TOPICAL ISSUE DEBATE ON PUBLIC INQUIRY INTO DEATH OF SHANE O’FARRELL

Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire

Níl ach seal gairid agam. I will be as direct as possible. It has been clearly demonstrated that Shane O’Farrell was failed by multiple arms of the State’s justice agencies. His tragic death was avoidable had those agencies done their jobs correctly. The Dáil and the Seanad have voted in favour of a public inquiry. The Minister has put together a process, or a scoping exercise, under Mr. Justice Gerard Haughton. As has been demonstrated by the journalist, Michael Clifford, this was not considered necessary when an inquiry was put together for the Bill Kenneally case or the IBRC case or to investigate the recording of phone conversations in Garda stations. A number of examples can be provided.

The need for a public inquiry here was clearly demonstrated and the Minister should have proceeded directly to that. I am concerned about the terms of reference that he outlined for Mr. Justice George Haughton. He should have consulted with the family before giving them to the judge and I will pick up on some of those points in my supplementary question.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan

We all watched Shane O’Farrell’s mother, Lucia, speak with great sadness and eloquence on “Prime Time” last week and make an unanswerable case for a full public inquiry. Both Houses of the Oireachtas have voted for that and overwhelmingly want it. This young man would still be alive had the criminal justice system and certain gardaí done their jobs properly. That is the crux of the matter. Zigmantas Gridzuiska was driving the car that killed Shane on 2 August 2011. Just one hour before he killed him, driving a car that had no NCT and no valid insurance, he was stopped by gardaí and had been allowed to continue driving. We know that he breached bail 18 times, had 42 previous convictions and a history of heroin abuse.

We have had several scoping exercises on the Stardust, which was in my constituency. Although I know there is an eight or a nine week timeframe, we should have gone directly to an inquiry. This family has been looking for justice for eight years. Please listen to them and commit to a full public inquiry.

Deputy Gino Kenny

It is seven and a half years since Shane O’Farrell was unnecessarily killed. There is indisputable consensus in this House that Shane O’Farrell would be alive, and perhaps nobody would have heard of him, if there had not been a systematic catalogue of failures by all parties, including the police and the courts. What the family have always looked for is accountability, truth and justice, and they form very simple narratives. This scoping exercise will not get to that truth. The truth will only come out through a public inquiry. The need for a public inquiry on the unnecessary death of Shane O’Farrell will come out after the scoping exercise.

Deputy Niamh Smyth

On 12 June 2018, Fianna Fáil introduced a motion in the Dáil calling for a commission of investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Shane O’Farrell in Carrickmacross, County Monaghan, in 2011. Lucia O’Farrell, her husband and her daughters have fought tirelessly to seek justice for their son and brother. The State has failed them in the manner in which Shane’s death was investigated and was prosecuted and it is continuing to fail the O’Farrell family in the manner in which the complaints surrounding the investigation and the prosecution are being handled by GSOC. We understand from Lucia and her family that they were disappointed by the non-engagement with them on the terms of reference for the scoping inquiry, but I am very hopeful, which is to give the Minister some credit, that it indicates he will give full support to the Oireachtas vote last year on the establishment of a public inquiry.

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan)

I know the circumstances surrounding the tragic and untimely death of Shane O’Farrell of concern to all Members of this House. The case has been discussed here on many occasions, along with the subsequent investigations that have taken place into the events surrounding this dreadful accident. Shane O’Farrell was a much-loved son and brother and his death has clearly been devastating for his family to whom I once again extend my sincere condolences. The House will recall the outcome of the GSOC criminal investigation of complaints related to this tragedy. Members may not be aware that GSOC recently completed its disciplinary investigation and this has resulted in a recommendation to the Garda Commissioner that disciplinary action be taken in relation to three members of An Garda Síochána. Clearly, this is a matter for the Garda Commissioner, and the Garda Commissioner alone, and it will now take its proper course. I do not propose to comment further on that.

In June 2018, as the Deputy Smyth said, the Dáil passed a motion calling for a public inquiry into the death of Shane O’Farrell.

The motion called for the actions of the Garda, the DPP, the courts and GSOC to be examined as part of such an inquiry. As Minister for Justice and Equality, I am particularly cognisant of the independence of each of these criminal justice bodies and it is imperative that their independence be respected.

When the Dáil passed its motion, I began examining how we could give effect to the intention of the House without undermining the work of GSOC. My officials began to explore options with the Attorney General. At the earliest opportunity following the completion of the GSOC disciplinary investigation at the end of January, I appointed a respected and experienced former judge of the District Court, Judge Gerard Haughton, to carry out a scoping exercise into the circumstances of the death of Shane O’Farrell, including the criminal prosecution arising from the road traffic incident, the independent review mechanism examination of the case and the investigations by GSOC.

I met the O’Farrell family two weeks ago to outline my proposals. While family members objected to the process of a scoping exercise, they agreed to consider the proposed terms of reference and to engage with Judge Haughton on same. I thank them for that. Judge Haughton has already contacted the family to commence that important engagement.

It is open to Judge Haughton to propose changes to the terms of reference to me. Following his review, he will advise me on any remaining unanswered questions that should be the subject of further inquiry or investigation and, if so, the most appropriate manner in which that investigation might take place.

I wish to state in clear terms that the Government is not opposed to the possibility of a further inquiry into this case if that is what Judge Haughton recommends. I have not placed any restriction on him in that regard. Like my Government colleagues and everyone on this side of the House, I wish to see questions answered to the satisfaction of the O’Farrell family. We are all in agreement on that, and I say that in the presence of the Chair of the Committee on Justice and Equality, who also has an interest in this matter.

I thank the Deputies for giving me the opportunity to set out how I propose to proceed in this tragic case. I want to deal with it in such a way as to find answers to questions that have remained unanswered to date.

Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire

I hope that the judge revises the terms of reference, given that there are difficulties with them. They once again take the approach of examining the elements that have not already been investigated, notwithstanding the fact that the family is dissatisfied with a number of those investigations, in particular the GSOC investigation. This is a piecemeal approach. Terms 1 and 2 are focused on those areas of failure that have not already been examined while terms 3 to 6, inclusive, hinge on those first two terms.

I hope that this exercise allows the family to get justice but I also hope that the terms of reference are revised. The Minister should have consulted the family on them before publishing them.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan

If Judge Haughton asked the Minister to move straight to establishing a full public inquiry under the 2004 legislation, would the Minister do so? The four-year GSOC investigation was unsatisfactory and we know little about the issue of disciplinary action. We need justice for Shane, his mother, Lucia, and the whole family. There is no need for a scoping inquiry. We should be able to proceed to a commission of investigation into the tragic death of this talented and highly regarded young man that has decimated his community and family.

Deputy Gino Kenny

As my colleagues have stated, this issue has become so protracted that it now compels the O’Farrell family. The family has always wanted truth and justice. Will the Minister be compelled to establish a public inquiry if Judge Haughton calls for one?

Deputy Niamh Smyth

It is clear that the GSOC inquiry has been a failure for the O’Farrell family. It is six years since the process began, yet the O’Farrells have no more answers than they did when it started. All that can be gleaned from the report is that the Government needs to step up and establish a commission of investigation so that we as a nation can learn from this awful tragedy and nothing like this ever happens again.

Deputy Charles Flanagan

I have listened carefully to the points raised by Deputies Ó Laoghaire, Broughan, Gino Kenny and Smyth. I have already mentioned the independence of the criminal justice bodies that are engaged in various aspects of the O’Farrell case. It is critical that I make it clear that legal difficulties may arise in seeking to look at actions by the courts, which are independent under the Constitution, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution and GSOC, both of which are independent under law. We must have regard to the constitutional separation of powers where the courts are concerned. Where the DPP is concerned, the law is designed to prevent inappropriate interference with the office, particularly in cases where prosecutorial decisions are concerned. Therefore, any inquiry must at all times respect these boundaries.

I have initiated a scoping exercise to examine the various matters. This is a reasonable and responsible approach to take. There are various precedents of scoping exercises being carried out prior to the setting up of inquiries or tribunals. It is good governance to allow a scoping exercise by a legal expert to determine the net issues that might require further examination. Indeed, the exercise on the part of Judge Haughton will also be charged with responsibility for reviewing changes that have already been made to the law, practices and procedures in respect of the administration of bail and bench warrants and the extent to which those changes have or have not addressed gaps in the systems since the death of Shane O’Farrell.

I am acutely conscious that at the heart of this tragedy is a family in pain. I am very much aware that this family is searching for answers. Its members have the sympathy and support of the Government and everyone else in this House. Once again, I want to extend my sincere condolences to the O’Farrell family and assure the House, including all of the Deputies who have raised the issue today, that a process is firmly in place to examine how best to give effect to the Dáil motion that was passed.