I welcome the brief opportunity to contribute on this critical matter. I would like to extend my deepest sympathies to Shane O’Farrell’s family who are reliving the horrible night of his tragic death and are still waiting for justice almost seven years later. Twenty-three year old Shane was cycling along the N2 between Castleblaney and Carrickmacross on 2 August 2011 when he was killed in a hit-and-run by a man who clearly should not have been on Irish roads. Zigimantas Gridzuiska, the 39 year old Lithuanian driver, had 42 previous convictions, breached bail 18 times and been convicted of theft in Newry just three weeks before he killed Shane. I believe the Garda Síochána was informed of these matters. He should not have been on our roads on 2 August and, tragically, Shane should still be with us.
Shane’s mother, Lucia, and family are bravely continuing to highlight ineptitude in the implementation of areas of road safety and traffic law and their grave dissatisfaction with GSOC’s report into the investigation, a report that astonishingly took six years to produce and publish. However, the O’Farrells are not alone in this fight. As the Minister knows, I have worked closely with Ms Susan Gray and her colleagues in the Promoting Awareness Responsibility and Care, PARC, civil society group. PARC supports many families, including the O’Farrells, whose cases have been sent to GSOC for investigation. Many of those families have also been left bitterly disappointed at the outcome of a GSOC report and the lack of accountability among those involved in investigating road traffic collisions where their loved ones were tragically killed. We do not have a statutory and transparent system of investigating tragic road deaths and serious injuries, and this and previous Governments have done nothing to bring such a process about.
There are many problems with the level of safety on Irish roads, but I will highlight one in particular. On 18 May, I finally received a reply to a parliamentary question from the Road Safety Authority that reads: ” […] the number of drivers out of the 9,449 drivers disqualified in Court in 2017 that surrendered their licences to the RSA’s NDLS was 1,289 […] “. An astonishing 8,160 disqualified drivers were still driving around in 2017. When I asked the Ministers for Justice and Equality and Transport, Tourism and Sport how the Garda knew that these people were disqualified, they gave me some disconcerting replies. In the North, the PSNI has hand-held devices on the roadside so that police can check the status of a driver’s licence. I recently asked both Ministers why a similar system had not been introduced in the South.
The opaque way in which their Departments and the RSA answer my questions – indeed, the Department of Justice and Equality does not answer some of them at all – is disingenuous and indicates that there is something to hide, that there are serious inefficiencies and discrepancies, and that there is a lack of attention to the business of the Department of Justice and Equality. For example, we have been waiting almost three years for clarification on whether the 521 drivers who had been disqualified in court for dangerous driving causing death or serious injury between January 2013 and March 2015 had already been disqualified at the time of those collisions. In an astonishing reply on 21 December 2015, the Minister for Justice and Equality’s colleague, the then Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Donohoe, told me that it was not possible to ascertain whether people were disqualified at the time of a collision or conviction. By the time he left that Department, he had done nothing to bring any clarity to the matter. I have had to write to the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and the Ceann Comhairle about outstanding parliamentary questions to the Department of Justice and Equality. Why the secrecy? Why is there such a lack of joined-up thinking with supported fit-for-purpose IT systems for the implementation of basic road traffic legislation?
These are just some of the thoughts that occur to me during this discussion. I strongly support the request for a public inquiry and urgent establishment of a commission of investigation into the tragic death of Shane O’Farrell. I hope that such tragedies do not recur on our roads. This is a serious responsibility, and the Minister’s Department needs to invigilate it more effectively.