Dáil debates

Tuesday, 9 July 2024

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

 

8:55 pm

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)

I welcome the family of Shane O'Farrell to the Dáil Gallery today. I commend them on the massive campaign they have run over the last number of years in the face of such resistance by the political establishment in this country. To lose a son is a disaster for any parent. It is an excruciating pain for a parent to have to bury a child. It is unimaginable, and indeed most of us here will not even try to imagine what it would be like for us to do exactly the same thing. Even that act of trying to imagine it is such a difficult thing for people to have to do.

That should have been the limit to the pain that family suffered but it was not. Pain and suffering have been heaped on that family over and over again by the tortuous journey they have been forced to take to achieve justice for their son. At 3 p.m. today, Shane O'Farrell's family gave a presentation in the audiovisual room about what happened to their son. At 4 p.m., I brought the family of Noah Donohoe to make a presentation about what happened to their son. These were two children whose lives were lost in preventable situations. Their families were forced to come to Leinster House to plead with TDs for justice for their children. Is that how a functioning democracy and a justice system should work? Must we have a trail of families coming to Leinster House to plead with us for justice for their children? Should our instinct as TDs or parents not be hardwired into ensuring they have justice, rather than the instinct of some people here, which is to push back against every opportunity for justice to be achieved for their families?

It is important to state that for both families, their sons cannot be brought back, and they know that. However, the fact that these relentless campaigns are happening is not just for justice for their sons but to make sure this does not ever happen again to anybody else. This is equally as important a result for the justice campaigns these families are involved in. Mark my words: if there is no justice for these families after what happened their sons, this will happen again. If we live in an accountability-free zone, we will be cursed to wake up on another morning to turn on the radio and to hear that another situation like this has happened. Unless there is a cost for individuals in respect of the actions they take in this regard, those actions will be repeated at some stage in the future by them or others. That is one of the big problems that exists in the administration of our country. It is an accountability-free zone, where nobody has to pay the price for the wrongs they do in these situations. That is allowed to happen by this administration.

It is a great credit to the O'Farrell family that their campaign for justice is not just about justice for their son but also for the reform of the system to make sure this never happens again. Shane was killed either because of a litany of dysfunction by the State or, worse, because his killer was protected by the State. I think the publication of the final report of the scoping exercise was the latest instalment of State-sponsored pain for that family. The fact that Shane was, in that report, stated to be partly to blame for his own death is an horrendous indictment of that report and its authors. I believe that as a result, the report should be withdrawn. The forensic collusion investigator talked about the cyclist wearing dark clothes, etc., and said that "failure to have such lighting is highly negligent behaviour on the part of a cyclist". I ask people to think about that sentence, and think about the damage that sentence does both to the deceased and the family left behind. There is a juxtaposition between the actions of Shane that night and those of Gridziuska in what he did, just as there is a juxtaposition between the actions of Shane and the actions of the State with regard to what it has done. In that scenario, culpability is not confusing whatsoever. Culpability is obviously on Gridziuska, and it is also on the State with regard to what it has done. Any effort to redirect culpability to the deceased is a shocking indictment of the Government and the State as well.

There should be no equivocation about where the blame lies for the death of Shane. That report is a gross insult to the family and it must be withdrawn.

It was not part of the terms of reference of that report to make a finding on the circumstances of Shane's death. Indeed, the family today has shown that the terms of reference were specifically amended by the Department of Justice and the Office of the Attorney General to exclude the trial of Zigimantas Gridziuska in this situation. The Minister stated in her speech tonight that the scoping exercise was thoroughly investigated. I think that is a deeply worrying statement for the Minister to make. This report did not request GSOC's underlying statutory report, which formed part of the terms of reference. As a result, given the mistakes made in this report, I see little hope from the Minister's speech of justice being achieved for Shane's situation by this Government.

The Minister went on to say that she would not oppose this motion. That is an empty formula, because she is saying that she will not action the motion but she will not oppose it. You cannot be in two separate places at one time. Agreeing with the motion or not opposing the motion, yet not being willing to fulfil the motion, are bipolar positions. It is a cheap trick, which is not acceptable, given the gravity of the situation the Government is in, as we are talking about. One of the most cynical things I have seen in politics in this House over the last 14 years is politicians putting their arms around campaigners, getting into photographs, smiling, and saying "Yes" to them when actually they mean "No". That happens day in, day out in this location. By not opposing this motion, the Government is saying that it is on the side of the family, but clearly, by referring this to the justice committee and not actioning the motion, the Government is saying it is not on the side of the family. It is trying to inhabit two separate locations at the one time. It is blatantly obvious to anybody who sees it and it is absolutely wrong. Given the gravity of Shane's case, it is important that the Government does not try to speak from both sides of its mouth in this situation.

There was shocking failure after shocking failure when it came to Shane's death. Gridziuska had 40 previous offences, including drugs, theft and speeding offences. He breached bail conditions. He did not serve a prison sentence. He was allowed to break the law with impunity by the justice system in this country. Either on purpose or by accident, he was afforded immunity from justice. Here we are, years after the death, and that immunity is still being upheld by the system. That is a legacy of this Government, if it sees out the rest of its term and allows that impunity to exist.

I spoke about the fact that there is an absolute absence of accountability. I have respect for the Minister. I am one of her biggest critics but there is nothing personal in that. I believe there are significant problems with the justice system in this country. I have raised the fact that sentencing has become more lenient in recent years. The Minister is taking criminals out of the prison system to make space for other criminals because of capacity issues. The Minister has set that out to me in black and white in response to parliamentary questions. If you look at what is happening on the roads at the moment, there has been a collapse in the number of roads gardaí. We have about 36% fewer roads gardaí now than we had. Behaviour is changing on the roads because there is no enforcement of the laws and no consequences. People are changing their behaviours on the roads and as a result, people are getting killed in higher numbers on our roads.

Some 32,700 drivers were disqualified between 2021 and 2023. A third of the disqualified drivers in this country did not even have a licence in this country. Of the 21,000 who had a licence when they received a driving ban, only 5,000 actually surrendered their driver's licence as required by law. It is an incredible situation. I know of a person who is in court with two active driver disqualifications while being disqualified at the same time. If there is no accountability, there is no change and we are cursed to waking up morning after morning, seeing this situation happen over and over again.

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