Tuesday, 12 June 2018
Death of Shane O'Farrell: Motion [Private Members]
That Dáil Éireann:notes that:— on 2nd August, 2011, Shane O'Farrell was killed while cycling home when he was struck by a car driven by Zigimantas Gradzuiska;recognises that:
— previously, on 11th January, 2011, in Monaghan Circuit Court, Mr. Gradzuiska was convicted of theft, and his sentence was adjourned for one year, with the judge stating that if he was convicted of other theft or fraud offences he was to be brought back before the court and that he would be put in jail;
— on 9th May, 2011, in Ardee District Court, Mr. Gradzuiska was convicted of theft yet was not then brought back before Monaghan Circuit Court where a prison sentence would have been activated;
— on 11th May, 2011, in Dundalk District Court, Mr. Gradzuiska was convicted of speeding;
— on 8th June, 2011, in Carrickmacross District Court, Mr. Gradzuiska was convicted of possession of heroin;
— on 14th July, 2011, in Newry, Mr. Gradzuiska was convicted of theft;
— on 25th July, 2011, in Monaghan District Court, Mr. Gradzuiska was convicted of having no tax disc;
— all of these offences constituted a breach by Mr. Gradzuiska of his bail bond, yet no steps were taken to revoke the bail granted to him;
— consequently, at the time of the collision, Mr. Gradzuiska was on bail in respect of a number of offences and had breached his bail bond, and was serving a number of suspended sentences which should have been activated had the courts been informed of the relevant previous convictions;
— approximately one hour prior to the collision, the car in which Mr. Gradzuiska was travelling was stopped by Gardaí and was noted to be unroadworthy and without a National Car Test certificate; and
— in January 2012, a complaint was made to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) regarding the conduct and role of An Garda Síochána in the above matters, and a report into part of the complaints was published in April 2018;— there is an obligation on An Garda Síochána to bring persons convicted of criminal offences, while serving suspended sentences, before the court and to inform the sentencing court that the person has been convicted of subsequent offences;calls on the Government to:
— where a member of An Garda Síochána becomes aware that a person has breached, or is in breach of a condition of bail, there is an obligation on such member to bring that breach to the attention of the court; and
— there is an obligation on GSOC to properly investigate all complaints it receives and to determine all admissible complaints in a timely and expeditious fashion; and— immediately establish a Commission of Investigation into the death of Shane O'Farrell; and
— ensure that adequate information systems exist within the Courts Service, so that courts can immediately access information in respect of sentences imposed or orders made on persons previously convicted of offences.
I will share time with Deputies Niamh Smyth, John McGuinness and Declan Breathnach.
As the proposer of the motion I welcome the opportunity to commence the debate. I will begin by informing the House as to the purpose of the motion. It is to try to convince and force the Government to establish a statutory inquiry in respect of the circumstances preceding the death of young Shane O'Farrell, the circumstances that took place afterwards, and the Garda investigation in respect of it.
The death of Shane O'Farrell was a tragedy. It was a tragedy in particular for his loving mother and father, Lucia and James O'Farrell, and for his four sisters. I very much welcome them here this evening for the hearing of this Private Members' motion.
The circumstances of Shane O'Farrell's death, for those who are unaware of them, are that on 2 August 2011 Shane O'Farrell was knocked down and killed by a vehicle being driven by a Lithuanian man, Zigimantas Gradzuiska. Shane had gone out on the road around his house in Carrickmacross at 9.30 p.m. to go for a cycle. As a result of that he was killed through the collision with and actions of Mr. Zigimantas Gradzuiska, who was driving the vehicle at Tullyvara Upper, Carrickmacross, County Monaghan. As I said at the outset, Shane's death was a tragedy for his loving family. In particular, however, it was a tragedy for him, a young man who was a law graduate of University College Dublin. He was obviously a person who excelled in academia but also had great sporting abilities and interests. On the day he was killed he had just submitted his thesis for the purpose of his masters in law that he was carrying out at Trinity College Dublin.
I am aware that tragic deaths occur in many families in Ireland. Just because there is a tragic death it does not mean it should be debated in Dáil Éireann, and just because there is a tragic death it does not mean there is any responsibility on the Government to have a statutory inquiry in respect of that death. However, there are circumstances in respect of the death of Shane O'Farrell which, in my opinion and in the opinion of Fianna Fáil, mean the Government should establish an inquiry into the circumstances preceding and after his death.
I am conscious that I am sharing time with my colleagues, but I want to identify what I believe is one of the central issues that merits and justifies an investigation into the circumstances giving rise to the death of Shane O'Farrell. We know Shane was killed on 2 August 2011 when he was cycling home and struck by the car driven by the Lithuanian man. What is particularly relevant, however, is that some seven months prior to that, on 11 January 2011, the driver of the vehicle had been convicted of theft in Monaghan Circuit Court. As a result of that conviction the judge hearing the case adjourned it for one year to determine whether a custodial sentence would be imposed. However, the judge hearing that case in Monaghan Circuit Court directed that if the person driving the car was convicted of any further fraud or theft offences in that year he must be brought back before Monaghan Circuit Court and he would be put in jail. What is particularly relevant is that on 9 May 2011, some three months before Shane was killed, the same individual was convicted of a theft offence in Ardee District Court but, inexplicably, he was not brought back before Monaghan Circuit Court where his custodial sentence would have been activated. As if that was not bad enough, we know that on 11 May 2011 the same person was convicted of speeding in Dundalk District Court. On 8 June 2011 he was convicted of possession of heroin in Carrickmacross District Court. On 14 July 2011 he was convicted of theft in Newry and on 25 July 2011 he was convicted in Monaghan District Court of having no tax disc.
One of the reasons we believe there should be an inquiry is because the O'Farrell family and the Irish public are entitled to accountability as to why the individual who had been convicted of all these subsequent offences was not brought back before Monaghan Circuit Court. Had he been brought back we believe the custodial sentence would have been commenced. This is one of the reasons we believe there should be a commission of investigation and an inquiry.
There are very many others but I want to allow my colleagues speak.
I welcome Lucia, Jim and their beautiful daughters tonight to the Gallery to hear us speak about a very tragic case. Almost seven years have passed since Shane O'Farrell was killed in an horrific hit-and-run incident in Carrickmacross in County Monaghan. Shane was a bright, young, intelligent man, an only son with four loving sisters and his whole life ahead of him. He was killed in a hit-and-run by a man with 42 previous convictions. When Shane was killed, the accused was on bail arising from a number of offences and had breached the conditions of those bail bonds. He was serving suspended sentences which would have been activated had the courts been informed of his convictions. In short, had the criminal justice system been functioning properly, the accused would not have been at liberty on that day to kill Shane.
The O'Farrell family has worked tirelessly seeking justice for their only son and brother. The State has failed them in the manner in which Shane's death was investigated and prosecuted, and it is continuing to fail them in the manner in which their complaints around the investigation and the prosecution are being handled by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC. Shane's death is a personal tragedy for the O'Farrell family as a light has been shone on a dysfunction in many elements of our criminal justice system. There is a systematic problem in the way in which the State deals with breaches of bail conditions and conditions attached to suspended sentences. Furthermore, the courts are overly reliant on information being provided by An Garda Síochána. It is clear the GSOC inquiry has been a total failure. We are six years into the process and the O'Farrells have no more answers than when they started the process. The only conclusion to be gleaned from the report is that the Government must step in and establish a commission of investigation so we, as a nation, can learn from this awful tragedy.
The O'Farrell family must be commended on the courageous and dignified manner in which they have pursued justice for their son and brother. They have been unrelenting in the quest for justice and in doing so they honour Shane's life. If our justice system had been operating effectively, the accused would not have been driving on that awful day in August 2011 but he would have been in jail. The accused had been released on bail on numerous occasions arising from offences and despite breaching bail bonds he had not been brought before the court for those breaches. Three weeks before the O'Farrell death, the accused was convicted of a theft in Newry and this should have led to his imprisonment in the Republic for breach of bail conditions. The car in which the accused was travelling was pulled over by the Garda not an hour before Shane was killed. The vehicle he was travelling in was being driven by an uninsured driver and the vehicle did not even have a valid national car test, NCT, certificate. The car should have been seized. The driver was well known to An Garda Síochána, Interpol and the Police Service of Northern Ireland, PSNI, and he had an extensive criminal record. As I stated, he had over 40 previous convictions for a variety of offences.
I must finish because I am sharing time with colleagues but this case reveals a shocking dysfunction in the criminal justice system. Anybody who has met Lucia, Jim and Shane's sisters knows that Lucia knows the case inside out and has forensic knowledge of how it was dealt with in an unsatisfactory way for the family and Shane. I ask that a commission of investigation be established by the Government.
I welcome Ms Lucia O'Farrell, as well as Jim and the rest of the family, to the Gallery. I compliment them on the investigation they have undertaken of the death of their son and brother, Shane. It is an appalling indictment of the State that from the time of his death in 2011, they have had to fight the might of the State in dealing with this case. We are not asking for an investigation into the death of Shane O'Farrell just for the sake of his family or as an acknowledgement of what happened to Shane; it goes way beyond that. The Minister is responsible for justice matters and if he read any of the information sent out by Lucia or looked at the dates of court orders and peace bonds, he must be concerned about the state of the justice system. It is not about the date on which he died but rather what happened before.
The man in question was extremely well known to the Garda in that area. From 2008 he had clocked up appearances in court related to drugs such as heroin, traffic offences and fraud. He got six months for one conviction at Carrickmacross District Court but he did not serve a day of it. That was between 2008 and 2010. In 2010 he started again with offences related to theft, traffic, insurance fraud, not having a valid NCT certificate and so on. He appeared in Monaghan District Court at Carrickmacross, at Virginia in Cavan and so on. He was well known to gardaí in the area as an abuser of drugs and a criminal. That is a fact. The Minister knows the justice system better than most and he cannot have confidence in that system after reading all the detail that Lucia O'Farrell has put before us. In 2011 the man in question had five consecutive days of theft and the gardaí failed to send proof in this regard to a laboratory for testing.
From 2008, the Garda and the courts system have failed this family. Had they taken action, Shane O'Farrell would not have been killed on the road that night. Around 14 July 2011, the PSNI told the Garda about this man's antics across the Border. On the night in question, 2 August, as previous speakers noted, this man was waved on by gardaí despite insurance on the car being obtained by false or misleading information. When the man got bail at Dundalk, the superintendent did not object and we must ask why. After Shane's death, on 24 August 2011 the superintendent failed to inform the court about his death when the man was up before it for another criminal incident. In 2011 the man was jailed in Belfast but had not been missed from Carrickmacross, where he was supposed to have been signing on. He failed to sign on and was not even in the jurisdiction.
As a result of the manner in which this was investigated by the Garda and the complete failure of the justice system in this case, the country deserves an investigation that will thoroughly deal with all the matters that have been raised. The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions must be questioned about the processes and procedures relevant to Shane's case. There can be no question or doubt after one reads the evidence presented by Lucia O'Farrell. The prosecution of the case must be dealt with. At the end of another case involving this man, he was given the option of going home to his son or serving time in prison. I do not know anybody before the courts who got such options. I was at the Court of Appeal today and Ms Yvonne Walsh did not get much of an option there as she was sent straight back to jail. Why has all this happened with the man involved with Shane O'Farrell's case?
The Government must take the lead on this, step in and provide the type of inquiry with extended terms of reference to ensure all these matters are covered. It is a litany of failure across the Garda Síochána, the courts system and the Prison Service. The Minister would not be acting properly and in the interests of the State if he did not recognise the matters we are putting before him this evening, stand up after we finish and grant the type of inquiry that will provide information to the public and deal with these issues. As a consequence, the Department might instigate the appropriate reforms to ensure this does not happen again. I appeal to the Minister not to read a script that has been handed to him. He should listen to the O'Farrell family and do the right thing.
Like many in this House, I have been made aware of the tragic loss and concern surrounding the sad death of Shane O'Farrell, the loved son of Jim and Lucia. I was a short time elected in 2016 when Lucia came to meet me. I was taken aback by the detail, research and forensic evidence she had compiled on what, to me, was a deeply concerning failure of our justice system not just within the Twenty-six Counties but beyond as to how we could allow the driver of the car involved in the killing of Shane O'Farrell to escape the full rigours of the law.
Fianna Fáil has persistently called for a full public inquiry into this incident. I call again for a full and open inquiry that will get to the bottom of and expose the issues and serious flaws in our judicial system in this country.
It is blatantly obvious to anyone reading the current GSOC report that there is an added danger that criminals can move willy-nilly in and out of our jurisdiction, unimpeded by their records not being properly shared by the justice departments and courts services, not to mention the PSNI and the Garda. Until we have proper information-sharing between the Garda and the PSNI, people will continue to be allowed to move freely between our jurisdictions, which will have grave consequences for public safety, as was the case with the death of Shane O'Farrell. With Brexit looming, the situation may become worse.
The key issue, as others have said, centres on the granting of bail and the failure to communicate to the courts such conditions. As a public representative in a Border constituency, I am gravely concerned about the apparent failure of the courts systems in the North and the South to share information on the issues between both jurisdictions. By GSOC's own admission in the report, this man had 53 previous convictions, 17 of these outside the jurisdiction of the Twenty-six Counties, either in Northern Ireland or in Lithuania. This is an appalling failure, and the risks associated with the lack of sharing of this information can be seen in other prominent cases. The Minister should watch this space regarding the Crevan Mackin case and the murder of Garda Tony Golden.
Regarding the issue of the sharing of information, and on foot of requests by Deputies Brendan Smith, Joe Carey and Peter Fitzpatrick and me to raise the issue with the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, we issued letters to the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, and to the Permanent Secretary of the Department of Justice in the North, Nick Perry. To date, no response has been received from the Minister, Deputy Flanagan's Department. A reply was received, however, from Nick Perry stating that regarding cross-Border policing strategy, while the arrangements were working well, they would welcome further integrated information-sharing between all the criminal justice partners in both jurisdictions. The letter states that the probation boards both in the North and the South have a cross-Border protocol and that the Youth Justice Agency currently has an informal arrangement in place. These arrangements have no legal standing and are just what they say - informal. The letter to the Minister, Deputy Flanagan's Department that was sent in September 2017 asked specifically what changes have been made to the way in which information is shared between policing and criminal justice institutions since 2011. We are still awaiting a response to that letter. It is regrettable that with all the trouble the Department of Justice and Equality has faced, the Minister's officials have not seen fit to respond to BIPA's request. The Taoiseach, Deputy Leo Varadkar, said himself in 2014, when he was Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, that the Department of Justice and Equality was "not fit for purpose".
I will not go into the details that others have gone into regarding the convictions of this man and the failures to pass on information from one court hearing to the next. However, I want to know why the proposed criminal records (information systems) Bill, which Government approved on 17 April 2012, with the intention of providing for the exchange of criminal records information, is still not enacted. It beggars belief that the GSOC report states that GSOC is not aware of the current status of the legislation. As in this case, the recording of foreign convictions is done also on an ad hocbasis. There is no requirement on the Garda to check for convictions outside the Irish jurisdiction.
I and others in this House believe we must have a full and open inquiry to expose, as Deputy Smith said, the failures of the past and ensure that justice is given to the O'Farrell family.
I move amendment No. 2:
To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following:“— offers its sincere condolences to the O’Farrell family following the tragic death of Shane O’Farrell on 2nd August, 2011;
— expresses its genuine and heartfelt concern at the circumstances and events that led to the road traffic incident that cut Shane O’Farrell’s life so tragically short; and
— commits itself to ensuring that those circumstances and events are fully investigated so that the lessons of this tragic loss are learned and applied to prevent other families suffering similar losses in the future;
— the Oireachtas established the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) in 2006 with the statutory responsibility to deal with complaints concerning the conduct of members of An Garda Síochána;
— GSOC’s independence and impartiality are its guarantee to members of the public, and indeed to members of the Gardaí who are the subject of complaint, that any and all complaints will be investigated properly and thoroughly, with due regard to the rights of all those involved;
— members of the family of Shane O’Farrell made in excess of 50 complaints to GSOC in relation to the circumstances surrounding his death and subsequent events and that in April 2014, the then Minister for Justice and Equality asked GSOC to investigate certain related matters;
— GSOC investigated all matters admitted for investigation as a single investigation;
— in May 2014, the then Minister for Justice and Equality referred a number of complaints surrounding the road traffic incident and subsequent matters to the Independent Review Mechanism (IRM);
— the IRM was established to provide for independent reviews of certain allegations of Garda misconduct, or inadequacies in the investigation of certain allegations with a view to determining to what extent and in what manner further action may be required in each case;
— the recommendation made by the IRM was that no further ministerial action should be taken in this case, and that the appropriate forum for raising matters related to alleged Garda failings was GSOC, which was already investigating certain matters arising from the tragic death in this case;
— over the course of a lengthy criminal investigation, GSOC considered a total of 56 allegations that it had received in relation to the case;
— in April 2018, GSOC issued its first report on this case to the Minister for Justice and Equality and provided a copy to the family of Shane O’Farrell and that the report was subsequently published by GSOC;
— this first report considered the case from a criminal perspective in accordance with Section 98 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 and that each allegation was examined to determine if any conduct by the Gardaí could constitute a criminal offence; and
— GSOC found that there were no grounds for criminal proceedings against any Garda, but that it did identify conduct that may amount to a breach of discipline by members of An Garda Síochána;
further notes that:
— GSOC has made a number of recommendations in its first report and that the Minister for Justice and Equality will be pursuing these with relevant parties;
— GSOC issued a statement with its first report in which it states that it has commenced an investigation under Section 95 of the Garda Síochána Act into 13 of the 56 allegations concerning matters that may constitute breaches of discipline by members of An Garda Síochána; and
— the instigation of another investigatory process while the GSOC investigation is underway would risk undermining GSOC’s disciplinary investigation and any disciplinary proceedings that may be instituted at a later date by the Garda Commissioner;
resolves that the GSOC investigation under Section 95 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 be allowed to take its course independently and with respect for natural justice and fair procedures and that nothing is done in the Dáil that would undermine that investigation; and
acknowledges the commitment of Government, upon completion of the disciplinary process, to consider whether there are matters that require further investigation and if so, to bring before Dáil Éireann, for its urgent consideration, any proposals that it may wish to make in this regard.”
I wish to start by repeating my opening comment here less than two weeks ago when we had statements on the Garda Síochána Ombudsman's report following a referral by my predecessor, Alan Shatter, and complaints on behalf of and on the part of Mrs. O'Farrell. In this regard, all our thoughts very much remain this evening with the O'Farrell family in the wake of the dreadful loss they have suffered arising from the death of a clearly much-loved son and brother. I find it very difficult to imagine the scale of grief they have suffered since the tragic evening back in August 2011.
It is clear there are a number of troubling matters surrounding the circumstances leading up to the road traffic incident in which Shane O'Farrell's life was tragically cut short. These have been clearly identified in the GSOC report. They were, in fact, failures, and I categorically call them what they were - failures. A man who had numerous previous convictions, including for theft, drugs and road traffic offences, and who was out on bail at the time of the accident, had also been arrested for other offences while on bail. We all know there are laws related to the obligations on those who obtain release on bail and there are sanctions for those who breach bail conditions. Unfortunately, in this case, those sanctions were not implemented, and this of course was a very serious failing.
The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission has spent six years investigating the allegations made in respect of this case. Its very thorough first investigation focused on potential criminal offences. I am sure everyone who makes a contribution to and listens to this debate has taken the care to read the report carefully. In its first report, GSOC did not identify any criminal offence by any Garda but identified a number of matters which require further investigation. That investigation has now commenced. I expect a further report in early course when GSOC completes its investigation into disciplinary matters. That report may lead to the Garda Commissioner instituting disciplinary proceedings. I will come back to this matter in a moment but I wish to point out yet again that GSOC is an independent statutory agency with an important role across the State. My officials are working with GSOC to advance a business case for additional staff for consideration by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. I am also looking at ways to strengthen GSOC's powers. In this context, I wish to align any action I take with the forthcoming report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland to ensure a coherent criminal justice architecture is very much in place. I am committed to ensuring that GSOC has the resources it needs to carry out its functions efficiently and effectively. I know that Members of the House had a concern that the GSOC investigation was taking a long time. This is understandable. However, it is important to pause and reflect on the complexity of the investigation undertaken, involving in excess of 50 separate allegations which involved multiple people. We are all aware of the importance of due process and the seriousness of a finding of criminal wrongdoing, so we can understand the care taken by GSOC to ensure it carried out a thorough criminal investigation and could stand over each and every one of its findings.
It is very regrettable that some Members opposite have chosen to criticise GSOC and its report. In fact, it would not be going too far to say that some Members sought to castigate GSOC for its deliberations on this issue.
I remind the leader of Sinn Féin that on 31 May, in the course of statements in this House on the GSOC report, she said that there are statements in the report that, as she put it “are simply erroneous”. She went on to state that the absence of a summation on each complaint was “inexplicable and disgraceful”. In saying that, the Deputy herself was erroneous since the list of all 56 complaints made by the family of Shane O’Farrell are set out in an appendix to the report. She accused GSOC of "playing for time” and “playing games". I find those remarks to be completely unacceptable about a body led by a highly-respected High Court judge, Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring, which is carrying out a very important, and at times, difficult job. If that was not bad enough, her colleague, Deputy Ó Laoghaire, described the report as a farce.
Other Members also jumped on the bandwagon. Deputy Gino Kenny described the report as a “whitewash” while Deputy Mattie McGrath described GSOC as “useless, toothless and fruitless".
----- I would ask the Deputies to withdraw them. GSOC has a deserved reputation for calling it as it is, whether that involves criticism of the Garda Síochána, the Government or whoever, to suggest that it would participate in a cover up or a whitewash is deplorable and should be withdrawn.
Leaving that to one side, I will say that the failings identified by GSOC are very serious. The failings regarding follow up following breach of bail conditions is unacceptable and my Department will work closely with An Garda Síochána to ensure that appropriate systems are in place to bring such breaches to proper notice.
With regard to some, more general findings by GSOC related to victims and court proceedings, my Department is examining these with a view to improvement in these areas.
I will return briefly to the ongoing GSOC investigation. The matters which will now be investigated by GSOC are an alleged failure to check tax and other matters related to the car and the owner of the car involved in the collision and an alleged failure to bring bail conditions to the attention of the court or to re-activate a suspended sentence when the person was charged with subsequent offences prior to the date of the incident in question. This investigation should be allowed to take its course without any outside interference. Any person who is subject to investigation by an independent body is entitled to an assurance that such independence is in no way compromised. Indeed, a complainant is also entitled to the assurance that GSOC’s investigation is untainted.
On the motion itself, the most obvious thing to say is that it fails to set out any detail of what a commission of investigation would examine. Would it, for instance, examine each and every complaint made by the family of Shane O’Farrell, even though these have already been examined by GSOC and its findings on them are set out in its report? Would it examine matters after the road traffic incident? What would be the implications for the disciplinary investigation being carried out by GSOC? What would be the implications for the future of GSOC itself?
I am open minded about the prospect of a further inquiry in this case, but as Minister, I want to proceed on the basis of evidence and due process. This House established GSOC, it commenced an investigation following complaints from the O’Farrell family and my predecessor did not, and neither do I, intend to undermine either its current investigation or its role in general. What I will commit to, as I have in the past, is that when GSOC has completed its work, I will consider the question of a further inquiry and I would be happy to consult with Deputies O’Callaghan and Ó Laoghaire and other members of the Opposition at that stage.
As I said, I accept GSOC’s first report on criminal matters and I have confidence in GSOC’s ability to carry out its investigations fully and comprehensively. Therefore, I must ask whether the Members opposite have the same confidence in GSOC. What signal does it send if Members pass the resolution tabled by Fianna Fáil? That would say that we do not have confidence in GSOC. Such a statement would undermine the integrity of GSOC and its processes in the eyes of the general public, this House and of An Garda Síochána.
Others might ask what is the point of the Oireachtas establishing independent bodies to carry out very important functions if parallel structures can be set up to second-guess their findings. GSOC has been the State's response to complaints against gardaí for over a decade. There has never been a challenge to its independence or impartiality.
It is primarily for these reasons that the Government has proposed an amendment to the motion. The net impact of the amended motion is that the Government will commit itself to consider what further action may be necessary when all other investigations are completed. I assure the House that if such further action can best be advanced by a commission of investigation, the Government will take steps to do that. As Deputies will be aware, the Commissions of Investigation Act requires that this House approves the order to set up such a commission so there will be further opportunity to debate the issues before a commission could be established.
Shane O’Farrell’s mother, Ms Lucia O’Farrell, has been campaigning for some form of statutory inquiry into the circumstances of her son’s death.
The previous Taoiseach and Tánaiste, who met with the O’Farrell family in late 2016 have stressed that they would examine whether any further action was warranted once the GSOC investigation is completed. While the criminal investigation has now concluded there is still an investigation under way that could result in a recommendation for disciplinary action against one or more members of An Garda Síochána.
I will conclude and thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for his indulgence, as these points are important. The commitment previously given to the O’Farrell family that once the GSOC investigation is completed, the question as to whether there remain issues that require further investigation will be fully considered. I reiterate that commitment here to the House tonight. The Government’s amendment to the motion is very clear that that commitment can be a commitment, not just of the Government, but of the whole House.
I commend the amendment to the House.
I am glad to have the opportunity to address this issue. I thank Fianna Fáil for tabling this motion so that we can have this debate. Sinn Féin has also tabled an amendment which has several key differences and aims which I will return to.
I acknowledge and thank Lucia O'Farrell, her husband Jim and her daughters for being here. Shane would be very proud of them and their resilience.
I commend their commitment, resolve and attention to detail, which is quite forensic, and that they have not allowed a significant injustice to be swept under the carpet.
Shane O'Farrell was failed by several justice agencies of the State. There was a failure to monitor bail, failure to object to bail, failure to convict, failure to deport, failure to arrest, failure to imprison and failure to protect. Zigimantas Gradzuiska should not have been at liberty and there was a failure to protect Shane O'Farrell.
There are serious deficiencies with the GSOC report. I can assure the Minister that I will certainly not withdraw my remarks. I will not impugn the motivations of GSOC, nor did I in my remarks on previous occasions, but this is a bad piece of work. It took six years and it is a bad piece of work. I do not believe there is anything wrong with Deputies going through a report and identifying failures and asking the question of how, after six years, such a deficient piece of work came out. I am not going to go into motivations and GSOC has an important role to play, but the report is simply not good enough.
There are clear deficiencies. The underlying problem with the whole thing is that at every stage the word of An Garda Síochána is taken as a given. It is not a proper investigation. There is no testing, or pursuit. The word of the investigation is simply accepted and taken as a given. There are numerous examples of this. On two occasions, there were issues with Zigimantas Gradzuiska being before the courts in the North. GSOC simply accepted the word of the gardaí that because it happened outside the jurisdiction they were unaware of it, despite there being documentary evidence that the PSNI informed An Garda Síochána of these events. GSOC does not address that at all.
The GSOC report also simply accepts that while the car was stopped a number of hours before Mr. O'Farrell was killed, and despite the fact that the car was not properly insured, there was no basis for an arrest or for taking the car off the road because the divisional drug unit made the stop. That is simply accepted. The O'Farrell family disputes the account given by a garda in respect of the complaint involving Mr. Gradzuiska's wife. Again the word of the garda is simply accepted and the issue is not pursued any further. There is also the fact that Mr. Gradzuiska was not asked to take a drug or drink test on the basis that, as it was the morning after, it would have produced no evidence. This is despite the fact that Mr. Gradzuiska has a heroin conviction and that substance stays in the system for a number of days. Again, the position of An Garda Síochána is simply accepted in that regard. The whole issue of the manner of his departure from the country is also not dealt with adequately.
This is a bad piece of work but, even if it were not, this is the answer to the question the Minister asks, which is where does this leave us? It should not simply have been a matter for GSOC in the first instance. There are clearly failures which go beyond An Garda Síochána. Any objective reading of the facts would make that very clear. There are failures on the part of the Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP, and on the part of the Courts Service. These need to be examined and investigated. It is only right in order to pay tribute and to do justice to Shane O'Farrell, but it is also in the public interest. If there can be such a string of failures, not only the part of GSOC but on the part of these other organisations which are responsible for administering justice, there is a public interest in finding out why they occurred. That is the reason we have tabled this amendment. I will finish on this a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. I ask Fianna Fáil and other Opposition parties to consider the amendment. We believe that this should be a public inquiry and that all those agencies I have referenced and that are referenced in our amendment need to be part of it. I do not believe that it creates any difficulty or precedent or anything like that because the matter should not have been before GSOC in the first place. This is the model that should have existed. There should have been a public inquiry into the failures that occurred.
Cuirim fáilte roimh theaghlach Uí Fhearghail: Lucia agus Jim, tuismitheoirí Shane; agus a dheirfiúracha. The death of Shane O'Farrell was a devastating blow to the O'Farrell family but so too has been the incompetence and the catalogue of appalling decisions made by An Garda Síochána, the DPP, the justice system and all of the agencies of the State that have been involved in this case. Like other citizens who have had to suffer an injustice, Mr. O'Farrell's family have had to take on the entire State. Let me ask the Minister a very straight question. If it was not for the work of Mr. Farrell's mother, there would be no discussion here tonight and there would have been no proper scrutiny of what had occurred. This family and this young man have been very badly let down by the very systems that are supposed to protect citizens. Sinn Féin believes that a public inquiry is best placed to get all of the facts. I also appeal to Fianna Fáil to accept our amendment.
I want to focus on one particular area with the Minister, as I have previously done with the Taoiseach. That area is the role and responsibility of the DPP in this and in other cases. The constant refrain of the Government is that the DPP is independent and that it has sole responsibility to decide when and if charges are brought in any given case. However, the DPP's role in the Shane O'Farrell case raises significant concerns about its incompetence. In addition, we know that in the case of Crevan Mackin, who shot and killed Garda Tony Golden, that a decision was taken by the DPP not to charge him with offences to which he had admitted, including the possession of weapons and explosives. One of these weapons was almost certainly responsible for the murder of Garda Golden and the grievous wounding of Siobhán Phillips. There are also the serious questions arising from the DPP's decision to prosecute people over the incident at Jobstown involving the former Tánaiste, Deputy Joan Burton.
There should be an oversight body, a criminal justice inspectorate, that can hold the DPP to account for the inexplicable decisions it takes. In November 2016 the then Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, met the O'Farrell family and told them that he would ask the Attorney General to "request the Law Reform Commission President Mr Justice John Quirke to examine how we can reform the law to provide enhanced public understanding for significant decisions made whilst fully preserving the independence of the Director of Public Prosecutions." Nothing more has been heard of this proposal. I have also written to the Minister on this matter but, so far, I have not received a reply, although I have learned that prompt and clear replies from the Minister are extremely rare. Can the Minister clarify the status of the former Taoiseach's request to the Law Reform Commission? Was the request ever made? Has the president of the Law Reform Commission ever agreed to undertake this work? The Government has a responsibility to ensure that the DPP is accountable for its decisions. It has a responsibility to ensure this happens. In the meantime the Minister should establish the public inquiry the O'Farrell family deserves.
I also welcome the O'Farrell family to the Gallery. This issue is certainly very relevant not only to the particular case at hand, but to many other cases around the country which have involved similar situations. We are all aware of them. We are all aware of the role that GSOC has played in many cases in which people have made legitimate complaints about Garda inaction or inappropriate action. While the Minister's defence of GSOC has been very valiant on this occasion, to call it to account in no way suggests that we do not need a body in place to hold the Garda to account. Somehow or other we seem to be in a situation in which we find that all of these cases are in the same place. The system circles the wagons. In many cases which GSOC is called to investigate, the investigations are carried out by people who are seconded to GSOC by An Garda Síochána. The Courts Service, the DPP and all of these people exist in a world into which the public cannot look. They are in a very cosy little relationship and continue to support one another. That is certainly the view the general public has in regard to this case and many others.
That Shane O'Farrell lost his life at the hands of someone who very clearly should not have been at large strikes a chord with many people around the country who find themselves in very similar situations. In fact, I would suggest that there needs to be an inquiry into the relationship between people in the criminal fraternity and certain gardaí and into how they act and how they co-operate. Supposedly it is for the greater good but very often it causes great harm to the public and to people who happen to become collateral damage in that relationship. This is one of the most serious examples of that collateral damage.
The GSOC report has clearly been a failure. We can decide how and why that is the case, whether it is absence of resources, an absence of appropriate legislation to support GSOC or whatever, but the truth is that this report has been a failure. It took six years to produce a report which stands for nothing. That is the reality. The Minister needs to come to realise that. What we are very clearly suggesting here, and what has been suggested, is that we need to have a public inquiry. It should be out in the open so that everyone, the public at large, can see that the right thing is being done by this young man who lost his life so tragically and by so many others around the country who are losing confidence not just in An Garda Síochána, but in the system the Minister stands over. That system is in the dock. This is an opportunity to do something clear about that and to show the public that this Government is going to take responsibility for this issue. It needs to do that immediately. A clear public inquiry is required immediately.
The words we all employ here tonight will be of little comfort to Mr. O'Farrell's family. Unfortunately, as I have previously stated, he cannot be brought back. What is needed and what can make a difference and may provide some comfort to Mr. O'Farrell's mother, Lucia, his father, Jim, and the O'Farrell family is what most of us have already called for, that is, a full public inquiry.
The circumstances of this case have been well covered in broadcast media, print media and other fora, including the Houses of the Oireachtas. There is nothing new to add. We are all very aware of the substantive issue. The individual who mowed down innocent Shane O'Farrell should not have been behind the wheel of any car. He should not have been in a position to do what he did. The GSOC report has found that gardaí did not act criminally. I believe, however, it is fair and just for us to say and incumbent on all to recognise that there were very deep failings on the part of members of An Garda Síochána and our justice system. This man should have been in jail. A bail bond was in place. It was broken repeatedly by various criminal acts. The Garda had ample opportunity to apprehend and detain Mr. Gridziuska and it failed. It failed utterly.
The only instrument that will get to the bottom of why this happened and why it was allowed to happen is a full public inquiry. We, as a society, need to learn lessons from this horrible tragedy. No family should ever again have to go through what Shane's mother, Lucia, father, Jim, and sisters have been put through. The Garda needs to learn lessons. Systems need to be changed. Perhaps legislation itself needs to be changed. We all have a role to play.
I contend we cannot properly establish what changes need to be made, what systems need to change and what legislation may be required or required to be amended without getting to the bottom of what went so horribly wrong. We need to establish why Shane is not with his family today. The only way to establish the facts and the steps now to be taken is through the setting up of a full public inquiry. I do not use the word "implore" frequently in this Chamber or in committees but I implore the Minister to put an inquiry in place, not just for the sake of Lucia O'Farrell and the rest of the O'Farrell family but in order to prevent any other family going through what Shane O'Farrell's family has experienced.
We have discussed this matter at length already. I do not want to repeat the points I made the last evening we discussed this issue except to say I believe the overwhelming majority of Members of this House wish to see a commission of investigation, a public inquiry or some mechanism that will allow for these matters to be investigated such that the memory of Shane O'Farrell can be honoured and that his family can seek to have justice done on foot of the failures and omissions that are so glaringly obvious. These failures and omissions have been well articulated in the GSOC report, notwithstanding the critiques of that report. It states it is absolutely necessary to ensure some sort of public intervention that seeks to consider everything inherent within this case and the litany of failures and to learn from them. The public demands it. The majority in this House demand it. I seek some assurances in the Minister's speech that the Government is moving towards that position.
The last night we were here, the Minister stated that while the criminal investigation is now concluded, there is still an investigation under way that could result in a recommendation for disciplinary action against one or more gardaí. He stated more or less the same thing tonight. I hope I am not reading too much into that. He said: "I assure the House that if such further action can best be advanced by a commission of investigation, the Government will take steps to do that." I hope there is some advance in the language the Minister uses in seeking to move towards a position to ensure the ultimate price Shane O'Farrell paid will not be for nothing and that we, the public, will have due process to ensure a full public hearing to make sure his family get justice.
I am not the only Member of the House in receipt of information from Mrs. O'Farrell. She outlines to us in some documentation she has furnished to us that there are some inherent contradictions between correspondence she has received from An Garda Síochána and other correspondence. For instance, a letter dated 25 June 2013, from an individual I will not name, implies the judge cancelled the application and did not estreat the bail. There appears to be a prima faciecontradiction between what is in that correspondence and what is in the GSOC report. I refer to the judge ordering the forfeiture of €500 on the date in question. This is a small but very significant example.
Nobody here is seeking to take GSOC down. We all want to believe in the work it does. It is a statutory body but it must also be subject to scrutiny. Some of us are more rhetorical than others in terms of how we proceed but we are fully entitled to question reports of this nature if we believe there are questions that need to be answered. We all fully believe at this stage that there has to be some public hearing, mechanism, public inquiry, or commission of investigation. I am hoping the Government will move towards that position but I still do not understand what test needs to be passed to arrive at that. Is it necessary that the investigations that are under way, which may result in disciplinary action against one or more gardaí, as mentioned by the Minister, be expedited before there is a public inquiry? I argue it is absolutely not. There may be wiser heads than mine thinking about that point, however. It could take a considerable time. I do not believe we have time on our side. One could still move towards a mechanism for some form of public inquiry. I feel it is necessary. The Minister might wish to address that point in his reply. What is the test that will ultimately satisfy the Government that a public inquiry is necessary?
I note the language the Minister uses: "I assure the House that if such further action can best be advanced by a commission of investigation, the Government will take steps to do that." I hope that language becomes stronger as time passes. I hope that in response to this debate the Minister will outline to us why such a public inquiry cannot take place at this point. Why is he saying the investigation regarding disciplinary action needs to conclude?
The litany of failures is well articulated and has been articulated by GSOC itself. The family has been very reasonable in the face of absolutely insurmountable odds. I am not sure that the best of us could cope with them. The family has done a stellar job in maintaining its dignity throughout this. I hope it can get justice. I ask the Government to listen to what the majority of the Members of this House are saying regarding the need for some sort of public inquiry to do right by the young man in question and to do right by his memory.
As I said the last night, Shane O'Farrell was on his bike, the most honest means of travel. He was travelling by his own steam, going about his business. If we are to do right by our citizens, we owe it to Shane to do right by him on this matter.
I want to address what the Minister said earlier about withdrawing the remark about the GSOC report. I will not be withdrawing any remark. I will reiterate what I said earlier. It was a complete whitewash. I would like the Minister to withdraw his remark that I was jumping on some bandwagon because this report was a whitewash. It was an insult to the O'Farrell family. Shane would be still here now if it were not for the failings of the police and the State. Shane should be living his life but on the night of 2 August 2011, everything changed because this was an accident waiting to happen. There was a systemic failure on the part of the powers that are supposed to protect every citizen in this county - the police, the legal system and the State. They failed not only Shane but the O'Farrell family. What the O'Farrell are looking for is very simple. They cannot bring Shane back but they can get justice and truth. That is the simple narrative of what the family is looking for today.
I watched the documentary last night on the terrible Grenfell Tower fire that claimed so many lives in London. The narrative of that documentary was that the fire was completely preventable and the relatives of those who died want justice. In terms of all the tragedies that happened in Britain and Ireland, the families and the public want justice. That is what the O'Farrell are looking for today.
Many comments were made in this Chamber tonight and also in the debate ten days ago. Again, the family are asking for a public inquiry. The GSOC report was empty of anything substantial. It took six years to come up with that report. That is an insult to anybody's intelligence. It is an insult to the family that after six years, GSOC could not come up with something such as a criminal investigation against certain members of the police in Cavan and Monaghan. There is no doubt that Shane O'Farrell would be alive today if it were not for the litany of complete failures by the police force. On that matter and in Shane's memory, the family deserve truth, justice and a public inquiry. That should be the case not only for that family but for every citizen in this country. If the Minister does not provide for that, it will be a stain on his time here as Minister for Justice and Equality. I ask him to give the family a public inquiry.
I want to come back to what Deputy Gino Kenny said at the outset about the Minister's accusation that he and others jumped on some kind of a bandwagon and that the accusations of a whitewash etc. should be withdrawn. I was not here for his statement but I note he is asking Deputies McDonald, Ó Laoghaire, Gino Kenny, McGrath and other Deputies to withdraw their statements. It has been a peculiar day because the Taoiseach asked us earlier not to ask questions about inquiries that are taking a long time and with which Members in this House are not happy. The Minister is now criticising Deputies for making a criticism of a very important oversight body looking into the so-called guardians of the peace in this country.
It has not come out of the blue that people are critical of GSOC. He does not talk about himself but Deputy Gino Kenny was complaint No. 1 to GSOC when it opened. I queued with him outside the building on Abbey Street. His complaint was about the behaviour of gardaí in Bellanaboy when four of them picked him up and threw him over Bellanaboy bridge down a 30 ft drop. It was captured by an RTÉ cameraman. We gave GSOC the DVD. We still have it. We will probably put it out on social media again to show what we mean. Having waited a very long time, GSOC came back and said the gardaí have no case to answer.
At some point this State will have to examine seriously the record of GSOC and the numbers of cases where it has said that gardaí have no case to answer. I understand why the Minister, as Minister for Justice and Equality, tried to defend this report from GSOC and its reputation, but in doing so he should appreciate the concerns raised for legitimate reasons by other legitimately elected Deputies in this House. I ask him to withdraw his remarks about jumping on bandwagons and the behaviour of Deputies being inappropriate.
I want to return to an issue I spoke about when we last discussed this matter. It is about the way the catastrophic failures of gardaí from the same division were glossed over in the report from GSOC as if they did not really happen. The other aspect that needs to be investigated, and it is something the family and any sensible Member in the House wants examined, is that the Garda was not the only agency that failed in this case. It was also the Director of Public Prosecutions' office, the prosecution services and others. For example, every time the family asked why the investigation was taking so long, and many of us here represented them on the floor of the Dáil over recent years, they were told repeatedly that it was with GSOC. GSOC was also told that the independent review mechanism looked at the case and found there was no case to answer. The independent review mechanism did not look at the case because they said it was with GSOC so there was no need to look at it. There are quite a number of questions to be answered in terms of all the agencies involved, and it is fair that the family is asking for that.
Our original amendment to the motion that we submitted this morning stated: "To insert the following after “orders made on persons previously convicted of offences": any enquiry should extend into an investigation of how the case was prosecuted and the process to determine the case; any enquiry should extend to the courts, probation services and other agencies of the state. Errors and failings are spread across several agencies and cannot be dealt with satisfactorily by any established procedure that is designed to focus only on one agency, that is, the Garda Síochána; and any enquiry should be held in public to restore confidence in the Department of Justice and to ensure in the public interest they should be investigated thoroughly, comprehensively and transparently." Interestingly, after much debate with the Bills Office, our amendment was ruled out of order and reduced to what can be seen on the supplementary Order Paper, which states:
To insert the following after “orders made on persons previously convicted of offences.”:- ensure that any inquiry should extend to the information-sharing systems between the Gardaí, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the courts;
- ensure that any inquiry should extend to the information-sharing systems within the judicial system; and
- ensure that any inquiry should be held in public to restore [public] confidence.
It is clear the Department is taking a careful monitoring approach to make sure that no agency is insulted or compromised in this regard. We are not accusing the DPP or the prosecution services of any wrongdoing but we are asking that the processes by which they reached their conclusions and intervened in the case should be investigated. What were those processes? Why did they go wrong, and why are there such grave question marks over the entire prosecution case around the killer of Shane O'Farrell? That is the very least the family deserve and we would be doing justice to the State and the system of justice to investigate the processes thoroughly from beginning to end. If we fail to do that, it is a whitewash. It is being glossed over and ignored. I understand the sensitivities in terms of the reason the Minister should look to protect and endorse the systems around his Department, but sometimes people get it wrong, systems fail and they are inadequate. That could be a series of incidents that are coincidental. I doubt that but it warrants investigation and we owe that to the family.
Whatever the Opposition does with the various amendments, I hope we have a unified approach and that the very least we get out of this is an open public inquiry into the events that led to the killing of Shane O'Farrell.
I welcome the Minister's statement that he is open to an inquiry and to further steps being taken. I have a son who is celebrating his results from Trinity College today. I mentioned him on the previous occasion. He will not be too happy with me but he has a similar background to the young boy who died, so it is particularly painful.
I have taken the trouble to read the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission report in full. I am reluctantly here to criticise GSOC. I do not wish to, as we want the mechanisms to work. That is the reason they were set up. We do not wish to have independent inquiries or more commissions of investigation if we can avoid them. They should be a last resort, and the mechanisms were established to ensure they would be a last resort and that questions would be answered. I have looked at some of the comments made by the chairperson of GSOC, Justice Mary Ellen Ring, for whom I have great respect and who I knew in a former life. She has gone out on a limb repeatedly, with courage, to point out that GSOC needs more staff and many other resources. On the last occasion that she appeared before the Oireachtas committee she said only two of the 12 staff that were requested were provided, that GSOC would not be able to conduct its investigation into financial concerns regarding an EU funded programme in Templemore because of a lack of resources and that there were continuing problems in accessing documentation from the Garda due to a distrust in GSOC's work, a lack of guidance from management, pressure of work and so forth.
GSOC has sought more legal powers, including the power to investigate members of the Garda after they retire and the power to seek a deferral of retirements requested pending investigations. It said quite clearly it was time to cut the umbilical cord between GSOC and the Department of Justice and Equality and become fully independent. Given my limited amount of time, I will not go into all the other things Justice Mary Ellen Ring has said repeatedly in public fora, on the radio and television and in newspapers. Why a Government would leave a judge out on a limb like that, having to make public statements, beggars belief. More importantly, it seriously undermines my belief in the Government's commitment to giving resources to an independent body.
Tonight we are again looking at a report from GSOC. People have referred to six years. I have read the report in detail and it appears that the former Minister for Justice and Equality referred the matter on 29 April 2014, which is just over four years ago. Prior to that there were six complaints from the family. GSOC decided to examine all of them. Four years later neither the Minister nor this report has explained why it has taken over four years to come this far. Surely the most basic thing to instill confidence in Members would be to tell us why we discussed this report for the first time two weeks ago, over four years later. The report is dated 29 March 2017 and it is now June 2018. If it was ready from March last year why are we discussing it now? What reasons were given? Did GSOC come forward and tell the Minister it did not have enough staff and is stuck?
Looking at the report, GSOC has done us a service in one sense. It has looked at the various allegations, teased them out and upheld quite a number saying that they require further investigation. It said no further investigation was required with regard to others. However, why is it still examining it in June 2018? Why has it not been completed? Perhaps the Minister would clarify that. That is just basic information.
Deputy Sherlock referred to an inconsistency. It might seem minor but it makes me question the report, and I really do not wish to do that. Given my background I want to accept the report but I simply cannot do so having gone through it forensically. Deputy Sherlock referred to a letter from the Garda Síochána; I will not mention the name. There is a date on the letter. Importantly, it states that Judge McBride cancelled the application to forfeit the bail and did not estreat the bail. I refer the Minister to paragraph 38 in GSOC's report which states the opposite, that Judge Seán McBride ordered the forfeiture, of €500, on 6 March. One completely contradicts the other. I do not know if there is an explanation for that, but when it is pointed out and we are given a letter that highlights it, it is difficult to have confidence in the report.
If GSOC had come forward and said that it is unacceptable that it has taken GSOC over four years to get this far and that it is now going to look further without giving a time limit or saying it will have it concluded at the end of the year, I would have some confidence in it. However, it has not done that. The Minister has not referred to it either. Now I find I must support the call for a public inquiry even though I really do not wish to because we have had so many inquiries. However, we have been forced into this situation for the family. More importantly, the family has been forced into this situation. It has provided all of us with a detailed brief. I did not receive such a detailed brief in my former life. The brief outlines everything. The family already had much of the work done for GSOC and they have continued to do that.
A 22 year old boy lost his life. There was a string of convictions before and afterwards. At one stage afterwards the number of convictions was 53, 17 outside the jurisdiction, including in Lithuania and Northern Ireland. I do not wish to personalise it but if GSOC cannot perform we are in serious trouble as a society and a democracy. Most importantly, the Minister has a responsibility. Judge Mary Ellen Ring has repeatedly highlighted that GSOC needs to be more independent and to have more resources. That simply has not happened. More worryingly, it appears that the Department of Justice and Equality decided that GSOC's application for extra staff and resources was over the top and that its business case was too expansive and unnecessary. That is the reason I have read the report in detail. I find myself supporting a public inquiry when this should have been sorted out within a year. We should have received an interim report back then highlighting the problems and what was necessary. Justice must be seen to be done.
First, I welcome the debate. This has been an ongoing saga. Everybody has known about this for the last number of years. In fairness, it was before the Minister took office, but it must be dealt with and resolved. A mother has constantly sought justice and "Prime Time" has reported on it. What has happened in the last number of years is a travesty. A young person has lost his life and the system has failed his family. Unfortunately, the system could fail more families. It must be resolved.
Perhaps a public inquiry is the way forward, but in the public inquiries I have seen since I was young nobody seems to be accountable at the end of them. I hope it is the way forward. This family needs answers as to how a person has continually slipped through the system. It is as if the person knew everybody the way he was able to get off the hook. Then when one follows the line one sees people on the State's side getting promotion, despite an open eye on what has happened not only in that county but also in another county.
The Minister is new in the job and I am not having a go at him. However, at the end of the day, as Minister for Justice and Equality, he needs to show leadership in this and I believe he will. This family needs justice. It is not alone for this family; it is to ensure this failure in the system does not happen again with someone losing their life and someone else basically getting off scot-free and leaving the country. There was a litany of failures involving warrants, fines, etc., in different regions, including Northern Ireland. While in fairness there is some good work between the police in the North and the police here, one wonders what linking up took place. This needs to be taken seriously.
I commend Deputy O'Callaghan. I have spoken to Deputy McGuinness about this. Shane O'Farrell's mother has spoken to many politicians. It took the "Prime Time" programme to kick it into gear to ensure it was brought to the floor of the Dáil once more so that finally the family can get justice. Not alone does the family need justice, but we need to fix the system. There is a duty on us, as legislators, to correct that system when it has failures in it.
I cannot say I am happy to speak on this motion this evening because it involves the setting up of a statutory inquiry into the death of a young man who should be alive today. I welcome Lucia O'Farrell, her husband, Jim, and Shane's sisters to the House again. I compliment Lucia on her painstaking and forensic work. As the now Acting Cathaoirleach, an Teachta Connolly, said a few minutes ago, she seldom got such a detailed brief in her previous incarnation. I salute Lucia's tenacity. No mother should have to do that. What she already had to go through was agonising enough.
I sympathise with the family of a woman in her 50s who was knocked down on the road and killed in my area yesterday. That is horrific enough, but it is made worse when, as in the case of the driver in the Shane O'Farrell case, there is such an inept investigation into a man with such a litany of previous convictions. It beggars belief that this should have happened. Shane went out for his cycle that evening when he came home from his studies. He had all his life ahead of him and then this happened. Shane O’Farrell should be alive. His death at just 23 years of age while cycling in County Monaghan in 2011 was completely avoidable. Before the recess we briefly covered the main facts of his death. Today we debate the need for an inquiry. I compliment Deputy O'Callaghan and his colleagues on tabling this motion.
It is vital that the family receive this inquiry given the entirely inadequate report that has been furnished to them following seven exhaustive years in which Lucia and her family have tried to obtain justice and accountability for Shane.
I was surprised at what the Minister said in an earlier debate. I know he was not in government at the time but he made ridiculous comments about the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, and the inquiry. We want to support GSOC, but as I said it is toothless, useless and fruitless. That is what it is proving to be for the O'Farrell family and for many others. I appeared before its forerunner, which was useless, toothless and fruitless. It is just scratching at the surface with no proper powers. It is fine setting it up and appointing a new member, as was done this evening. However, it needs to have the powers and it must have engagement.
When the chair of the Policing Authority, Ms Josephine Feehily, appeared before the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality she pleaded for more resources, more responsibility and more line management, and not to be answerable to two different bodies. We do not say that lightly. Some good people work in GSOC, but they need to be effective. Above all, the public needs to have confidence. I spoke about the poll that was carried out. People do not know about GSOC and do not have confidence in it. That is a serious deficit that the Minister needs to deal with.
The Minister pointed out that in 2014 the former Minister, Mr. Alan Shatter, referred the matter to GSOC, which in May 2014 referred the case to the independent review mechanism, IRM. It is all bodies with little action and no satisfaction. As I said the last day, this particular individual slaughtered Shane O'Farrell - it was not in an accident. He had so many previous convictions.
We talk about this every day of the week in our courts and the revolving doors and free legal aid. It is a monstrosity, a perversion of justice and a disgrace. We have an abysmal track record in this regard. Apparently no matter how many times it happens and how many tears are shed, we keep doing it to innocent families who deserve better. We must have these people made accountable and brought to justice. Despite the litany of court cases, the driver in the case of Shane O'Farrell was given bail. Having been pulled in, how could the sentence not have been carried out if he was caught again in the jurisdiction? The legacy of this case is unbelievable. It took Lucia O'Farrell to painstakingly pull all this together to try to get this House to act.
We are being dragged kicking and screaming to act. We must act because we need to have confidence in An Garda Síochána and in GSOC. However, we must root out the people who did not do their job - those who stopped that carload of people who had so many convictions with no motor tax or car insurance, but let them travel on. People - young lads or whatever - regularly contact my office because they might not have a car taxed. One lad contacted me recently. His car was taxed but he did not have the tax disk up because he only got it that day. He was three miles from his home and his car was impounded. We have a law for ordinary people, but these mobsters - they are foreign nationals on our shore here and we like to welcome them - can carry out crime after crime in a cavalier fashion and probably get free legal aid time after time. Then somebody can be slaughtered on the road by the same person.
Our system is unable to engage with these cases. It is a downright disgrace. The system is toothless, useless and fruitless. I am not directly that remark to the Minister at a personal level. He is the Minister of the time. Somebody has to rectify the problem because it is just not acceptable. I support An Garda Síochána 100%, but I do not support cover-ups or denials of the truth. I do not support burying cases such as this. It is a human tragedy and there are many more of them as well. I will stick to this one tonight. I again salute the family and I hope this inquiry will not be long and drawn out.
I note the Minister has tabled an amendment to the motion, as have other parties. We cannot pussyfoot around on this. Justice must be done and must be seen to be done.
I will share time with Deputy Brendan Smith.
Shane O'Farrell died following a fatal road traffic accident in County Monaghan in August 2011. Shane, who was 23 years old, was cycling on the N2 when he was hit by a driver who subsequently left the scene. Shane O’Farrell's death was a tragedy. As a mother, I cannot even begin to imagine the effect that his loss has had and its catastrophic impact on his family, including his sisters. He was taken from his family at a time when he held so much promise for the life he might have lived.
Shane was cycling home when he was struck by a car driven by a person who had previous convictions for offences, including aggravated burglary, road traffic offences and handling stolen property. It was only in recent weeks, from speaking to colleagues, that I became aware of the details of Shane's case. I have a 25-year old son who spends a lot of time cycling. I felt it was very important to come in here tonight and show empathy with the family.
I was amazed when I started to read some of the information. Shane was killed in a hit and run by a man who had 53 previous convictions. At the time he killed Shane, Mr. Gradzuiska was on bail in respect of a number of offences and had breached the conditions of the bail bonds. He had been given suspended sentences which should have been activated had the courts been informed of his convictions. In short, if the criminal justice system had been functioning properly, Mr. Gradzuiska would not have been at liberty on the day he killed Mr. O’Farrell.
Shane’s death is a personal tragedy for the O'Farrell family. It is also a tragedy because it has shown that many elements of our criminal justice system are dysfunctional. There is a systemic problem in the way breaches of bail and breaches of conditions attached to suspended sentences are dealt with.
The O'Farrell family has worked tirelessly in seeking justice for their only son and brother. The family is to be commended on the courageous and dignified manner in which they are pursuing justice for Shane. They have been unrelenting in their quest for justice, and in doing so, they are doing their utmost to honour Shane's life.
I was struck by the following remarks, which were made by Mrs. O'Farrell.
Our quest for justice for Shane has been hampered by the Department of Justice. They appear to have forgotten the very thing they are supposed to represent, they appear to have forgotten the very thing they are supposed to fight for: truth and justice. They appear to have forgotten the very people that they are there to serve.
The time has come for an inquiry into Shane's death so that his family can finally get the answers for which they have been striving for the past seven years. The Minister stated in the Dáil that there are a number of matters surrounding the circumstances of Shane's death which are of concern. For Shane, his parents and sisters deserve this inquiry.
Like all other members, I again convey my sincere sympathy to the O'Farrell family on the tragic loss of Shane. I do not have the words to describe adequately the immeasurable loss to the O'Farrell family of Shane's passing. He was a much loved son and brother. The local community in Carrickmacross holds the O'Farrell family in high esteem and Shane's untimely passing and tragic death is a source of great regret locally throughout the community.
The O'Farrell family has been failed by the State. This Fianna Fáil motion calls for the establishment of a commission of investigation into Shane's death. It is a basic right that justice be done and the appropriate public inquiry process is needed. The motion refers to the litany of convictions handed down to Zigimantas Gradzuiska - 42 in courts North and South. It was an appalling failure of the justice system that this person was free and driving a car, causing Shane's death in a hit-and-run accident. This individual was known to An Garda Síochána, the PSNI and Interpol, and no wonder given he had more than 40 previous convictions for a variety of serious offences. It is appalling that such a convicted person was not in prison.
I did not have the opportunity to contribute to the statements on Shane's death in this House at the end of May as I was at that time chairing a meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence. I know from reading the transcript of that debate, however, that my colleagues covered in detail all of the issues that need to be investigated and the need for the establishment of a public inquiry mechanism in this regard. Along with 19 Oireachtas colleagues, I attended the press conference convened by the O'Farrell family on the day prior to those statements. I was glad to stand in solidarity with the family outside our Parliament buildings. At that press conference, Mrs. Lucia O'Farrell again outlined in great detail the dysfunctionality of so many elements of the criminal justice system that led to her son's tragic death. The dignity of the O'Farrell family shone through again at that press conference when Lucia outlined in forensic detail all of the circumstances leading up to Shane's untimely death and the cruel failures of the justice system. It has to be so difficult maintaining that fortitude and dignity over so many years in seeking justice.
Earlier, I listened to my colleague, Deputy Breathnach, refer to our discussions on Shane's tragic death at the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly. Some months ago, Deputies Breathnach, Carey and Fitzpatrick and I raised this issue, with particular reference to the sharing of information between the criminal justice systems North and South and the need for proper cross-Border policing strategies. These systems must be integrated if we are to avoid other tragedies in the future. We wrote to the Department of Justice and Equality and to the Permanent Secretary in the Department of Justice in Northern Ireland. We are always critical of the fact that there is no Executive functioning in Northern Ireland. While we received a reply from the Permanent Secretary in the Northern Ireland Department, to date we have not received a reply from the Department of Justice and Equality. Committee A of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly met last Sunday night in Sligo, at which time I again raised this issue and the clerk to the committee was directed to write again to the Department of Justice and Equality. As Members are aware the assembly consists of Members of the Oireachtas, the House of Commons, the House of Lords and the devolved assemblies of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. It was unanimously requested by the committee that the Department of Justice and Equality reply without further delay to the request put to it many months ago.
I thank all Members for their contributions. I convey my personal condolences to the family of Shane O’Farrell on their loss.
We are all of the view that there were serious failings and shortcomings in the period prior to which Shane O’Farrell lost his life. During a thorough and lengthy criminal investigation, GSOC examined each of the 56 allegations or concerns put to it.. The report on the criminal investigation, published in recent days, addresses each issue in turn. While it found no evidence of criminal behaviour by gardaí, it did identify a number of potential breaches of the Garda disciplinary code. GSOC is completing its report on the disciplinary issues identified in its examination of all the matters before it. It is important to allow GSOC, an independent statutory body established following the passage of a law in these Houses, to do its work. GSOC deserves our confidence. I remind Deputies that the outcome may require the Garda Commissioner to institute procedures that could result in disciplinary sanctions against one or more gardaí, which could be very serious for them. These gardaí deserve fair procedures and we should be mindful of this. Further, where disciplinary procedures are merited, they should be enforced and we should be careful not to undermine the Garda Commissioner's capacity to impose sanctions, where appropriate.
The family of Shane O'Farrell deserve answers. In the first GSOC report, most of the complaints made to it were answered. Some remain to be answered in the context of the ongoing GSOC investigation. I have no doubt that GSOC, in its usual thorough and meticulous fashion, will provide those answers before too long. I trust that every Deputy who contributed to the debate has carefully read GSOC's first report and the statement it issued at the time of publication. I share the view of the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, that GSOC does important work and deserves the confidence of this House.
GSOC has a difficult task to perform and it does this in a way which retains the confidence of gardaí and the public. The Minister outlined the shortcomings in the motion proposed by Fianna Fáil and the reasons the Government proposed an amendment to it, which I do not propose to repeat. The net point is that the Government wants the facts to be established in this tragic case. When GSOC has completed its work, the Government has committed to examining what further action may be necessary. As the Minister promised, if this requires a commission of investigation, the Government will move to set up such a commission. From the perspective of the family of Shane O’Farrell, this has been a long process thus far and it is, of course, very frustrating that it is not yet complete. I hope that when the second part of the GSOC investigation is complete, all their questions will have been answered. If this is not the case, as guaranteed in the Government's amendment to the motion, consideration will be given to what further action may be necessary. As the Minister promised, if this requires a commission of investigation, the Government will move to set up such a commission.
I would like to respond to some of the points raised during the debate. It is incorrect to say that the independent review mechanism did not examine the complaints referred to it by the O'Farrell family. It did examine the complaints but it recommended that no further action by the Minister was necessary because GSOC was investigating those same complaints and it is the appropriate forum to carry out that investigation.
There was a reference to March "2017" in the GSOC report but my officials have clarified with GSOC that this date was an typographical error and should have read "2018". I understand that this has been corrected in the report as published on the GSOC website.
The prudent and sensible thing to do is to await the outcome of the current investigation so that we can better determine whether there are still matters which require investigation. If a commission of investigation is considered necessary at that stage, which should not be too long, it will allow the Government, and ultimately, the Oireachtas to decide with greater clarity what the terms of reference should be. I commend the amendment to the House.
I was in my office earlier listening to the Minister defending the indefensible and I was disappointed with the contributions of both Ministers to the debate tonight. The O'Farrell family are in the Gallery. No words of ours can console them in their loss but, as a Parliament, we should recognise that things were not done correctly and this needs to change.
Crimes committed by people out on bail and with multiple previous convictions is a serious issue within our justice system. In Shane's case, however, the outcome was to prove tragic, and indeed fatal. Shane died following a road traffic accident in Monaghan in August 2011, in a hit and run by a man who had 42 previous convictions. At the time he killed Shane, he was on bail in respect of a number of offences. He had breached the conditions of his bail bonds and was serving suspended sentences which would have been activated had the courts been informed of his convictions. Had the criminal justice system been functioning properly he would not have been at liberty on the day he killed Shane.
The O'Farrell family have worked tirelessly seeking to get justice for their only son and brother. The State has failed them in the manner in which the death of Shane was investigated, the State has failed them in the manner in which the death of Shane was prosecuted and the State is continuing to fail them in the manner in which their complaints around investigation and prosecution have been handled by GSOC.
Shane's death is a personal tragedy for the O'Farrell family and it is also a tragedy in terms of the light it has shone on the dysfunctionality of many elements of our criminal justice system. The courts are over-reliant on the information being provided by An Garda Síochána and it is clear that the GSOC inquiry has been a total failure. We are six years into the process and the O'Farrells have no more answers than they had when the process started. The only thing that can be gleaned from the report is that the Government needs to step in and establish a commission of investigation so that we, as a nation, can learn from this awful tragedy. The O'Farrells have to be commended on the courageous and dignified manner in which they are pursuing justice for Shane.
The facts of the matter are clear. Mr. Gradzuiska should not have been at liberty at the time he killed Shane and fled the scene, abandoning his car and hiding it. He had been released on bail on numerous offences and had breached his bail bonds, yet he had not been brought before the courts for these breaches. There was a litany of offences in the eight months before he killed Shane. He was convicted of theft in Monaghan Circuit Court and his sentencing was adjourned, with the judge saying that if he was convicted of other theft or fraud offences he would be brought back before the court and jailed. Four months later, he was convicted of theft again but not brought back before the Monaghan court. Two days later, he was in Dundalk Circuit Court, then Carrickmacross District Court, and he was then convicted of theft in Newry but still he was not brought back before the Monaghan Circuit Court. In Monaghan District Court, he was convicted of having no tax disc, which adds irony to the story. The list goes on and on. No steps were taken by the gardaí to ensure this man was put behind bars.
An hour before Shane was killed, Mr. Gradzuiska was pulled over by gardaí. The vehicle was being driven by an uninsured driver and did not have a valid NCT certificate. Rather than seize the car, the gardaí switched Mr. Gradzuiska from being a passenger to being the driver. They failed to consider whether he had valid insurance and failed to use the opportunity to arrest him for his bail breaches. He was well known to An Garda Síochána, Interpol and the PSNI. He had an extensive criminal record, with more than 40 previous convictions for a variety of offences. The gardaí failed to check if he held valid insurance on the day Shane was killed and failed to charge Mr. Gradzuiska with having no insurance. The gardaí failed to check in good time the validity of Mr. Gradzuiska's insurance following Shane's death and, as a result, the charge related to this issue became statute barred. The gardaí failed to object to bail when he was first charged with Shane's death, despite his history of breaching bail conditions. He failed to honour the bail conditions attaching to his bail for offences relating to the death of Shane but still the gardaí failed to do anything to revoke his bail and he continued to commit offences.
The O'Farrell family deserves to get proper answers and our motion today is trying to ensure that that happens.
I thank all Members who contributed to this debate, which has been valuable. It is apparent that the majority of Members of Dáil Éireann believe there should be a statutory investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Shane O'Farrell. As I make my contribution and as I listen to other Members make valuable contributions, at the forefront of my mind is the family of Shane O'Farrell. One thing I want to be very clear about is that I do not want to provide the family with false hope in respect of what an investigation can or cannot provide. Unfortunately, no investigation is going to provide justice in the way we view justice, whereby the person responsible for the death of Shane is held to account before our courts. That is not going to happen in this situation for reasons we already know. Notwithstanding that, the family is entitled to be given their own level of justice in terms of accountability and they are entitled to be informed by the State why it was that this individual was not brought back before Monaghan Circuit Court, it having been directed that he should be brought back when he committed other theft offences or breached his bail bond.
Very many people come to me looking for me, and Fianna Fáil, to support investigations and inquiries. In most instances, I say "No" if I do not believe there is any justification or any benefit in having such an inquiry. In this instance, I believe there is a benefit in having an inquiry. This is not simply because I think the GSOC report has left questions that need to be answered, but because the circumstances of this case go beyond issues in respect of members of An Garda Síochána.
I listened very carefully to the Minister's speech this evening. He presented this debate as though it was between those who believe in GSOC and those who do not believe in GSOC but that is not the debate we are having. Many Members of this House, including myself, support the work of GSOC and want to see GSOC succeed. In an earlier debate this evening, I said there were concerns that confidence in GSOC within the Houses of the Oireachtas is being eroded. It is being eroded to a large extent by an absence of resources available to the organisation and for other reasons. However, simply because GSOC has done a report does not mean it is incompatible to ask that there be a further investigation. The Minister has all but admitted this by stating that, when the GSOC report is completed, he will give consideration to whether or not there should be a commission of investigation. By stating that, the Minister expressly recognises that one can have a GSOC report but it may be necessary to take a step further and have another statutory inquiry. Looking at the workload of GSOC and the limited powers it has, one can see that it is a very different animal from a commission of investigation and that is why we believe there should be an inquiry as we suggest in our motion.
The GSOC report has taken six years and has not yet been completed and that is primarily a problem with resourcing.
Is the family and the public supposed to wait for another number of years before the rest of the report is completed? In the end, this is not simply about trying to blame people. The circumstances of Mr. Shane O'Farrell's death are too tragic for that. As I keep stating, however, the family is entitled to some accountability, although the justice deserved will never be achieved in respect of Mr. O'Farrell's death.
Comments have been made on whether it should be a public inquiry or a commission of investigation. Irrespective of that divergence of opinion, it is important that the Minister gets the message that the majority of Members of Dáil Éireann support there being an investigation. The circumstances of this case and the manner of the issues that need to be investigated would benefit from a commission of investigation. I ask the Minister to give consideration to that.
I welcome the contributions of everyone here. I ask the Minister to keep an open mind on this and not to view it simply as protecting GSOC. There are many important issues that need to be investigated and I ask the Minister to recognise that it not just about appeasing and trying to facilitate a family. It is also about the public interest. That is why we are here. The public interest requires that there be a further investigation of this matter.