Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Ceisteanna (11)

Bríd Smith

Ceist:

11. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if there will be an independent inquiry into the death of a person (details supplied). [12009/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (8 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Justice)

Last June, the Dáil voted by a majority of two to one that a commission of investigation be set up to investigate the death of Mr. Shane O'Farrell. The Minister chose instead, however, to have a scoping inquiry and that was to be conducted by the District Court judge, Judge Gerard Haughton. I believe Judge Haughton should provide an interim report soon. Will the Minister allow for an independent inquiry into the death of Mr. Shane O'Farrell?

As Deputy Smith will be aware, this matter has been addressed on a number of occasions in the recent weeks and months by me in the Dáil and Seanad and in public statements, as well as in other fora.  However, I welcome the opportunity to update the House on matters relating to the circumstances of the tragic death of the late Mr. Shane O'Farrell.

Following the Dáil motion last summer, I considered how best to give effect to that motion while at the same time respecting the fact that the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, was still investigating certain matters arising from the same incident. I sought the advice of the Attorney General on how best to proceed in the circumstances. At the end of January this year, I was notified by GSOC that its investigation had concluded and the report and recommendations had been sent to the Garda Commissioner.  The family received a similar notification.

Following this notification and having informed the Government of the approach I had decided to take, I appointed recently retired District Court Judge Gerard Haughton to conduct a scoping exercise and to advise me on the case. I met members of the family to inform them of the decision.  I subsequently provided the O'Farrell family with a copy of the terms of reference for Judge Haughton's scoping exercise and invited them to give their views on those terms of reference directly to Judge Haughton.  The terms of reference, which I have published on my Department's website, require Judge Haughton to provide me with an interim report within eight weeks of the commencement of the scoping exercise. Judge Haughton has met the O'Farrell family to discuss the terms of reference and to seek their input into any amendments that might be required.  I am now awaiting a report from Judge Haughton following his engagement with the family and when I receive that, I will be in a position to finalise the terms of reference for the scoping exercise.

As it stands, Judge Haughton is free to make any recommendation he deems fit, including the freedom to recommend the establishment of any of the various forms of statutory and non-statutory inquiry.  If he recommends an inquiry, of whatever type, I have asked him to provide me with draft terms of reference.  I look forward to receiving Judge Haughton's report in due course.

I thank the Minister for his reply but he has basically said the decision of Judge Haughton supersedes the will of this House. Two thirds of this House voted to have a commission of inquiry into the death of Mr. Shane O'Farrell but the Minister has just told me the judge will make up his own mind on what will happen before reporting to the Minister on that decision. I find this totally unsatisfactory and I have no doubt the O'Farrell family will also find it totally unsatisfactory. The Minister could have ordered a commission of investigation into this very tragic case, as this House wished for last year. The Minister in July last year approved a commission of investigation into the crimes of Mr. Bill Kenneally, the former sports coach, with no scoping exercise, and in June 2015 a commission of investigation was approved into the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation with no scoping exercise. In March 2014, there was approval for a commission of investigation into the recording of phone conversations in Garda stations with no scoping exercise beforehand either. Why is Mr. O'Farrell's death being treated so differently despite a two thirds majority in this House clearly indicating a wish for such a commission of investigation? They have appealed to and lobbied the Minister for years now to order a commission of investigation into the very tragic and strange circumstances of this young man's death.

The Deputy should not misrepresent the role of Judge Haughton in this important and sensitive issue, and he is engaging directly with the O'Farrell family. Of course, it is open to Judge Haughton to propose changes to the terms of reference to me and following his review I expect he will advise me on any remaining unanswered questions that should be the subject of further inquiry or investigation and, if so, the most appropriate manner in which that investigation might take place. I will not pre-empt any advice or guidance that Judge Haughton considers appropriate in the circumstances following the scoping exercise but I state in clear terms that the Government is by no means opposed to the possibility of a further inquiry into the case if that is what Judge Haughton recommends. I have not placed any restriction on Judge Haughton, who is independent and will remain independent in the course of his inquiries, investigations, observations, deliberations and submissions. Like my Government colleagues and everyone else in this House, I wish to see questions answered to the satisfaction of the O'Farrell family.

Unfortunately, I am still not satisfied with the Minister's answer and he has just repeated what he said to me the first time. My question is how the instructions to Judge Haughton override the will of this House, which voted with a majority of two to one that there should be a commission of investigation into the events surrounding the death of Shane O'Farrell but the Minister still has not answered me on why he chose that path and if, at the end of the path, there will be consideration of the clear will of this House. Does Judge Haughton's independence go beyond the scope of the Dáil and does it mean he can ignore the will of Deputies?

The events in the lead-up to Shane O'Farrell's death are well known. The culprit was given a level of freedom by various courts, whether in Monaghan, Ardee, Dundalk or Newry. He was allowed scope to carry out reckless driving, probably after having taken drugs and drink, resulting in the death of this young man. That happened without anybody being able to take him into custody or conducting an inquiry. It is a real tragedy and the words of this Dáil should be heard.

I will allow a brief supplementary question from Deputy Ó Laoghaire.

I outlined previously how there are a number of difficulties with the announcement made by the Minister on Judge Haughton's approach. First, with the idea that it was not required in any event, the evidence clearly stacked up in favour of a public inquiry and the Minister could have proceeded directly to it. Second, the terms of reference were such that they steered Judge Haughton in the direction of only examining those matters which had not already been examined, despite the fact there were serious flaws with the investigations that had already taken place. I hope Judge Haughton listens to the family and comes back to the Minister seeking much broader terms of reference. The Minister could have avoided all of this by simply proceeding directly to a public inquiry.

I am intent on ensuring that everything possible is done to ensure the failings identified in any investigation are not repeated. The motion passed by the Dáil last year referred to the need to examine the actions of the Garda, the Director Public Prosecutions and the courts but I remind Deputies of the constitutional independence of the courts and the statutory independence of the Garda Síochána, the Director of Public Prosecutions and GSOC. These are matters of importance that must be taken into consideration.

I assure the Deputies that the scoping exercise under the auspices and guidance of Judge Haughton will be an important part of ensuring that outstanding questions are answered. It is open to the judge to recommend any course of action following the scoping inquiry but I cannot envisage any circumstances where I would not be guided by the advices and findings of the judge.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.