was a moderate risk of re offending.

She back dated the sentence to April 2017 to take account of time already served in custody.

In garda interviews Hillen denied any knowledge of what happened to Mr Mulligan but in summer last year he gave a voluntary statement in which he said he was driving when he saw Mr Mulligan at a plot of land owned by his friend.

There had been trouble with illegal dumping at the site and Hillen thought that Mr Mulligan was dumping rubbish from his car.

There was a short car chase followed by a scuffle or "wrestling" during which Hillen said the deceased pulled a knife on him.

Hillen said he managed to "flip the knife" and while being struck from above he "jabbed out" twice and inflicted the fatal wounds.

He said he had acted in self defence.

In submissions to the judge, defence counsel, Brendan Grehan told the judge that his client apologised to the Mulligan family.

He said that a probation report handed into the court stated that his client has insight into his crime and understands the pain he has inflicted on the deceased's family.

Before passing sentence the judge was asked to disregard some of the character references submitted at the sentence hearing last December because it had since emerged that one might not be genuine.

The judge said she was satisfied she could proceed to sentence today while disregarding the references at issue.

Mr Mulligan's family were not happy with the sentence imposed.

Outside court, Mr Mulligan's youngest daughter Shauna, said the justice system had failed the family. 

She said it was "so unfair" that you could take someone's life and not really pay the price for it. 

His other daughter Sharon, said they were devastated.

She said her father could not defend himself against the allegations made against him in court and what was said in court was "taken as gospel".

Mr Mulligan's widow, Gráinne Mulligan, said the family felt as if they had received a life sentence. She described her husband as "kind, funny, a great family man, husband and sibling". She said everyone loved him.

At a sentence hearing in December the Central Criminal Court heard victim impact statements from Mr Mulligan's family.

Shauna said she had the "privilege and honour of having my dad in my life for 25 years until he was brutally, viciously and inhumanely killed for no fault of his own."

She remembered her dad as "hardworking, caring, loving, beautiful, patient, intelligent, amusing and affectionate."

In five separate impact statements Mr Mulligan was described as the family bond and the kind of person who would light up a room with his good humour, warmth and laughter.

Shauna said his happiest times were those spent with his family and he was her role model.

She said: "He supported me in so many ways and motivated me with his kind encouraging words like "you just do your best" or "I am very proud of you Shauna"."

His death had done ever-lasting damage that can never be described, she said. The circumstances of his death have left her "vulnerable and afraid to face life without him".

Sharon remembered his "kindness and selflessness" and recounted how when their next-door neighbour's father died Martin took care of their youngest boy Cian, picking him up from school, taking him to football on Sundays and having him over to stay at weekends.

She added: "Cian, who has just turned 18, told me that he was looking forward to having his first legal pint with my Dad."

Every moment in her life will be tinged with sadness, she said. "My family and I feel like we have nothing to look forward to anymore."

Sharon added: "My son will never meet the granddad he would have loved. My dad was a huge part of my life and I know he would have played a major role in my son's."

Mr Mulligan met his wife Grainne when they were teenagers and they were about to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary when he died. "We had so many wonderful years together," she said, "but not enough. Martin was and still is the love of my life."

Before he left that Sunday evening he told her: "I'm looking forward to tomorrow."

They both had Mondays off, she explained, and would spend them together. "That was the last intimate moment I had with Martin."

She described him as a "talker" who was admired by "so many people". He had a "wonderful sense of humour. Being funny was one of his greatest assets." His proudest achievement was his two girls.

Mrs Mulligan said she would always be haunted by the way her husband died: "On the side of the road, alone without me or his family around him. I always wonder, did he cry out for me?"

She added: "I always thought we would grow old together, looking after each other and enjoying our grandchildren like my parents and Martin's parents. The way it should be."

Mr Mulligan worked as a coal delivery man and as a taxi driver.

The trial heard that on the night he died he dropped off his last fare at Forkhill, Co Armagh at 1.45am.

His body was found at 3.06am a short distance from his taxi at Carnmore. He had suffered two stab wounds, one to the abdomen that severed the aorta and another to his right thigh that also severed an artery.