Wednesday, 28 September 2016
Ceisteanna - Questions - Priority Questions
11. To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality if she will consider putting in place an independent investigation into allegations made against An Garda Síochána in respect of the death of a person (details supplied) and for an independent investigation into allegations made by another person (details supplied). [27624/16]
The question relates to a request to establish independent investigations into two matters, namely, the death of Shane O'Farrell and the circumstances pertaining to Ms Cynthia Owen and allegations she has made. Both of these cases will be known to the Minister who has communicated with me and the O'Farrell family in respect of the former case. The family is coming near to the end of the road in terms of seeking satisfaction. The case against an accused person was dismissed but outstanding issues of concern to the family remain. In my opinion, these issues merit further investigation.
The background to the two cases referred to in the Deputy's question are truly tragic and both are deserving of our sympathy and understanding. It is worth pointing out that both cases were considered under the independent review mechanism established recently to review certain allegations of Garda misconduct or inadequacies, if any, in the investigation of certain allegations. A panel consisting of two senior and five junior counsel was established for this purpose. The counsel appointed to the panel were nominated by the Attorney General and were all selected on the basis of their experience of the criminal justice system. Very experienced senior and junior counsel examined the cases.
In the first case, the recommendation made by counsel was that I take no further action. A letter setting out the outcome and recommendation, and the reasons for these, was issued to the complainant last December. My predecessor referred aspects of this particular case to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission and that investigation has not concluded. A civil action has also been initiated against the State. I will await the completion of these processes and examine their outcomes. At that point, I will consider whether and what further options, if any, are open to me.
In the second case, the recommendation made by counsel was also that I should take no further action. This has been made known to the complainant. The Deputy will recall that the case was the subject of a review by Mr. Patrick Gageby, senior counsel, who was asked by the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Senator Michael McDowell, to examine the case. Arising from his detailed analysis of the case, Mr. Gageby advised the then Minister and Government against establishing any further inquiry. Following receipt of Mr Gageby's report by the then Minister, the legal representatives of the person concerned were given access to it. Following consultation with them, it was decided not to publish the report. Notwithstanding this, I referred the case to the independent review mechanism, which had access to Mr. Gageby's report. As I stated, the independent review mechanism panel recommended that I take no further action in the case.
In summary, I would like the outstanding processes in respect of the first case, namely, the civil case against the State and me, to be completed. As I outlined, there has already been an inquiry in the second case.
In respect of the Shane O'Farrell case, I am conscious that the Minister has met the O'Farrell family and that her predecessor met the family in April 2014. On foot of the latter meeting, it was agreed that the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, would carry out an investigation into the matter. While the family welcomed the investigation at the time, two years and five months have passed and there does not seem to be a report from GSOC forthcoming.
The chairperson of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission appeared before the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality last week. While I could not raise specific cases with her, I asked her what was the position in respect of the delay in GSOC investigations. One of the interesting points made at the meeting was that GSOC has very little sanction in terms of trying to compel the Garda to provide answers or information. The O'Farrell family are being told an inquiry is ongoing in GSOC but they have been given no indication as to when it will conclude. It is highly unsatisfactory for the family to be told they are being given an inquiry, only to have the inquiry drag on without any definite end date.
In the second case, I have not had an opportunity to read the report of Mr. Gageby and I do not know whether the allegations made are true and I do not stand over them. However, the respected solicitor acting on behalf of Ms Owen has indicated that this is a matter of ongoing concern and he has raised the matter with me.
The annual report from the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission for last year demonstrates very clearly that 96% of all requests made to the Garda for information from GSOC were given to it within the 30-day period. There was a small percentage where there was a longer timeframe but we have established protocols and there has been an improved relationship between GSOC and the Garda in terms of compliance. I welcome that and I would add that we expect full compliance in a timely way.
While I understand the Deputy's concern, the GSOC inquiry is underway and there will be a conclusion. I believe the Deputy will understand that, given the civic action against the State and the GSOC inquiry are not concluded, I need to see the outcome of both of those processes and then consider the position. I have said I am willing to do it in the first case the Deputy has raised. Let us see the outcome of both of those examinations and then decide whether there should be further action at that point.
An inquiry into the Shane O'Farrell matter should not be an inquiry that would last two and a half years. From having spoken to the family, I know there are many broad issues they refer to, which is understandable. However, when we get to the core of the allegation that is being made, it rests primarily on two points. First, on the day that young Shane was killed, the car was stopped by a member of An Garda Síochána and was allowed to go on, despite the fact there was no tax on the vehicle and it was not roadworthy. The second and more serious allegation is that the accused, who was subsequently acquitted of serious charges but who did plead guilty to failing to stop at the scene of an accident, was previously on bail in respect of offences and it appears this was not adequately recorded by the Garda on the Pulse system. This may have had an impact in a subsequent court case where the accused was before the court but the judge was not apprised of this relevant information.
I know the Minister is concerned and I appreciate her comments in this respect. If the GSOC report comes back, I will be holding her to what I believe should be an agreement that the family deserves an inquiry if the GSOC report indicates there are further matters that merit investigation.
With regard to the timeframe, the Department received an update from GSOC in July 2016. In that latest update, GSOC stated that the investigation was at an advanced stage and arrangements were being put in place to meet with some gardaí who have yet to be interviewed. I very much hope, as Deputy O'Callaghan does, that this work can be concluded very soon. I have met the family, who have been through terrible trauma with the loss of their son in the circumstances the Deputy has outlined. They will have access to the GSOC report and recommendations as soon as possible.