Dáil debates

Tuesday, 9 July 2024

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

 

8:05 pm

Photo of Helen McEnteeHelen McEntee (Meath East, Fine Gael)

There is not. For Private Members' business, there is never a copy.

Many colleagues were here last October when time was provided for Members of both Houses to discuss the final report of the scoping inquiry, which deals comprehensively with all the matters raised. The motion asks the House to establish an independent public inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the tragic and untimely death of Shane O'Farrell, killed in a hit and run at just 23 years of age in August 2011.

Like many in the House this evening, I have met previously with his family, Lucia, Jim, Pia, Hannah, Gemma and Aimee. Their grief and loss is inconceivable. I know how strongly they feel justice has not been served for Shane and how vigorously they have campaigned for an independent public inquiry. I accept many colleagues across the House have been consistent in their calls for an inquiry.

To assist the Government in considering the Haughton report, I intend to write to the justice committee to ask it to look at the recommendations and conclusions of the report. The Government will not oppose the motion before the House in order to allow the committee time to consider the issue.

The Government decided in 2019 to establish the scoping exercise into the circumstances surrounding Shane's death. A retired judge, Gerard Haughton, was appointed by my predecessor, Deputy Flanagan, to conduct the scoping exercise and given full authority that, if a further inquiry was to be recommended, he should suggest the form of any such investigation or inquiry, provide draft terms of reference and suggest the composition of the investigation or inquiry. The position of my Department and the Government was the judge was free to make any recommendation he saw fit.

Mr. Justice Haughton submitted his final report to me on 1 June 2022. In keeping with normal practice, I sought the advice of the Attorney General ahead of publication. In November 2022, I and the then Taoiseach, now Tánaiste, met with the family on the content of the report and the plans for publication. The Taoiseach also met with members of the family in May last year when he was Minister for Justice. He brought the final report to Government on 25 April 2023. The Government noted the final report of the scoping exercise before it was laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas and published on 3 July last year.

The Government and I as Minister remain mindful of the burden this represents for the family. It is clear from reading the 416-page report that Mr. Justice Haughton carried out a thorough review of all relevant material and has produced a robust and measured report. I thank him for that. It is comprehensive and deals with each issue raised in considerable detail. Having fully engaged with each issue and the terms of reference, the judge concludes no further investigation or inquiry is warranted beyond those already carried out. In setting out the circumstances, he was direct in his view there was a variety of factors contributing to Shane's untimely death. He further found there were no circumstances in the context of the granting, objecting to or revoking of bail, or of the monitoring of or compliance with conditions of bail, which warrant further inquiry. He makes similar findings about the systems and procedures for the sharing of information between An Garda Síochána, the Courts Service and other relevant State bodies operating at the time of Shane O'Farrell's death.

He makes several recommendations regarding bail, suspended sentences legislation, amendments to the Road Traffic Act and in relation to notices of appeals administered by the Courts Service. I can confirm that these are being implemented or are in process. I am grateful to my colleague the Minister for Transport for agreeing to include amendments relating to careless driving in the upcoming Road Traffic Bill, which is due later this year. The report acknowledges that new legislation has already been introduced in respect of both bail and suspended sentences.

My Department maintains a continuous review of the criminal law, which has been revised many times over the past 30 years, to identify whether any further legislation or amendments are required in relation to suspended sentences or bail. While the State's bail laws provide for the refusal of bail in certain circumstances, the presiding judge in any case is entirely independent in the exercise of his or her judicial functions. The decision to grant bail in a particular case is solely a matter for the judge. Our laws relating to bail have been strengthened in recent years, including in the Criminal Justice (Burglary of Dwellings) Act 2015 and the Criminal Justice Act 2017. The latter Act provides for stricter bail terms for repeat serious offenders, including the use of curfews, and strengthens Garda powers to deal with breaches of bail. Obviously, this legislation has only been enacted in recent years.

The circumstances surrounding Shane's death have been subject to a criminal trial, a Coroner's inquest, the independent review mechanism and a GSOC investigation. The matters and complaints raised by the family have been considered carefully and in detail by the judge in this latest scoping exercise. It is important to note that under the relevant legislation the establishment of an independent public inquiry requires there to be significant public concern or a definite matter of urgent public importance. There is an obligation on Government to ensure that a tribunal of inquiry or a commission of investigation is established only where these thresholds are met.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on this matter. As I have said, the Government will not oppose the motion and will allow time for the justice committee to consider the matter.

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