At the heart of the matter under discussion is the dreadful loss of a loved one by the O'Farrell family. As in the past, including in the debate on these tragic circumstances in the Dáil last week, I express my sincere condolences and those of my Government colleagues to the O'Farrell family on the tragic death of Shane O'Farrell.
I stress that we are all working towards achieving the same goal, that of responding appropriately to the acute pain of the O'Farrell family arising from that dreadful loss and of addressing, in a meaningful way, their search for answers. In this context, I am glad to have the opportunity to clarify a number of important points regarding this matter. I look forward to a constructive debate on how we can fully address this matter in a legally robust way.
The circumstances surrounding the tragic death of Shane O'Farrell have been addressed on several occasions in this House and the other House. As I said in Dáil Éireann on 12 November, the terms of reference of the scoping exercise being conducted by Judge Haughton were finalised in September. Since that debate, Judge Haughton has made his interim report to me and is making progress. I will return to that shortly but first let me assure the Seanad that there is absolutely no intention on the part of myself or the Government to limit in any way the scoping exercise under way.
The terms of reference of the scoping exercise are focused, as required by the law and clearly set out by the Supreme Court in Shatter v. Guerin, to reduce the risk of legal challenge to the recommendations of the scoping exercise. The judgment of the Supreme Court requires the terms of reference of a scoping exercise to be as specific as possible to remove potential ambiguity and focused enough to promote a timely outcome to ensure fairness to all parties. However, they still allow for review of the issues intended.
In his interim report, Judge Haughton set out the issues he is considering in some detail. He said that he plans to conclude his scoping exercise without delay. My Department is providing assistance to him to seek to ensure that his important work can be completed as soon as is possible, particularly in terms of ensuring he has access to all relevant documentation from a range of sources. I understand that he has shared his interim report with the O'Farrell family and I intend to publish it shortly, following ongoing consultation with the judge himself and with the O'Farrell family.
I also very much welcome the fact that the O'Farrell family have decided to work with Judge Haughton and to supply him with the documentation they have in their possession. It will be important to ensure that the judge has sufficient time to fully consider what I understand is a significant volume of documentation in reaching his final conclusions.
In terms of that final report, I want to be clear that Judge Haughton is free to make any recommendation he sees fit, including recommending the establishment of any form of statutory or non-statutory inquiry. It is also the case that the O'Farrell family is free to make any representations they wish to him in respect of any matter into which they wish to see inquiries made. The judge has made that clear in his interim report to me. Should he recommend an inquiry of whatever type, he has been asked to provide draft terms of reference for such an inquiry for obvious reasons.
I am anxious to see real progress on this tragic matter. However, in view of the motion that was passed in Dáil Éireann last week to widen his terms of reference, I ask Senators to appreciate that I cannot, and should not, prejudge Judge Haughton's report or change his terms of reference in a way that does not comply fully with the law. I take this opportunity to respond directly to the concerns with regard to the terms of reference of the judge's scoping exercise.
In establishing the scoping exercise itself and in determining its terms of reference, I have been guided by legal advice from the Attorney General. The terms of reference of the scoping exercise must be compliant with the line of jurisprudence established by the Supreme Court's decision in the Shatter v. Guerin case.
As Minister for Justice and Equality, I must act within the law at all times and indeed so must all of us collectively.
The terms of reference provided to Judge Haughton respect the law but, and I will repeat this point, there is no impediment on Judge Haughton to make any recommendation he sees fit, including the establishment of any form of future inquiry if he considers that necessary, and the O'Farrell family are free to make any representations to Judge Haughton in relation to any matter that they would wish to see inquired into in any future inquiry.
This is not the first time we have addressed this issue in the Seanad. Judge Gerard Haughton is an experienced and respected judge. He has spent most of his life in the practice of law in road traffic cases as a practitioner and for many decades as a respected and effective District Court judge, dealing primarily in the area of road traffic law. He is also very dedicated to the work he has been asked to undertake for which I am very grateful to him. I know he has been engaging closely with the O'Farrell family and I would hope to see that engagement continuing in this sensitive and tragic case.
I ask all Senators to reflect on the situation as I have laid it out and to join me in seeking to make progress on this matter as quickly as possible through the process that is already in place.