What has become known as the Sheedy case has ricocheted through the judicial and political systems like a plague, leaving devastation everywhere in its wake. Everyone and everything touched by the Sheedy case has suffered, including the Sheedy family themselves. Nobody, however, has suffered from the tragedy comparably to the pain and loss inflicted on the Ryan family, who are constituents of mine. Unfortunately, nothing we can do in this House can restore the late Ann Ryan to her family. I am sure everyone involved, including Philip Sheedy and all Members of this House, would wish that it were otherwise.
What this House can do, however, is put in place a mechanism to facilitate answers to the profoundly serious questions that remain unanswered and that have already been adduced in this debate. The Sheedy affair will never be banished from the national psyche until an honest, open attempt is made to have those questions answered.
It was appalling, last night, to watch the bizarre conduct and inappropriate buffoonery of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in his reply to the Fine Gael motion. I am not predisposed towards believing that the inquiry demanded in this motion will reveal premeditated, malign motivation on the part of any of the actors involved. In fact, I believe it will demonstrate nothing of the kind, but that is not an argument for the Opposition parties to collude with the manifest desire of the Government parties to sweep the Sheedy affair under the carpet.
Public confidence in the administration of justice and in judicial credibility is the most significant casualty of the Sheedy affair. Is the coalition Government asking the House simply to ignore this issue and to move on? The detailed questions that arise from this proposition were spelled out by Deputies Shatter and Jim Higgins last night and I do not have time to repeat them here.
Deputy Howlin has forensically demonstrated that from day one the attitude of Fianna Fáil has been to shut down the questioning. On June 27 this year, when Deputy Howlin sponsored a motion that would have caused an invitation to issue to former judge, Hugh O'Flaherty, to voluntarily appear before the Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights to answer some of the relevant questions, Fianna Fáil contrived to use its majority on the committee to vote down the Labour Party motion. This stifling of the committee took place against the background of the then Mr. Justice O'Flaherty's offer "to make a statement to the Committee on Justice, Equality and Women's Affairs, and to answer any and all questions its members may raise."
Why would Fianna Fáil want to obstruct the committee from providing such a straightforward open forum to answer some of the questions that were, and still are, uppermost in the minds of the public? The Fianna Fáil desire to kill off this issue is a pattern that runs through the entire affair. At the outset, they tried to shake off the tenacious reporting of The Star newspaper. They tried to use the Hamilton report to terminate further scrutiny of the issue. When I wrote to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, at the request of Mr. John Ryan, on 15 February 1999 – long before the matter came into the public domain – I said, inter alia, “I would be greatly obliged if you would direct whomsoever is appropriate in your Department, to let me know on behalf of the Ryan family what is the official position in respect of this matter”. I received only the customary acknowledgement. I was forced to write again, on 12 March, to complain that: “I was greatly disappointed that, having regard to the serious questions raised, I have had no reply other than an acknowledgement.”
Eventually, after the matter came into the public domain, the Minister replied to me on 22 April, attributing his failure to reply to the assertion that, "In truth, a number of draft replies had been prepared but each time the contents were overtaken by events". I have no idea to what this refers, but I wonder if I would ever have received a reply if the public controversy had not erupted. Quite frankly, on such a grave matter, that is neither acceptable from the Minister nor from his Department. It is, however, in keeping with my own personal experience in dealing with that Minister and that Department.
I wish to ask the Minister and, through him, his officials to make available to me an explanation as to what is meant by this sentence, "In truth, a number of draft replies had been prepared but each time the contents were overtaken by events". I am entitled to apply for it under the Freedom of Information Act, but I would ask the Minister to furnish it to me without my having to do that. I am ashamed to say that I do not believe any drafts were prepared. I do not believe either the Department or the Minister had any intention of replying to me. I would remind the House that I had sought the Minister's assistance on 15 February 1999, at the request of Mr John Ryan. I was replied to – on such a serious matter – on 22 April, but only after it had become public.
The same Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, came into the House last night to respond to the Fine Gael motion seeking an inquiry, against the background of his own statement to the Dáil, on 20 April 1999, that, "It must be clear to everyone that a tribunal of inquiry is necessary if the disputed facts are to be resolved". Why has the Minister changed his mind? His reasoning seems bizarre and distasteful. First, he argues that such an inquiry would only cause further trauma to the families involved, the implication being that to do so would be, somehow, the fault of the sponsors of this motion.