Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

Inquiry into the Death of Mr. Shane O'Farrell

Martin Kenny

Question:

79. Deputy Martin Kenny asked the Minister for Justice when the results of the scoping exercise in relation to the death of a person (details supplied) will be made available to their family; and when the full commission of investigation will be established. [51337/21]

My question this morning relates to the scoping exercise with regard to the case of Shane O'Farrell, which has been going on for quite some time now. I hope the Minister has some positive news in that regard so that it can be ensured that the commission of investigation will start as quickly as possible. As the Minister will know, the entire Oireachtas voted on this. It is very important that we ensure transparency around this. Shane O'Farrell lost his life in the most tragic of circumstances and his family has waited too long to see justice delivered.

We are going to stick to the time.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. I assure him that I recognise the ongoing pain and anguish of the O'Farrell family on the tragic death of Shane and I deeply sympathise with them on their loss.

As the Deputy will be aware, a highly respected retired judge, Gerard Haughton, has been conducting a scoping exercise into the tragic circumstances surrounding Shane O'Farrell's death. The purpose of this exercise is to advise as to whether any further investigation or inquiry beyond those already carried out is necessary and, if so, to advise on the form of such an investigation or inquiry and its terms of reference. Judge Haughton furnished an interim report to the then Minister for Justice in November 2019 in which he stated that he would not restrict or limit Shane's family in their submissions to him or the nature and extent of the documentation they wished to furnish to him in his scoping exercise.

As the Deputy will appreciate, the judge is completely independent in conducting this scoping exercise. It is not open to me, as Minister, to comment on any aspect of the judge's work or the process of compiling the final report. My Department maintains regular contact with the judge and has assured him that any assistance he requires to complete his final report will be made available.

While I genuinely regret that this process has taken significantly longer than any of us would wish, I am also aware that the judge is doing all that he can to ensure that the concerns which the family have raised with him during the process are addressed to the greatest extent possible. I understand that Judge Haughton has been in contact with the O’Farrell family throughout his scoping process. I am informed the process is now at the stage of seeking comments on various sections of the report from the parties named in it, including my Department.

I thank the Minister. I appreciate that the process taking place is independent and that Judge Haughton has his work to do. We all understood that from the very outset. Unfortunately, it has taken a very long time for this family to reach a point at which they feel they are getting some semblance of justice. As many of our teenage youngsters do, Shane O'Farrell went out to ride his bicycle and get in a bit of exercise but he never came home. His family were shocked that the man who killed him had numerous charges against him and was on bail in both the North and the South. How this tragedy unfolded for the family is just unbelievable. While I am not directing this at the Minister herself, the system seems to be covering this up. Until we get a breakthrough, there can be no other word for it.

I thank the Deputy. I, too, understand what this family has been through. I know Deputy Carthy, who is sitting behind Deputy Martin Kenny, has been speaking to the family, as have I. It is not easy for them but it is fair to say that this process is in place and that the judge is doing his work. We have to wait until he produces his report. As far as my Department is concerned, we will support him in carrying out his work in any way we can. The judge's final report on the outcome of his scoping exercise is awaited. I assure the Deputy that this final report will be an important part of ensuring that any outstanding questions are answered.

We need progress on this. The experience of the family and their community has been one of delay and more delay. I ask the Minister for an assurance that she will contact the judge, not to interfere in the process, but to relay the heartfelt grief of this family and to let him know that this grief is being compounded by these delays. I ask the Minister to do that as a matter of urgency and to bring an urgency to this case. This happened in her own constituency. I know she has spoken to the family herself. This is one example but many other families feel they are in the same circumstances. With regard to the Shane O'Farrell case, we want the Minister to speak to the judge to ensure this is delivered as quickly as possible. It cannot go on forever. It has been going on for years now.

I thank the Deputy. As I said, and as I know the Deputy will appreciate, the judge is completely independent in conducting this scoping exercise and it is not open to me, as Minister, to comment on any aspect of the judge's work or the process of compiling the final report. I understand that Judge Haughton has been in contact with the O'Farrell family throughout this scoping exercise. He recently wrote to my Department seeking comments on a number of sections of his draft report. The Department further understands that Judge Haughton has been in touch with the O'Farrell family regarding this matter. Following receipt of responses from all relevant parties, it is understood that Judge Haughton will be in a position to finalise this report. Like the Deputy, I hope this report will be made available very soon.

An Garda Síochána

Catherine Murphy

Question:

80. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Justice if she has engaged with the Garda Commissioner in respect of further issues regarding the appropriateness of the management and cancellation of computer-aided despatch incidents and 999 calls (details supplied); and if her Department has provided administrative assistance and or advice to Garda management on same to date in 2021. [51666/21]

This question relates to the cancellation of a very significant number of 999 calls. I am seeking information from the Minister as to whether her Department has provided administrative assistance or advice to Garda management on that issue in 2021.

I thank Deputy Catherine Murphy for raising this matter. As the Deputy will be aware, I consider any inappropriate cancellation of 999 calls a very serious matter. This falls significantly below the high standards that the public expect from gardaí and the high standards that An Garda Síochána sets for itself. I am particularly concerned that anyone experiencing domestic abuse or anyone in a vulnerable position who summoned the courage to seek assistance may not have received it.

The Policing Authority was asked by the Minister, Deputy McEntee, to oversee the review being carried out by An Garda Síochána in regard to this matter and there have been a number of engagements between the authority and An Garda Síochána since March this year.

I share the authority's concern about the continuation of what appears to be the inappropriate cancellation and classification of calls since the introduction of the new procedures. These circumstances will of course be considered by the authority as part of its continuing oversight of the Garda review of this matter and will be taken into account in the work being carried out by an external policing expert who has been appointed to assist the authority in this task. I await the outcome of the authority's work in this regard.

My Department has ongoing engagement with the Garda authorities regarding their work to address issues which have arisen in respect of the management of 999 calls. The question of the Department providing administrative assistance has not arisen. However, I do not think that would be appropriate, having regard to the Commissioner's statutory responsibility for the administration of An Garda Síochána. I will, of course, consider any recommendations the authority chooses to make regarding the future management of these matters.

When was the Minister's colleague, Deputy McEntee, first informed that there would be an obligation to inform her under section 41 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005? Did the Minister or, indeed, the acting Minister for Justice or the Garda Commissioner receive any protected disclosures in regard to the cancellation of these calls? If there were protected disclosures, what happened to them? When the issue was reported in The Sunday Times in late 2020, what precisely was communicated? Was it communicated through the press office? There is a sense that what was communicated initially was that there was some technical issue. That certainly was not my reading of the situation. Has there been full and frank engagement between the Minister and Garda throughout this process?

I thank the Deputy. The Policing Authority was asked by the Minister, Deputy McEntee, to oversee the review being carried out by An Garda Síochána. There have been a number of engagements between the authority and An Garda Síochána since March this year. Regarding the exact date that the Minister was made aware of this, I do not have the information to hand but I will make sure it is provided to the Deputy.

I share the concern of the authority about the continuation of the inappropriate cancellation and classification of calls since the introduction of the new procedures. As the Deputy knows, the independent policing expert is carrying out a separate examination of the review and that is being carried out by the Garda authorities which will assist the authority in its oversight of this matter and its advice to me in this regard. The Commissioner has said that it is of concern to him and he has referred the matter to the authorities.

I asked the Minister about protected disclosures. She might come back to me on that very specifically. It appears to me that there is certainly an issue with the credibility of the Garda National Protective Services Bureau. Would the Minister accept that is the case? Not only were large numbers of 999 calls cancelled, in areas where people were very definitely at risk, that continued even after that issue had been notified and was in the public domain. Has the Minister communicated anything in regard to that directly with the Garda Commissioner?

Regarding the protected disclosure, the Deputy will appreciate that there is a duty of confidentiality regarding protected disclosures as set out in the Protected Disclosures Act 2014. It would not be appropriate for me to comment on a protected disclosure.

Have there been any? How many have there been? How have they been dealt with?

There have been. I will get my officials to provide the Deputy with that information. The Commissioner is taking this very seriously. The management of An Garda Síochána is a matter for the Commissioner. The Commissioner is due to appear before the authority next week, as the Deputy will know. I expect that this issue will be raised at that meeting. This is oversight in operation. That is exactly what this is about. That shows the structures are in place to ensure that when there is a problem there is oversight in place to deal with it. We need to allow the Policing Authority to do its work and await the report.