Dáil debates

Tuesday, 9 July 2024

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


8:25 pm

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)

I commend Sinn Féin on bringing this really important issue before us for debate again. Like others, I acknowledge the presence in the Gallery of the O'Farrell family, whose thirst for justice is boundless and whose determination makes it incumbent on all of us to respond in kind.

The justice system of any nation is the bedrock on which citizens rely for their basic liberty and well-being. A well-functioning justice system must give every person in the State a sense of safety and confidence that wrongdoing will be confronted, that those who break the law will be held accountable and that all are equal under the law. No system of public administration is perfect - human frailty means mistakes do happen - but the requirement on us as lawmakers and as the forum to hold public administration to account is to design systems with checks and balances built in to minimise failures and to ensure, where failures do occur, that they are thoroughly and publicly examined and explained. Otherwise the same mistakes and failures will reoccur.

The truly tragic case the House is discussing tonight has been discussed and debated many times here before. The details are very well rehearsed and have already been put before the House. They are extraordinary. It is truly extraordinary and inexplicable how this individual could possibly be at liberty to be in a position to take the life of a young man. The heartbreaking death of Shane O'Farrell, a young man with his whole life ahead of him, is being revisited again by this House, and for good reason. I know that having to hear this debate reawakens the terrible pain and loss for Shane's family, present in the Chamber tonight. In truth, it is a pain that does not need reawakening because it never diminishes.

While there is nothing any of us in this House can do to undo the terrible loss of a young life, we can take measures to answer the legitimate and reasonable questions being posed by Shane's family about all of the circumstances that led to his death and what followed thereafter.

This House has already made its views known. If democracy and resolutions brought to this House and voted through mean anything, this inquiry should have been completed by now. A sworn public inquiry should have been established and concluded. The normal groundwork in advance of the establishment of an independent inquiry is a scoping exercise. That is understandable. A scoping inquiry normally sets out the issues to be addressed and recommends terms of reference to the Government and to this House. As we have heard, a scoping exercise did take place, conducted by Judge Haughton at the request of the then Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Charlie Flanagan. However, Judge Haughton's conclusion that no further investigation or inquiry was warranted has in no way satisfactorily addressed the many fundamental questions posed by Shane's family nor could it.

The undeniable fact that many legitimate questions remain unanswered and that real concerns remain unaddressed, as anybody who was in the audiovisual room will have heard in a clear and undeniable fashion, requires this House and the Government to establish an inquiry. This House cannot take sworn evidence. We cannot demand access to all relevant documentation. We cannot cross-examine relevant persons. That is not our role nor should it be. However, we do have the power, or at least we thought we had the power, to require the Government to establish a forum where such procedures can be properly conducted in an impartial and effective manner. We had expected that a resolution passed by the Members of this House would have meaning and consequence.

The Government cannot say with conviction that all issues have been fully addressed. The work of Judge Haughton was indeed extensive and went well beyond the normal work of a scoping exercise. I have read the report. However, by necessity, it did not have the comprehensive scope and powers of a sworn public inquiry. In some ways, it fell somewhere between a proper scoping exercise and a proper investigation. Unfortunately, it is therefore incomplete and inadequate.

Some matters fester and linger on in our public discourse with a gnawing sense of incompleteness. This case is one of those matters. For as long as those questions are posed and remain unanswered, there will be a gnawing sense of injustice and incompleteness. Eventually, as happened in the case of Stardust, the State will come to accept that, despite what has gone on before, a further body of work must be undertaken to bring these matters to a conclusion and to bring completeness to this tragic and terrible event.

I really was taken aback by the Minister's response to the motion. I have enormous respect for the Minister for Justice but she has come to the House to say that she is not opposing the motion but that, in essence, she will aim to frustrate it. The motion very clearly demands what was already demanded by both Houses of the Oireachtas, a sworn public independent inquiry into all of these matters so that we will know once and for all exactly what happened, who did what and how this man could possibly have been at liberty to cause the carnage and pain that he did. If the Minister's response is to accept the motion, that is, not to oppose it, I have to come to the conclusion that this is because there are Members on the Government side who would not tolerate an opposing motion and who would vote against it. The pretence is that the Minister is accepting a motion requiring a public inquiry but she has no intention of actually conducting one.

Referring the matter to the justice committee is an absolute non-action. The committee has no power to do anything beyond looking at the Haughton report, which we have all already done. If the committee comes to the conclusion that the report is completely and totally inadequate and recommends an inquiry, will the Minister undertake that it will be the final thing requiring her to establish such an inquiry?

There are times when there is a consensus of opinion about an issue and when there are so many fundamental and worrying unresolved matters that they must be properly tested, that people must be properly questioned, that documents must be properly discovered and that all of the evidence must be brought before an inquiry that can come to proper conclusions. An independent public inquiry into the death of Shane O'Farrell will happen. There is no doubt about that. It is in everybody's interests, not least the Minister's, as a fine Minister for Justice, for it to happen now. Otherwise, not only will justice be ill-served, but our confidence in Ireland's justice system will be undermined. I ask the Minister to revisit her first answer before the conclusion of the debate and to give a firm undertaking that she will present terms of reference for an inquiry into this critical matter as soon as possible.


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