Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions

Last night's special edition of "Claire Byrne Live" entitled, "Her Name is Clodagh", was a heart-rending, difficult and very upsetting programme and an important one from a public service perspective. The courage shown by Mary Coll and Jacqueline Connolly, Clodagh Hawe's mother and sister, respectively, in telling their story was incredible. There are many disturbing elements to this story and many of their questions have remained unanswered for far too long. Their loss was devastating. The manner of their loss was horrifying and savage, and stretches our human capacity to understand.

When a mother and her three sons are murdered by their father, it demands a comprehensive response from the State's agencies and that needs to be reflected upon. The family wants basic answers. They believe a full book of evidence should be published. There is no compelling reason basic information could not have been given to Clodagh's family much earlier. It took until 16 months after the murders for the family to see Alan Hawe's suicide letter, for instance. No murder trial would have been compromised.

Unfortunately, familicide is not new to Ireland. There is a sense that it is occurring much more frequently in modern times than in the past. There are serious child protection issues at stake. How robust are these protections? There are profound issues relating to mental health and psychiatry. How much serious indigenous research on this issue has been commissioned by the Departments of Justice and Equality and Health? How adequate is the State's response across the range of services when such an horrific murder occurs? Is there a co-ordinated and multidisciplinary response? Watching the programme last night, one got the sense that there is not. I do not want to be judgmental and I am not attempting to apportion blame but serious questions remain to be asked and responded to. Clearly, there are lessons to be learned.

Ten years ago, the report into the Monageer familicide was published, albeit that was in different circumstances given that family's interactions with social services on a frequent basis. Nonetheless, it might provide a template for the kind of inquiry and analysis that Clodagh's mother, sister and family are looking for. The Departments of Health and Justice and Equality need to co-ordinate strongly on this issue. The Department of Health states that familicide, murder and suicide are criminal issues for the Department of Justice and Equality. The Department of Health looks at it from a suicide prevention perspective.

On foot of the Coll family's request, is the Government considering an inquiry or some investigation into the circumstances surrounding those murders so as to develop a greater understanding of those circumstances and to learn lessons? Will the Taoiseach ensure that genuine indigenous research is commissioned on this very difficult issue of familicide in Ireland? Will he agree to develop a multidisciplinary action plan to guide State agencies in responding to such events in the future?

I thank the Deputy for raising this very important issue, which I know a lot of people across the country are talking about today. I am afraid I did not have a chance to watch the programme myself as I was travelling back from a meeting last night and did not get into the country until quite late. However, a lot of people have spoken to me about it through the course of the morning, and they were deeply impacted by the story they heard and by the bravery of Clodagh's mother and sister, who shared their story with the nation last night.

I do, of course, know a little about the case and the murders of Clodagh, Liam, Niall and Ryan. It was a heartbreaking and horrific tragedy for the family and for the wider community in Virginia, County Cavan. What happened must be beyond anyone's worst nightmares and it was truly a terrible crime. I am sure the condolences of the entire House go to the family and to the wider community. We cannot imagine their pain and I know there is very little we can say or do here to ease or erase their grief and suffering. Understandably, in such circumstances, where a suicide or a murder-suicide occurs, people want to know why it happened and it is often not possible to answer that question. They often want to know if there is anything they could have done to prevent it or if there were any signs that they could have identified. Often, the truth is that there is not. That makes the pain even harder.

As the Deputy acknowledged, family annihilation and familicide is rare, thankfully, but it does happen and perhaps more frequently that it did in the past. We can, therefore, learn lessons. In terms of what we can do, we think it is a combination of changing laws - in fact, we have already changed laws - reform of the Garda and how gardaí deal with such cases, reform of the law and maybe some specific actions around this case. The Domestic Violence Act, which was passed in 2018, made coercive control an offence in this State for the first time. That was an important step forward, which was led by Government, with the support of the Oireachtas. Gardaí are trying to improve the way they deal with such serious cases through the Garda National Protective Services Bureau, GNPSB, which is responsible for ensuring that front-line gardaí have a solid understanding of coercive control and this new legislation. That has been going live in all Garda divisions since the first week in January. Ten have been established across nine divisions and it will go to the other 19 in 2019. In addition, the family have asked us to review the Succession Act 1965 in regard to inheritance, on which Deputy Jim O'Callaghan has done some work, and the Coroners Act 1962 in regard to burials.

In terms of taking this forward and seeing what we can do to answer some of the questions, and perhaps to learn from what has happened, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, will be happy to receive a submission from the family with their suggestions, and perhaps we will take it from there.

I welcome the approach of a submission to be received by the Minister, which would be some response to the family's request as articulated last evening on the programme. The family made very many valid points on the programme. Their central point was that it is far too easy in cases of familicide to throw a blanket over the cases and say, "It is depressive psychosis", and that is the end of it. That leaves the family asking a lot of questions and feeling that the issue has not been dealt with in the comprehensive, multidisciplinary way that it should be. I ask that this be given consideration.

The family raised the issue of the Coroners Act and the Succession Act during the programme and I welcome the fact amendments to those Acts will be assessed in the context of familicide.

The National Office for Suicide Prevention has been carrying out a literature review in respect of familicide with organisations from other European states. It is time to commission research on familicide in Ireland over the past two to three decades. The Taoiseach might ask the Departments of Justice and Equality and Health to commission such research. It could provide insights and valuable lessons for future policy to guide State agencies.

Deputy Micheál Martin asked a specific question about the book of evidence. I understand from An Garda Síochána that when someone gives evidence as part of an investigation, that evidence is privileged. There is concern that if this was removed, it would be harder to convince people to give evidence to the Garda in other cases if they knew that evidence given under privilege could be released later. The Deputy is correct in stating that there was information which could have been given to the family at an earlier stage and that, on occasion, they learned things from the media. That is a recurring theme regarding other issues as well. It is something that should not happen.

Regarding the suggestion on research being done by the National Office for Suicide Prevention, its budget has been doubled in recent years and it has a budget for research. We will raise with it the suggestion as to whether it would make sense to do some domestic research on familicide. As I said earlier, regarding the best way to move forward on this issue, rather than making decisions or commitments in this Chamber on the hoof on foot of a TV programme that aired last night, we would welcome a submission from the family of Ms Hawe to the Minister for Justice and Equality. We can then consider that, bring things forward and perhaps do something to help the family deal with this tragedy. Lessons might also be learned that could allow the prevention of similar tragedies in future.

Last night, we witnessed the mother and sister of Clodagh Hawe, Mary and Jacqueline, speak about her brutal murder and those of her three sons, Liam, aged 13, Niall, aged 11, and Ryan, aged six, at the hands of her husband and the children's father in August 2016. Anyone who saw last night's programme has been deeply affected by the utterly terrifying and heartbreaking story, as well as by the issues raised by the family concerning the subsequent investigation and the unanswered questions that remain almost three years later. I extend deepest and sincerest sympathies to the family and friends of Ms Hawe, Liam, Niall and Ryan. It is clear from the testimony of Clodagh's family last night that they need answers to the questions they have concerning the murders of Ms Hawe and her three children. The State also needs answers. As legislators, there is an onus on us to ensure the necessary statutory provisions are in place to understand in full how and why these violent crimes occur.

I wrote to the Garda Commissioner and the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, earlier this month asking that consideration be given to the introduction of domestic homicide reviews and that these be underpinned by legislation. Such reviews have been in place in Britain since 2011 and are due to be introduced in Northern Ireland following a public consultation process. Domestic homicide reviews take a multi-agency approach to determine the circumstances in which such deaths occur. Organisations such as Women’s Aid have long advocated for the introduction of such reviews in this country. The family and friends of victims should also be included in the review process. That should happen because the reality is that Garda management does not have adequate data on or understanding of these homicides. If there were such understanding, then Mary and Jacqueline would not have had to go on television to advance what are modest requests. They want to understand how or why Clodagh and her children were murdered. Does the Taoiseach support the introduction of domestic homicide reviews? Will he consider introducing them in the future?

Families deserve answers to their questions and reviews of this kind can play a very important part in providing those answers. Last night, the family called for reviews of the Coroners Act and laws surrounding exhumations as well as changes to the Succession Act. In a sense they have very publicly made their submission. I am glad that the Minister for Justice and Equality is open to such a submission, but the family also wants an inquiry. They want answers. Will the Minister for Justice and Equality meet the family to agree the scope and form of such an inquiry?

As I indicated earlier in my response to Deputy Martin, the Minister would be very happy to receive a submission from the family with their suggestions on how to better deal with family annihilation and family homicide. We can take it from there and make decisions on foot of full consideration of that submission.

I answered the question on the Coroners Act and the Succession Act earlier. It is acknowledged that the Garda can learn from awful cases such as this, and from other family homicides that have occurred in recent years. I am informed that the Garda is carrying out a review of cases of domestic homicide to better inform its approach to domestic violence generally. That review is ongoing.

In addition, as I mentioned earlier, the GNPSB is now responsible for ensuring that front-line gardaí have a solid understanding of our new laws on domestic violence. Major changes to policing are taking place within six new divisional protective services units, DPSUs. They went live across six Garda divisions in the first week of January. Ten divisional units have been established across nine Garda divisions and DPSUs will go live in the remaining 19 divisions throughout 2019.

I thank the Taoiseach. I am aware of all of that work and, undoubtedly, it marks progress. I discussed these matters when I met the Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris, some months ago. However, I am now making a different proposition and a different point to the Taoiseach. Rather than proceeding in an ad hoc or discretionary way, we should establish multi-agency review processes of these types of homicides in law. This would allow an avenue for families, friends and each of the statutory organisations not just to share and reveal information but to learn. To return to my initial point, Clodagh and her three boys are gone. Others have also died in this horrific way. It is our job as legislators and it is the duty of statutory agencies not simply to be horrified, although we are all horrified by this turn of events, but to try to grasp why it happened so that we can take preventative action. The family have asked for an inquiry. They have not specified a particular type of inquiry. Can I suggest that rather than simply indicating a willingness to receive a submission, the Minister should meet the family in these circumstances and hear their questions directly? He should hear from them what a short, sharp informative inquiry should look like to give these families the comfort that I know we all wish for them to have.

I thank the Deputy. We would not be doing justice to the family or right by the country to make decisions or commitments on the hoof in this Chamber. As the Minister for Justice and Equality has indicated, he would be very happy to receive a submission from the family based on what they said on television last night. There may be other things they also want to say, which they were not able to get across on a television programme. The Minister would be happy to meet them on foot of that and we can follow it up from there.

We have returned to the usual heavy traffic congestion following last week's mid-term break. Dublin has been ranked the third worst city in the world, in of a survey of 200 cities, when it comes to the time normal people spend in traffic. Dublin commuters lose an average of nearly five hours every week sitting in traffic jams. There is a pressing need for a grand plan for public transport, not least to address the issue of lowering our carbon emissions. The public accepts this.

In my judgment it demands a better public transport system, but what I am hearing is a great deal of public anxiety about the Government's two major transport projects, MetroLink and Bus Connects, on which it is spending €5 billion. Can we have confidence in the Government's ability to deliver on these projects following the 100% overrun to date on the national children's hospital? Is the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform closely monitoring these projects?

One hundred and twenty-three years ago, Glasgow opened its first subway. We are still talking about building Dublin's first metro line. Originally, we had the Dublin north plan from Fingal to the city centre, but then we had the economic crash. We then had MetroLink to link the metro with the existing green Luas line. What has happened now, because that last project seems to have been scrapped? Will the Taoiseach give the House, the people of Dublin and the nation clarity on that matter? The proposed metro line will not solve congestion problems for many Dubliners, which is where Bus Connects comes in to rethink the entire bus system. However, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, seems to have distanced himself from Bus Connects and handed over power to unelected officials. From many reports I am getting, those leading the public consultations seem to be involved in box ticking without real concern for the anxieties of the people. I am told that at a public meeting yesterday, the Fine Gael Deputy, Colm Brophy, said that he had a lack of confidence in Bus Connects. I understand the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Catherine Byrne, called the National Transport Authority dictators. There seems to be more focus on the electoral prospects of Fine Gael Deputies than on providing the vision of a high-quality public transport system. Will the Government provide for a full and complete debate in this House to test fully its vision for Dublin's future transport system? Will the Taoiseach give the House a guarantee that the Government's plan has been future-proofed to meet the transport needs of a city that we expect to expand greatly in the coming decade, which is to be accommodated with a world-class transport system?

I thank the Deputy. As he knows, I represent the commuter constituency of Dublin West and, more so than most in this House, I am very aware of the daily impact congestion has on our constituents. Huge numbers of people from my constituency are spending perhaps two hours on the bus every day, which is ten hours a week and is time that could be spent with their families, engaged in recreation or sporting activities, or even taking up an evening class and further study. One thing we want to do over the next couple of years as the city continues to expand and grow and as our population and employment continues to increase is to improve and reduce commuting times for people who commute to work in the Dublin area. We have detailed plans already such as the National Transport Authority's greater Dublin transport plan running to 2030 and Project Ireland 2040. We need to get on with those plans and implement them. That is why I am so concerned at suggestions from some Members of the Opposition that we should suspend Project Ireland 2040-----

What about your own?

-----and carry out a review of it.

The children's hospital.

It would be an enormous mistake to delay these important plans and investments in public transport.

In terms of what we can do, we can implement Project Ireland 2040 to ensure that the cities other than Dublin grow twice as fast as Dublin. Part of the solution to congestion in Dublin is Cork, Limerick, Waterford, Galway and other urban centres like Athlone, Sligo, Dundalk and Drogheda growing twice as fast as Dublin. We can turn around a millennium of development in Ireland and move it into a different direction, but it has to be part of the solution. We can invest in cycling and pedestrian facilities, a lot of which is under way already. The Deputy will have seen many of the improvements around the city but much more needs to be done in that regard. We can also invest in public transport projects like Bus Connects, to which I am very committed. Notwithstanding the disruption it will cause for some, it will benefit the many in terms of reducing journey times, perhaps by half, in suburban Dublin. We can also invest in rail, much of which is done already. Luas and Luas cross city are now up and running. They were criticised and opposed by many. It did overrun, not cross city but the early elements, but I doubt anyone regrets now that the Luas was built, and there are demands every day for new lines. The Phoenix Park tunnel is open, allowing for better connections between the Kildare commuter routes and the city centre, and the metro is now out for design.

The truth is that we have to engage with the public and it is right to engage with the public on design to get it right. That is happening with BusConnects and it is happening with MetroLink. People have genuine concerns because it disrupts their sports clubs, it can disrupt their schools, it can involve taking away their parking and it can involve taking away parts of their gardens. We should not dismiss genuine concerns from communities, whether it is Na Fianna GAA club, whether it is people in Ranelagh or whether it is people out in Terenure. We should not dismiss their concerns. We are not a dictatorship; this is not the Soviet Union and it is not the 19th century in Glasgow. We do not just run roughshod over people and communities so the right thing to do-----

The Government did it in rural Ireland.

The right thing to do is-----

The Government forgot about rural Ireland.

The right thing to do is to listen to people's concerns-----

-----take into account what communities have to say, amend those plans, as appropriate, and then go ahead and get them done.

I am sure people will be delighted with the Taoiseach's empathy for their difficulties. The two projects that he instanced as successes, namely the Luas Cross City and the Phoenix Park tunnel, were carried out by the previous Government, as the Taoiseach will recall.

Yes, the two projects that the Taoiseach is responsible for are the ones I have asked him about. Where stands MetroLink now? Will it be the original plan or the modified plan? What is happening with it? We seem to always be planning but never delivering.

On BusConnects, it is lovely that the Taoiseach is interested and that the Government is not a Soviet dictatorship but what does that mean? Will we have a decent plan or, as many people are concerned about now from listening to the Taoiseach's representatives going to public meetings around the city, is all of this just talk at the end of the day and because there is political pushback, nothing will be delivered? What is the status of BusConnects and what exactly is the Taoiseach's plan for MetroLink?

As the Deputy will recall, I was a member of the previous Government and, for three and a half years of that, I was the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport and we delivered on a lot of projects, including the Phoenix Park tunnel-----

The previous Government did a lot of harm too.

-----the Luas extension to City West, Luas Cross City and other projects around the country as well-----

It is this Government I am more concerned about. I acknowledge the success of the previous Government.

-----such as the N11 and the Gort to Tuam motorway.

Regarding what we are delivering under this Government, it is BusConnects and MetroLink but these are very big projects. Let us not forget that BusConnects is not just for Dublin, it is for other cities as well. It is a €2 billion investment in buses and cycling facilities and people often forget that aspect of it. It is greatly beneficial for cyclists as well. It is impossible to cost MetroLink for certain at this stage but it is also a multi-billion euro investment in public transport from the north of County Dublin through to the city centre. These projects involve public consultation, however, and that is the stage that we are at now with BusConnects and MetroLink. Public consultation is under way, the NTA is listening and it will come back with revised plans. When it comes back with revised plans, we will be able to apply for railway orders and planning permission, then put them out to tender and then get a realistic final cost. It is only when we goes to tender that we will know the real cost and then make a final decision on whether we proceed.

The consultation on MetroLink will not be easy if we do not have the full engineering facts. As I understand it, we will not get the revised solution and the revised options on the southside of the city until the end of March. We are flying slightly blind without that. The engineers will rightly say that the greater Dublin transport strategy set out their preferred approach but nobody understood at that time that the Government would go with the driverless, segregated system that would effect the southside in the way it might, or that it would change the entire route because it would not build the DART Interconnector, which was another critical piece of infrastructure that it effectively abandoned.

There are three options, one of which would be to connect with the green line in whatever way. We will have to wait until March for the detail to see what the preferred solution on that is. The engineers may well rightly say that is still their preferred solution as it always was. We have to hear what they have to say. Second, good engineers say to me that when a tunnel machine is running it is so much cheaper and easier to keep going and the route south west to Terenure, Rathfarnham and Tallaght would be of great benefit to that section of the city, which is very poorly served by public transport. Third, and I have raised this with the Taoiseach here in the Dáil as an option, the Government could keep the tunnel machine running south east and connect to University College Dublin, UCD and Sandyford.

It would be capable of providing for the increasing volume of traffic on the long run from Sandyford and Cherrywood on the southside and we would not have to upgrade the Luas green line. These are the three options available.

Does the Taoiseach agree that whatever solution we pick we will not abandon the southside? I am worried because the Taoiseach mentioned the metro to the city centre. If the press reports are accurate, this is what the Government is thinking and it has abandoned the southside. We cannot afford to abandon the southside, the west or the northside. Our entire transport system requires radical change. Whatever happens on the southside should not cause any delay on the northside. We should proceed with the railway order to ensure the northside section is built. Deputy Rock is shaking his head. I do not know what his view is but no doubt we will hear it. Whatever route we pick it should not undermine the case for BusConnects. We fundamentally stand with BusConnects because the projections from the NTA indicate that even with all of these projects, the transport emissions in Dublin will increase by 30% when we need them to decrease by 30% by 2030. The scale of the change we need to make is huge.

The Taoiseach mentioned consultation on this project. How do we consult when we do not have the final plans? Does the Taoiseach agree that we should not abandon the southside, that we should not delay the northside element and that we need BusConnects and the metro in order to start making the city work?

When the Deputy was in government, the grand plan was Transport 21. We were going to have the metro north, the Luas cross-city, the DART underground and the electrification of the Maynooth and Kildare lines all at the same time.

All Dublin, Dublin, Dublin.

A fortune was spent but not one of those projects was delivered. The Deputy will acknowledge, therefore, that his party has a really poor record on transport in Dublin. It promised four major projects, spent a fortune on them and delivered none. The approach we have taken has been much more incremental. The Phoenix Park tunnel is complete and the Luas lines are connected and extended. The next big steps are the electrification of the train lines to Maynooth and Drogheda, which are not in Dublin-----

It is a miracle that the Taoiseach went outside the place.

-----and out to Kildare, which is also not in Dublin.

How good it is that the Taoiseach knows somewhere outside Dublin.

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae should not forget the Macroom bypass.

There is also BusConnects and the metro. None of these projects can be done quickly and we must ensure that we sequence them right and get them right. A public consultation is under way on BusConnects and the metro link. I do not think we in the House have the competency to design the metro link. I know the Deputy has made submissions and the NTA will take them into account. I have sought a briefing from the NTA on its plans. Having completed the Phoenix Park tunnel, extended the Luas lines and, at long last, connected them, I am determined to see this through and get these projects done.

Something we could agree to do is to stop scoring petty political points on serious matters of national public policy. I fought tooth and nail for four years in government to protect the metro. I was literally fighting with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. We kept it and preserved it, only for the incoming Minister with responsibility for transport to abandon it in 2011 when European Investment Bank funding, planning permission and a railway order had been obtained in respect of it. That was one of the worst mistakes made by any politician in my time but I will not go back to those events in order to score political points.

Deputy Eamon Ryan has the floor.

Such behaviour does not get us anywhere. I want answers to the three questions I have asked. We have a role. We are perfectly placed to represent our constituents and give our views on the proposals and on the various alternatives. I agree with Deputy Howlin. We need a place to debate it that does not involve just scoring petty political points but looks at the options and considers what is the best engineering solution. We must decide this on good engineering, financial and planning analysis. Where could we have that debate?

Show up to the transport committee. The Deputy has never attended the committee's meetings.

That is not true.

The Deputy's time is up. Can we not get into personal commentary please?

I ask the Taoiseach to answer the first three questions I asked and to stop trying to play politics with this matter.

I suggest that the Deputy and I agree a truce for the rest of this session: let neither of us try to score party-political or petty points on any issue, whether it is housing, climate change or transport. I would be happy to agree to that.

I am sure the Taoiseach would.

We will see from the next question asked by Deputy Eamon Ryan whether he is willing to rise to that challenge.

I am entirely agnostic regarding a debate on transport in Dublin. While a debate on it in the House would be welcome, I am not sure it would be particularly productive as, to the best of my knowledge, no Deputy is a transport engineer or an expert in this field. Perhaps the Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport, chaired by Deputy O'Dowd, would be the best place for the issue to be fleshed out and debated as experts and various agencies could be brought in and Deputies with a particular interest in or knowledge of transport could engage in what might be a more meaningful way.