Dáil debates

Tuesday, 9 July 2024

Inquiry into the death of Shane O'Farrell: Motion [Private Members]

 

7:45 pm

Photo of Matt CarthyMatt Carthy (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)

I move:

That Dáil Éireann:

notes that:
— on 2nd August, 2011, Shane O'Farrell was killed while cycling home, when he was struck by a car driven by Zigimantas Gridziuska;

— previously, Zigimantas Gridziuska came into Ireland with twelve convictions from Lithuania;

— in August 2009, Zigimantas Gridziuska was granted bail in respect of a theft charge, and he committed 30 offences while on bail before killing Shane O'Farrell;

— on 9th June, 2010, Zigimantas Gridziuska was convicted of four heroin offences, he was given a custodial sentence, he appealed this and was released on bail, and the Courts Service of Ireland have admitted filing away the appeal papers in error and the appeal was never heard, as a result of which Zigimantas Gridziuska never served the custodial sentence;

— on 17th December, 2010, Zigimantas Gridziuska was granted bail from Virginia District Court in Cavan, and despite breaching bail conditions, bail was not revoked, and this case was not dealt with until after he killed Shane O'Farrell;

— on 11th January, 2011, Zigimantas Gridziuska appeared in Monaghan Circuit Court for a sentencing hearing having pleaded guilty to charges of theft and possession of stolen property. The judge adjourned sentencing for one year and continued Mr Gridziuska on bail, stating that he was to stay out of trouble and not commit any further theft offences. The judge further stated that if Mr Gridziuska was arrested for any theft offences he was to be brought back before him anywhere he was on the Circuit and Mr Gridziuska would be sent to jail. Between this Order and the killing of Shane O'Farrell, he committed 11 further offences, including nine relating to thefts, but the cases were not re-entered. When this case was adjourned for a year on 11th January, 2011, the judge did not have all of the facts and believed he had no further convictions since 1st July, 2010. In reality, information regarding Mr Gridziuska's continued reoffending had not been brought to the Circuit Court on 11th January, 2011. The judge concluded his deliberations on that date saying "he has been free of convictions, apparently... since July 2010", this was not correct and the prosecution did not correct the judge (he had in fact three convictions since 1st July, 2010);

— on 16th February, 2011, Zigimantas Gridziuska received a six-month sentence for a heroin offence. Further to lodgement of appeal he was released into the community. His appeal was first listed before Monaghan Circuit Court on 7th June, 2011, and adjourned. This was not dealt with until after he killed Shane O'Farrell, where the appeal was allowed due to deficiencies in the State's case (incorrect numbers on Garda statement for evidence bag and the incorrect items recorded in the bags);

— on 23rd February, 2011, Zigimantas Gridziuska was convicted of two theft offences, and as the offences were committed while Mr Gridziuska was on bail and subject to the Bail Act 1997 conditions, this should have been considered a breach of the conditions of bail and should have been referred to the relevant court;

— on 9th May, 2011, in Ardee District Court, Mr Gridziuska was convicted of multiple counts of theft, yet not brought back before Monaghan Circuit Court where a prison sentence could have been activated, and the pleas of guilty in these cases were not only breaches of the Order made by Judge O'Hagan on 11th January, 2011, but were breaches of the bail bonds;

— on 11th May, 2011, in Dundalk District Court, Mr Gridziuska was convicted of speeding, and as this offence was committed while Mr Gridziuska was on bail and subject to the Bail Act 1997 conditions, this should have been considered a breach of the conditions of bail and resulted in him being brought back before the relevant court;

— on 8th June, 2011, in Carrickmacross District Court, Mr Gridziuska was convicted of possession of heroin, and as this offence was committed while Zigimantas Gridziuska was on bail and subject to the Bail Act 1997 conditions, this should have been considered a breach of the conditions of bail and resulted in him being brought back before the relevant court;

— on 14th July, 2011, in Newry, Mr Gridziuska was arrested for theft offences. The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) informed An Garda Síochána but the Gardaí did not seek a warrant to return him to the Circuit Court as per the Order on 11th January, 2011. The convictions on 15th July, 2011, are a breach of the conditions of the Order of Judge O'Hagan of 11th January, 2011. As these offences were committed while Zigimantas Gridziuska was on bail and subject to the Bail Act 1997 conditions, this should have been considered a breach of the conditions of bail and resulted in him being brought back before the relevant court. It was also a breach of bail conditions from two District Courts, not to leave the jurisdiction (it was also a breach of bail from Carrickmacross District Court, February 2011 and the suspended sentence and bond to keep the peace from 9th May, 2011, Ardee District Court);

— on 25th July, 2011, in Monaghan District Court, Mr Gridziuska was convicted of driving without displaying a motor tax disc, and as this offence was committed while Mr Gridziuska was on bail and subject to the Bail Act 1997 conditions, this should have been considered a breach of the conditions of bail and resulted in him being brought back before the relevant court;

— all of these offences occurred before Shane O'Farrell was killed on 2nd August, 2011, and constituted a breach by Mr Gridziuska of his bail bond, yet no steps were taken to revoke the bail granted to him; and

— consequently, at the time of the collision, Mr Gridziuska was on bail in respect of a number of offences and had breached his bail bonds and was serving a number of suspended sentences, which should have been activated had the courts been informed of the relevant previous convictions and reoffending;
further notes that:
— for two weeks before Shane O'Farrell was killed, there were also numerous warrants out for the arrest of Zigimantas Gridziuska, but these warrants were not executed by the Gardaí until after he killed Shane O'Farrell;

— approximately one hour prior to the collision which resulted in the death of Shane O'Farrell, the Garda Drug Squad stopped the car in which Mr Gridziuska was travelling. At that time the vehicle was being driven by another known criminal, who it is clear was not insured to drive the car. No demand was made of this man or Mr Gridziuska to produce valid insurance to cover the driving on 2nd August, 2011. There was no valid National Car Test certificate on the windscreen. The vehicle was in a dangerous defective condition. The passengers were taken out and searched before Gardaí permitted Mr Gridziuska to assume the driving role and allowed the car to proceed. Mr Gridziuska was later prosecuted and pleaded guilty for the lack of valid insurance after he killed Shane O'Farrell. Gardaí failed to seize the car, despite being permitted to do so. Within an hour Shane O'Farrell was killed in a hit-and-run by Mr Gridziuska;

— despite Mr Gridziuska's wife withholding information, knowing that her husband had knocked someone down, and failing to inform the services, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions failed to bring charges of withholding information; and

— in January 2012, a complaint was made to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) regarding the conduct and role of An Garda Síochána in relation to some of the above matters. The public interest section 101 of the Garda Síochána Act Report has never been provided to the O'Farrell family, yet it has been given to "named recipients". The family received a summary of the report only. The Garda Síochána Act 2005, Section 97 GSOC Report regarding minor discipline has also been refused to the family;

recognises that:

— there is an obligation on An Garda Síochána to bring persons convicted of criminal offences, while serving suspended sentences, before the court and to inform the sentencing court that the person has been convicted of subsequent offences;

— it is the role of the prosecution authority to bring to the attention of the court any issue of which the court needs to be aware prior to reaching a decision on the case before the court;

— where a member of An Garda Síochána becomes aware that a person has breached or is in breach of a condition of bail, there is an obligation on such member to bring that breach to the attention of the court;

— there is an obligation on GSOC to properly investigate all complaints it receives and to determine all admissible complaints in a timely fashion;

— the GSOC report was delivered in a timeframe that was not acceptable (seven years from when the complaints were submitted), and was ultimately deficient;

— this case involved multiple failures on the part of several justice agencies of the State, resulting in Zigimantas Gridziuska being at liberty on the date of the death of Shane O'Farrell; and

— it is now necessary to have the actions of An Garda Síochána, the Director of Public Prosecutions, GSOC, and the Courts Service examined in order to establish how such failures took place, including the information sharing systems between those agencies;
recalls that:
— on 12th June, 2018, Dáil Éireann adopted a Resolution that called on the Government to immediately establish a public inquiry into the criminal justice failings prior to, and subsequent to, the death of Shane O'Farrell; and

— on 13th February, 2019, Seanad Éireann adopted a Resolution that also called on the Government to immediately establish a public inquiry into the criminal justice failing into the death of Shane O'Farrell;
condemns that Government, since those motions were agreed, has failed to adhere to the terms of the Dáil and Seanad Resolutions, and that Ministers for Justice in place since those motions were agreed, namely Ministers Charles Flanagan TD, Heather Humphreys TD, Simon Harris TD and Helen McEntee TD, have thus far failed to establish a public inquiry as mandated by those resolutions;

furthermore, notes that:
— instead, on 5th February, 2019, Government appointed a retired District Court Judge to conduct a scoping exercise into the criminal justice failing leading to the death of Shane O'Farrell;

— the scoping exercise did not meet the calls of either Dáil Éireann or Seanad Éireann, being conducted in private, and that the family of Shane O'Farrell believe the report of the exercise to be incomplete and inaccurate, and Judge Haughton was not given, nor did seek, the GSOC reports which formed part of his terms of reference;

— the Department of Justice refused to waive privilege over the Independent Review Mechanism report, despite it forming one of the terms of reference of the scoping exercise;

— the scoping exercise did not explain failings in the justice system that allowed Zigimantas Gridziuska to repeatedly breach bail conditions and court orders without consequence, the failure to execute warrants, and does not explain why or how he was at liberty to kill when he should have been in custody;

— the scoping exercise failed to consider issues which were within the terms of reference yet, in instances, went beyond those terms of reference, and the scoping exercise report further made findings of fact which are disputed; and

— the family of Shane O'Farrell have not accepted the report of the scoping exercise as a full or accurate account, and this was the stated position of TDs and Senators from across the political spectrum in Dáil and Seanad debates on 17th October, 2023;
commends the family of Shane O'Farrell for their dignified pursuit for truth and justice on behalf of their son and brother; and

therefore, calls on the Government to:
— implement the previous Resolutions of Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann in respect of Shane O'Farrell and immediately establish an independent public inquiry into the death of Shane O'Farrell and the actions of State agencies before and after his death in respect of this case.

When Shane O'Farrell was killed it made headlines. He had become another statistic and another fatality on an Irish road. For those who did not know Shane and were watching on, it was another tragic traffic accident. In the immediate aftermath, as the rest of us went on with our own lives, the lives of Shane's family went into turmoil. They had lost their beloved son, their beloved brother, the light of their world. They were consumed by grief. It would be fair to say they were overwhelmed. They grieved in the expectation that the State would secure justice for Shane. It was only when the matter came before the courts they began to realise something was drastically wrong.

The man who was driving the car that killed Shane was Zigimantas Gridziuska. Upon his conviction after Shane's death the judge offered Mr. Gridziuska a choice to serve a prison sentence or to return home to his family in Lithuania. This was the moment when the name of Shane O'Farrell became that not only of a tragic statistic but of a campaign. It emerged that Zigimantas Gridziuska should have been in jail on the day that he killed Shane.

Less than one hour before Shane was killed, the car in which Mr. Gridziuska was travelling was stopped by gardaí. It had been driven by another known criminal. The car was untaxed and had no NCT but was not seized despite the gardaí being entitled to do so. The passengers, all well-known to the Garda as drug dealers, were searched but, inexplicably, the vehicle itself was not. The driver was clearly not insured to drive the car. Rather than arrest him as they were empowered to do, the gardaí instead instructed Zigimantas Gridziuska to take the steering wheel. It subsequently emerged that he was not insured to drive the vehicle either. An hour later, Shane O'Farrell was dead. It could have been prevented at that previous stop.

If that was the only failure perhaps it could be attributed to bad luck, but then more and more details began to emerge about who Zigimantas Gridziuska was and his seemingly amazing ability to avoid consequences for breaking laws in Ireland. When he first arrived in Ireland he already had 12 convictions from Lithuania. In August 2009 he was granted bail in respect of a theft charge. He would proceed to commit 30 offences while on bail. On 9 June 2010 he was convicted of drug offences. He was even given a custodial sentence but he was released on bail again pending an appeal. That appeal was never heard because the papers were misfiled by the Courts Service. You could not make this stuff up.

On 11 January 2011 Mr. Gridziuska appeared in court again and pleaded guilty to multiple charges of theft and possession of stolen property. Sentencing was adjourned but, crucially, the judge instructed the Garda that if he were to be arrested for any further offence he was to be returned to that court and he would imprison him. The following month, on 16 February 2011, he received a six-month prison sentence but was again released pending appeal. A week later, on 23 February, Gridziuska was convicted again and he walked free again. On 9 May in Ardee, 11 May in Dundalk, 8 June in Carrickmacross and 25 July in Monaghan Zigimantas Gridziuska was convicted in courts of various crimes and in each and every instance he walked free. On no occasion were the judges informed of the fact this was a man who was in breach of multiple bail conditions from multiple courts, and on no occasion was he returned to the Monaghan judge who had instructed that he would be imprisoned if he were to commit a single other crime.

One of the many bail conditions that applied to Mr. Gridziuska was that he sign on daily at his local Garda station. It transpired that for a short period during this time he was imprisoned in the North. Despite the PSNI informing the Garda of this fact, no warrant was sought to return him to Monaghan Circuit Court as per the order of 11 January 2011.

If any one of these failings had been set right Shane O'Farrell would be alive today. Regardless of the instance or the crime, the man who killed Shane O'Farrell simply could not be jailed. It was as though he was the luckiest criminal ever to walk the earth. On one occasion when he was convicted, the verdict was thrown out on appeal because An Garda had mislabelled evidence. On another, he was given community service, but never bothered to show up. There were no consequences. It is either a catalogue of mismanagement and incompetence or something far more sinister. Either way, the O'Farrell family deserves the truth and the Irish public deserves answers. If this was a catalogue of errors, it points to an utterly broken criminal justice system. The alternative, however, is much more worrying. Many people, including me, believe that Zigimantas Gridziuska was an informer and that he was permitted to wreak havoc because An Garda prioritised the protection of its source over the safety of the citizens it pledges to protect.

Since his death, Shane's family has striven to find out the truth. They have been failed, as their son and brother was failed. The catalogue of errors and failures was identified and made known to the Irish people, not by the Garda investigation, a Courts Service review, a GSOC investigation or the scoping exercise - each of which only served to delay the process - but by the tenacity of a determined mother. I welcome Lucia O'Farrell and her husband Jim and their family and friends to the Dáil. This is not their first visit. They were here in 2018 when an independent public inquiry into the circumstances of this case was first moved by Fianna Fáil and adopted by the House. It is disgraceful that motion has not been implemented. Those who have been Ministers for Justice since, including Deputies Flanagan, Humphreys, Harris and McEntee, have ignored the democratic call by both Houses of the Oireachtas. Instead, they found another mechanism for delay. The scoping exercise established by Fine Gael was not what was required and not what these Houses mandated. The scoping exercise was not independent. Its final report is incomplete and, in some instances, inaccurate. Crucially, it failed to answer the fundamental question this case presents. How the hell can someone break so many laws, breach so many bail conditions, be brought before so many courts and walk free every time before killing a young, innocent man and then be permitted to return to his home country?

It is clear the only way that question will be answered is through an independent public inquiry. This motion must be adopted. I urge TDs of every hue to vote in favour of it. More important, I call on the Minister to be unequivocal in committing in her opening statement that on this occasion the motion will be implemented. The O'Farrell family is not going anywhere. Either the current Minister does this or one of her successors will. I urge her please to do the right thing and not to force this family to come back to the Dáil again to get the answers the Irish people deserve.

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