Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Ceisteanna (34)

Clare Daly

Ceist:

34. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the status of progress of the five section 42 inquiries established in response to the independent review mechanism; the cost of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4426/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (10 contributions) (Ceist ar Justice)

I am inquiring as to the status of the five section 42 statutory inquiries into some pretty serious incidents that were initiated following the internal review that was carried out.

Four of the inquiries related to tragic deaths. I believe three of the inquiries have been concluded. In respect of one of them, the person has withdrawn while another one seems to be in some kind of "La La land". What is the status of these inquiries?

I thank the Deputy for the question. While the inquiries were formally established on 15 May 2017, in practice, it took some time to get them equipped to be fully operational. A retired judge was appointed to conduct each of these inquiries and the orders establishing the inquiries prescribe that on conclusion of each one, a report will be submitted to me.

Two of these inquiries have concluded and reports have been furnished to me. Both involved tragic fatalities and the families have each been seeking answers for what they believe were failures by the authorities regarding the circumstances. I reiterate my condolences to those families on their losses.

In each case, I sought the advice of the Attorney General about publication of the reports. I was advised that any breach of individual privacy rights or adverse comments about any party should be avoided where possible. I, therefore, arranged for anonymised versions of the reports to be provided to the families and published on the Department's website. This was done before Christmas.

The central findings of the reports were clear. Each report identifies issues that require a response from An Garda Síochána in order that the families can have as complete a picture as possible of the circumstances of the death of their loved ones. Everybody will agree that this is the very least they deserve.

Upon receipt of the reports, therefore, I wrote to the Garda Commissioner regarding the issues raised in each of these reports. Where the judges identified failings by An Garda Síochána, I have asked the Commissioner to consider these and notify me of what actions he proposes to take in light of these findings. When I receive his reply, I will decide whether any further action is appropriate. I will, of course, be in further contact with the families in this regard.

I believe the third inquiry is complete and that the judge is simply writing up on the report. In the three cases that are complete, the families involved met the judges before the cases started, their legal teams met the inquiry team and they received a transcript of the proceedings every day. An Garda Síochána and the DPP were present with a legal team so that they could interact with the judges. Yet in the case of Shane Tuohey, a former constituent of the Minister, and his family, who are constituents of the Minister, the judge will not meet with the family or their solicitor and will not have any contact with them. He meets on his own, transcripts are not provided and neither An Garda Síochána nor anybody else, including the Tuohey family's solicitor, is allowed to be present. The family's solicitor has sought a copy of the transcript in line with other people's solicitors but, again, there has been no reply to that. They know from one person who attended the inquiry that the judge shot that individual down in terms of his testimony because that individual gave information that the judge said contradicted the evidence given by a member of An Garda Síochána in a written report. This is not adequate, fair or transparent. It is time for the Minister to intervene and appoint a new person to this inquiry.

I do not intend to change the terms of reference of the inquiries but I have listened carefully to what the Deputy has said. In each case, the terms of reference were set by the Attorney General. They were also the subject of consultation with the Policing Authority of Ireland. It is clear from what the Deputy said that one of the individuals involved appears to have a concern, which appears to revolve around the conduct of the inquiry. In the event of any complainant having a concern, I suggest that such concerns be raised in the first instance with the judge conducting the inquiry. I am very conscious that these inquiries are independent of me and this House and rightly so. That is reflected in the terms of reference.

The issues have been raised consistently with the judge in question. The solicitor hand delivered a letter with nine serious questions, the most significant one being why the family is not being provided with the transcript. The judge replied a few days later telling the solicitor not to contact him again. That was last September. The Minister is aware of this because I have written to him and received a reply regarding this matter. I raised the matter in a parliamentary question and the Minister seemed to imply that the family could seek a judicial review. We are not asking for the terms of reference to be changed. The terms of reference are basically the same for all of the inquiries. How can the other three judges carry out their inquiries, bring in the legal teams, allow the hearings to be conducted in public, as it were, and produce the transcript at the end of every day but this judge will not do so? The family is asking whether it is because Judge McDonagh operated in the Tullamore area where gardaí have been called into question about their actions and have had their activities investigated. Is there a conflict of interest? The Minister cannot stand by and expect the family to take a judicial review at enormous expense regarding a mechanism that was supposed to be put in place to help them. This is causing them further pain and hardship. They have written to the judge and the Minister. Somebody needs to do something. We are not asking for the terms of reference to be changed. It is patently non-transparent and unfair.

The Deputy has made very serious allegations in respect of the conduct of this inquiry.

That is right.

I do not believe it would be appropriate to intervene in these ongoing inquiries, of which there are five. Three have been concluded. An extension of time has been sought in respect of two of them. I am very anxious that all inquiries be completed as expeditiously as possible. Each inquiry, including the one referred to by the Deputy, must be conducted in line with the terms of reference but must also respect constitutional and statutory norms and norms established by the European Convention on Human Rights regarding fair procedures that may be applicable to all such inquiries. Each of the families and individuals central to these inquiries are legally represented.

Not at this one; they are not.

The families are in a position to make representations directly to the judge. Their legal advisers are in a position to advise as to the law and to liaise directly with the judge on a regular basis. I listened carefully to what the Deputy said but I am not going to intervene in what is an independent statutory inquiry. I believe there are remedies available in the event of the type of grievance referred to by her.