Wednesday, 27 May 2015
Topical Issue Debate
Miscarriages of Justice
I am disappointed the Minister has not shown up to the Chamber for this debate.
As the House will be aware, on 1 April the Department of Justice and Equality released on its website a press statement announcing the Minister’s intention to grant a posthumous pardon to Mr. Harry Gleeson, a man executed at the hands of the State on 23 April 1941 for the murder of Mrs. Mary McCarthy, a murder he did not commit. It has been seen by many as one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in the State.
In August 2013 this case was referred to the Office of the Attorney General and reviewed by Mr. Shane Murphy SC, who produced a report in January. For some inexplicable reason the Department of Justice and Equality has not released the report to the public.
It seems there has been an attempt by the Department to play down the significance of this case. Evidence, which has come to light since the execution of Mr. Gleeson, points to deliberate collusion by members of An Garda Síochána relating to his conviction. It is one of the key pieces of evidence which makes this conviction wrong and yet has received little or no attention in the press release the Department released on the pardon.
In particular, there was evidence of a fraudulent entry made in a firearms register. In 1983 a prosecution witness, Mr. Michael Leamy, revealed that on the afternoon the body was discovered and reported by Mr. Gleeson two plain clothes detectives came into the hardware store where Mr. Leamy worked and ordered a fraudulent entry be inserted in the firearms register for the purchase of a particular type of ammunition by Mr. Gleeson’s uncle. This entry has been located and is available to the public to view.
This evidence was submitted to the Department of Justice by Mr. Marcus Bourke, a former parliamentary draftsman, who wrote a book entitled Murder at Marlhill about the case in 1993. Why has it taken 22 years to issue this pardon? Why has it been issued now?
In the press statement of 1 April, the Minister made no reference to the work of Mr. Marcus Bourke. It did not highlight the statement by Mr. Leamy or mention that gardaí approached him on the day the body was found. The statement suggested merely that the firearms register, which was not produced during the trial despite several requests by the trial judge, "tended not to support the prosecution’s case." That is the only reference in it.
In a separate press release on 31 March, a day before the Harry Gleeson press release, the Minister for Justice and Equality announced that she was releasing the report of a similar case which had been reviewed by a senior counsel into the death of Fr. Niall Molloy. Why in this case was the report released but in Harry Gleeson’s case the report is somehow deemed to represent confidential legal advice to the Attorney General and the Minister? It is completely incongruous and it does not add up that one report can be deemed worthy of publication and another report not. Clearly the Department of Justice and Equality wishes to suppress the content of one report.
This case has bemused and concerned people for years. It goes far beyond a merely unsafe conviction, as the Minister has stated in her press release. It was a deliberate miscarriage of justice and should be seen as such by the Minister and her Department, and this should be made clear on the public record.
Mr. Murphy’s report should be released to the public, as it is in the interest of the public to see it. The Minister for Justice and Equality should certify that this was a miscarriage of justice and make a full and frank apology to the families and all people affected by this case, which has lingered on since 1941.
I am speaking on behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality who regrets she cannot be here because of other official commitments. I am a Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, however. The Minister is grateful to the Deputy for raising this important matter.
As the Deputy is aware, the Minister announced that the Government had decided to advise the President to exercise his right of pardon under Article 13.6 of the Constitution in respect of the conviction in 1941 of Mr. Harry Gleeson for the murder of Mrs. Mary McCarthy. Concerns had been raised for many years over Mr. Gleeson's conviction.
Most recently, on foot of a submission from the Irish Innocence Project and the Justice for Harry Gleeson group, the Attorney General directed that the case be reviewed by Mr. Shane Murphy SC. Mr. Murphy concluded that, in his opinion, there were deficiencies in the conviction such as to render it unsafe. The Attorney General concurred with this assessment and advised that the deficiencies were such as to warrant the Government recommending to the President that he exercise his right of pardon. The arrangements for this recommendation to be put into effect are being finalised at present.
Mr. Murphy outlined a number of factors which led to him forming his opinion and these were set out in detail in the statement the Minister issued when she announced the Government decision on the pardon. The Minister is aware of suggestions that Mr. Murphy's advice should be published and the Deputy has repeated those suggestions today. However, the Minister has advised it is not proposed to do so as legal advice is provided to the Minister and the Attorney General.
In this regard the Minister wishes to emphasise that the examination carried out by Mr. Murphy was not intended to be an inquiry designed to establish all of the facts surrounding the conviction of Mr. Gleeson or indeed the murder of Mrs. McCarthy. The intention in carrying out the examination was focused on determining whether a case had been made for a pardon. To this end the statement the Minister issued following the Government decision sets out in detail the basis for the conclusion that Mr. Gleeson's conviction was unsafe. The Minister's statement was prepared with the assistance of Mr. Shane Murphy and it fully and publicly outlined the basis for the Government's decision.
There are no doubt unanswered questions concerning Mrs. McCarthy's murder and the circumstances surrounding Mr. Gleeson's conviction but seeking to come to a determination on these matters at this remove would unfortunately not be warranted or feasible.
In deciding to recommend Mr. Gleeson's pardon the Government is exercising the only available remedy to clear his name in the hope that it will also provide some suitable tribute to his memory.
The Minister emphasises that this is an exceptional course of action, being only the fourth pardon in the history of the State and the first granted posthumously.
The Minister again underlines that it is a matter of the very greatest regret that a man was convicted and executed in circumstances which are now considered to be unsafe. Equally the Government regrets that this leaves unresolved the murder of Mrs. McCarthy, which deprived her young family of their mother. The Government has expressed its sympathy with both families and all affected by this crime and the subsequent wrongful conviction.
I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House and providing remarks on behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality. However, it is frustrating that I cannot get any satisfaction on the points I raised because the Minister is not here to speak. I assume she has intimate knowledge of this, which I do not expect the Minister of State, in fairness, to have.
There is one fundamental and reasonable question to which the families concerned and the public at large have a right to have an answer. Why was it deemed appropriate to publish the report into the Fr. Niall Molloy case but not appropriate to publish the report into the case of Mr. Harry Gleeson? They are very similar cases both of which I have followed closely. One report is deemed to be privileged legal advice between Mr. Murphy, and the Attorney General and the Minister for Justice and Equality, but the other is deemed not to be. That is incongruous and there is no explanation for it other than for one logically to conclude that it is desirable on the part of the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Department to suppress one report and to publish the other, which is of deep concern.
I would like an explanation from the Minister for Justice and Equality as to the reason for the differentiation between the two reports. To my mind, it is illogical. I do not expect that the Minister of State, Deputy Dara Murphy, will be able to answer my question. The Minister should be here to respond to that very important point.
I do not think it is true to say that the only possible solace that could be provided by the Minister for Justice or the Government is a pardon. I believe certification and acknowledgement that this was a miscarriage of justice would be appropriate, in addition to the pardon. The reality is that an innocent man lost his life at the hands of the State because of a miscarriage of justice and it should be acknowledged as such. I realise that this happened in 1941, which is a number of decades ago, but many people suffered, not least the individual at the heart of this matter, Mr. Harry Gleeson. The State should acknowledge that this was a miscarriage of justice. I believe that the public has a right to see the contents of Mr. Murphy's report. It may well be the case that an independent inquiry is required to fully establish the facts behind this case. It is difficult for Members of this House or, indeed, members of the public to make that adjudication. We are simply expected to take the word of the Minister or the Government rather than being able to judge for ourselves.
I will communicate to the Minister the Deputy's specific request for an explanation as to the reason these cases, if similar - I do not know that they are - have been treated differently. With regard to a full inquiry, the Minister has determined that the facts of the case would not warrant a full inquiry at this remove. Further correspondence has been recently received by the Minister and she has asked her officials to examine it and refer it to the Attorney General's office.
The Minister would like to point out that while the relatives in question have not been previously engaged with in regard to this case other relatives who form part of the Harry Gleeson group were in regular contact and they have welcomed the Government decision, as have many of those who campaigned on this case in recent years. The Minister hopes that all concerned can accept the Government's decision in this matter as an expression of a genuine and sincere desire to address the long-standing concerns about the conviction and that the presidential pardon will be seen as the best way to clear his name and provide a suitable tribute to his memory.
As I said, further information has been received, which the Minister and her officials are examining and will refer to the Attorney General's office. I am not appraised of this specific information. However, I take the Deputy's point about the need for an explanation in regard to the specific point she raised and will ask the Department to provide one in whatever form possible.