Dáil debates

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Ceisteanna - Questions - Priority Questions

Ministerial Meetings

2:10 pm

Photo of Pádraig MacLochlainnPádraig MacLochlainn (Donegal North East, Sinn Fein)
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92. To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of requests for meetings she or her predecessor, Deputy Alan Shatter, received from families or persons seeking justice or alleging miscarriages of justice; and the number of meetings that have been facilitated. [43956/14]

Photo of Pádraig MacLochlainnPádraig MacLochlainn (Donegal North East, Sinn Fein)
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My question seeks to establish the number of requests for meetings received by the Minister and her predecessor, Deputy Alan Shatter, from families alleging miscarriages of justice, and the number of those requests that have been facilitated.

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Minister, Department of Justice and Equality; Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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The Deputy has asked a very broad question. I have been fortunate enough since my appointment to meet a wide range of people who have issues with the operation of the criminal justice system. Many of them feel the system has not served them as well as it should have, or have suggestions as to how it can be improved. They include victims of sexual assault, people who have lost loved ones on the roads, others who have lost loved ones in brutal circumstances, and some who regard themselves as having been treated unfairly by agencies of the State.

In considering any request for a meeting, I must take into account any mechanisms, statutory or otherwise, which are in place for dealing with individual cases and avoid taking any action which might interfere with those processes in any way. In the case, for example, of persons with complaints against An Garda Síochána, I am obliged to take into account whether the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission is examining the matter. In addition, as the Deputy will be aware, I have introduced an independent review mechanism. In summary, my decisions in regard to meetings are determined by my best assessment of where the public interest lies.

While I have met people with a wide range of views, I have given particular priority to the needs of victims of crime. In recent days, for instance, the Minister of State, Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, and I met key stakeholders in Dublin Castle for a consultation on a new strategy for dealing with domestic violence, where we met with representatives of Victims' Rights Alliance and I launched a report for Rape Crisis Network Ireland. This is against the background of the priority I am giving to the implementation in Ireland in 2015 of the EU directive on victims' rights, which will help to introduce an important balance into our criminal justice system.

The Deputy, speaking in this House, recently drew a contrast between the decision of the Taoiseach to meet with Maíria Cahill and what he portrays as a reluctance on my part or on the part of anybody else in government to meet with other individuals seeking justice. That is a very disingenuous claim. While issues surrounding the prosecution of Ms Cahill's case are being examined in the North, the central issue which has given rise to great public concern is not how her case was handled by the agencies in Northern Ireland but how it was handled by the Provisional IRA and Sinn Féin. While there are mechanisms in place to ensure the agencies of this State and those in Northern Ireland are accountable, no one appears to be accountable for the way Ms Cahill was treated by the Provisional movement.  The Deputy is being disingenuous in drawing a comparison between my meetings with victims of crime and the Taoiseach's meeting with Ms Cahill.

Photo of Pádraig MacLochlainnPádraig MacLochlainn (Donegal North East, Sinn Fein)
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As I have pointed out to the Minister before, a significant number of people contacted me following her intervention in the Maíria Cahill case. Some of these families are alleging cover-ups of investigations into the deaths of loved ones. They could not get a meeting with the Minister's predecessor and cannot secure one with her.

The Minister referred to due process. The case she mentioned has been investigated by the PSNI in the North, was brought to court and is currently subject to independent review by the Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland and by way of a review of the Director of Public Prosecution's decision.

The Minister talks about public opinion. There is a significant public view that the Minister for Justice and Equality and her colleague, the Taoiseach, for reasons to do with political opportunism, embraced one particular case and ignored many families. Has the Minister or her predecessor, Deputy Alan Shatter, ever received correspondence from families alleging that their loved ones have been murdered or killed and that there was a cover-up or incompetence? If the Minister has received such correspondence, has she refused to meet the families in question?

2:20 pm

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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When one is in a hole, one should stop digging.

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Minister, Department of Justice and Equality; Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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In some of these cases, the families have concerns about serious crime. Any case involving allegations such as those the Deputy described has been referred to a review mechanism. I have made this very clear and the Deputy knows the facts. In such cases I have to take into account the fact that an independent panel has been established to investigate and review cases, examine correspondence and assess whether further action is needed. It is not appropriate for me, as Minister for Justice and Equality, to meet the families at the same time. I have made this clear to them and Members of the House who have corresponded with me about cases. As regards meeting people who believe they have been subject to injustices in the criminal justice system, there is a list of people whom I felt it was right to meet in the public interest. However, if there is another process in place, for example, in the case of Fr. Niall Molloy, it would be inappropriate for me to have parallel meetings at the same time. It would also be inappropriate for me to do so if court processes are under way, which is the case in a number of cases.

Photo of Pádraig MacLochlainnPádraig MacLochlainn (Donegal North East, Sinn Fein)
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I find the Minister’s response incredible. She is Minister for Justice and Equality. In the neighbouring jurisdiction an investigation was carried out by the PSNI and, unfortunately, the case did not go to court. It is under independent review regarding the DPP’s role in it. As the Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland is investigating the matters involved, there is an independent review mechanism, yet the Minister could not get in quickly enough to make a public statement where there was a political opportunity to cast a slur against my party. I will not read the requests from the many families who allege their loved ones, in the State for which the Minister is responsible, were murdered and that there were cover-ups in their cases and who want to meet the Minister but cannot do so. Where is the consistency in how the Minister makes decisions on families? How can she so clearly make a statement on one case in the North of Ireland but engage in no commentary on cases in the State for which she is responsible? The accusations levelled against her by the families and many others were of blatant political opportunism and inconsistency in her approach to victims alleging the commission of the most heinous crime of murder in the State.

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Minister, Department of Justice and Equality; Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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The Deputy should also be careful about using families to avoid questions he does not like.

Photo of Mary Mitchell O'ConnorMary Mitchell O'Connor (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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Yes.

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Minister, Department of Justice and Equality; Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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He has taken issue with the fact that I have commented on the very disturbing issues surrounding the case of Maíria Cahill. He has attempted to argue that because matters related to the case are subject to investigation by the Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland and because the Director of Public Prosecutions has ordered a review of the prosecution aspects of the case, Members of the House should not meet the victim or comment on the case. It is extraordinary. The Deputy has very conveniently overlooked one issue. We have not commented on how the police or prosecution services in Northern Ireland handled the case. Instead, we have commented on the deeply troubling way in which Sinn Féin and the Provisional IRA have dealt with the matter. While it is perfectly understandable the Deputy should want to distract attention away from this fact, to suggest the fact that the police and prosecution handling of the case is being examined means that we should not comment on the activities and the Provisional IRA in relation to it is plainly absurd.

2:25 pm

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy Ruth Coppinger has the next question.

Photo of Pádraig MacLochlainnPádraig MacLochlainn (Donegal North East, Sinn Fein)
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There are blatant double standards.

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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Can we have order, please?

Photo of Pádraig MacLochlainnPádraig MacLochlainn (Donegal North East, Sinn Fein)
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The Minister for Justice and Equality knows that.

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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We have to go on to the next question. Please, Members. Deputy Ruth Coppinger has the floor.