Dáil debates

Tuesday, 9 July 2024

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


8:35 pm

Photo of Catherine MurphyCatherine Murphy (Kildare North, Social Democrats)

I thank Sinn Féin for bringing forward this really important motion tonight. Like others, I welcome the O'Farrell family and say I am sorry that you must continue to campaign for justice for Shane. I could begin by saying "I know that you were forced to endure a living nightmare which began when your loved ones were so cruelly snatched from you" but I must confess they would not be my words. They would be the words of the Taoiseach when he made a public apology to the Stardust victims. He continued:

We failed you when you needed us the most. From the very beginning, we should have stood with you, but instead we forced you to stand against us.

I call on the Taoiseach to consider those words in the context of this case. I do not doubt that he was sincere when he made that apology in the Dáil but he needs to go further.

It is now more than six years since the Dáil adopted a resolution calling for a public inquiry to be established. Instead, we got a scoping inquiry, which was to be of short duration. In any public inquiry, it is important to narrow the focus and deal with the central issues in order that such an inquiry can get to the heart of the issue and to reduce the time it takes to bring it to a conclusion. It was not unreasonable for the O'Farrell family to assume that this was the intention. Indeed, many of us thought that was the case. Instead of the scoping inquiry taking weeks, it took years. It was set up in 2019 and in 2022 it delivered its report, which was published in 2023. That report ran to 420 pages and the exercise cost €500,000 and yet it did not get to the core issue; why was the man who killed Shane on 2 August 2011 at large when he should have been in jail?

In many ways, the Haughton scoping inquiry made things worse in making findings against Shane. There was a tone of victim blaming throughout the report, which criticised the family who had lost their son and brother. The family had rightly criticised several arms of the State including An Garda Síochána, GSOC and the Department of Justice for glaring failings. The terms of reference for the scoping inquiry were clear. There were two GSOC reports under sections 101 and 97. It was not surprising that these were to be considered under the terms of reference and yet they were not provided to the judge and neither did he seek them.

He was also asked to consider the outcome of the independent review mechanism. The Department of Justice did not give him that and did not waive privilege. There were also sins of omission in the report. I will give two examples. First, the report states that a judicial review taken by two gardaí was successful. In reality, the reason it was successful and the Garda Commissioner agreed to consent was that the two gardaí were not trained on the Garda PULSE system in that respect. Second, a few months before this man killed Shane, he received a custodial sentence for a single heroin offence. He appealed the sentence and was released into the community. Again, anyone reading the report will have been left wondering what happened in this instance. In reality, the appeal was allowed because of deficiencies in the State's case; namely, that the garda wrote down the incorrect number on the statement of evidence bag and incorrect items were recorded in the bag. Essentially, the report should have gone further than a full stop by including an admission of State failures. It is not just the O'Farrell family that needs us to deal with the many failures of the State; it needs to be done in the interests of the State and all of its citizens.

As already mentioned, the Tánaiste, Deputy Micheál Martin, in 2017 expressed that the "entire case reveals shocking malpractice and dysfunction in the criminal justice system at all levels". Just as I have called on the Taoiseach to accede to a public inquiry, I am asking the Tánaiste to do so in order that the malpractice and dysfunction he identified are properly addressed. If we are to have a criminal justice system that works, we all need to see where the failings occurred. We need to ensure that no other family goes to bed at night or wakes up in the morning and the first thing they think of is the life that could have been for their loved one. If the criminal justice system had punished a repeat offender who had broken bail conditions repeatedly, he would have been in custody on the day that Shane was killed.

We are constantly reminded about the separation of powers. As some Members of these Houses have dual experiences as barristers and solicitors, they have the advantage of experiencing both sides. I do not often quote Senator McDowell, who has the experience of serving as Attorney General. In his contribution to the Seanad debate he called for:

... the helicopter view - a view looking down on everything that happened. It needed to ask why this sequence of events took place and if the Irish system [is] robust and proper, a public inquiry which would for once deliver to An Garda Síochána and the courts a clear statement of their obligations to ensure that their suspended sentences actually mean something.

When we hear reports from the courts on the news, as we repeatedly do, we are told about the sentences imposed and the bail conditions. We are told that people have to sign on at the Garda station twice a week or every day. We take it for granted that those conditions are met and that bail is revoked if they are breached, but this case shows it is not correct for us to assume that. How meaningful are such conditions if they are not followed up on? How often does this happen? What has changed in the past decade that will give us any confidence in the system? These conditions are set for the protection of the public. They allow someone who is accused of a serious offence to be free until the court case. Where was the sanction for a man who over a two-year period committed 30 offences while he was on bail? When he reoffended and breached all of the bail conditions, there was no sanction. Was he an exception? If he was, tell us why. Was he an informer? Shane O'Farrell's case needs a public inquiry because of the serious public policy issues it raises around the criminal justice system, including the breaches of bail and the execution of warrants.

The O'Farrells deserve our sympathy, but what they really deserve, and every citizen deserves, is a system that works. We have an obligation to ensure that is the case. I agree with others when they say we need a public inquiry now. The idea of batting this matter off to the justice committee is really offensive. We all know we are in the last days of this Government. If this matter goes to a committee, it will probably be put on the far end of a list in September or October. Would the committee even have time to consider this? When it considers the matter, it comes back with a report and we have another debate here. As we know and as the Minister knows, this idea is nonsense. I agree it is probably a way of making sure to avoid a vote in the House tonight because there are people within Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party who could not, in conscience, vote against this motion.

An independent public inquiry is essential. We can see the emails that went back and forward between the Department of Justice and others because Lucia O'Farrell has given them to us. We can see the dialogue between the Department and Judge Haughton. This would not happen if there was a public inquiry because it would be independent. If a person asked a question on it, he or she would be told that it is independent. When I have asked questions about delays and so on with other inquiries, I have been told that it is independent, that the judge will take whatever length of time the judge will take and that we cannot interfere. This is very different. This is a scoping inquiry; it is not a public inquiry. It needs to be a public inquiry. It needs to be independent.

At some point, the Minister will realise that she picked on the wrong family. I commend the family members on the continued efforts they have put in. This is a young man who had just finished his masters degree. He could have expected at this stage in his life that his career would be well established. He could have married and had a family. Nobody would have known this family. The one thing they can do is insist on justice. We need to insist on justice too. Our criminal justice system has been so exposed with this case that the only thing that can put it right is to look deeply at where those flaws are and put them right.


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