Thursday, 7 November 2019
Topical Issue Debate
Death of Mr. Shane O'Farrell
Deputy Eugene Murphy is beside me on these benches and, with others in this House, we have joined together to highlight the case of Shane O'Farrell, a 23 year old law student who was murdered on a road close to his home. His mother Lucia, father Jim and his family have continued to lobby for an independent public inquiry. In June of last year, this House endorsed their wishes and democratically came to the view that an independent public inquiry was necessary. The Seanad did the same the following February. Then negotiations opened in terms of the appointment of Judge Haughton. The Minister allowed the family to discuss the terms of reference with Judge Haughton and they had their input into it. The family members were encouraged by that and felt, with their additions and amendments to the terms of reference given by the Department, that the terms of reference were adequate to cover an investigation into the night of that event, the previous charges brought against the driver of the car, the conduct of the Garda, the conduct of the courts, the conduct of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP, and so on. Then their hopes were dashed. All of the suggestions made to improve the terms of reference have been rejected by the Minister's Department. I find that very difficult to take, given the fact that all of the evidence in respect of this has been collected, dated and put in perfect order by Lucia O'Farrell in the interest of uncovering what happened her son Shane and in the interest of justice and protecting their right to have a public inquiry, which is supported democratically by the wishes of the majority in this House.
The Minister and his Department are about to embark upon an inquiry that will not answer the questions that are relevant to the full inquiry that Lucia O'Farrell is asking for. Will the Minister re-examine the submission made by Judge Haughton? Will he re-examine the submission made by Lucia O'Farrell? Will he expand the terms of reference to include all of the issues that are of public concern contained in this case where Shane O'Farrell died? If he does not, he will be ignoring the democratic wishes of this House. I feel that if he refuses to change the terms of reference, he should bring the terms of reference that he is suggesting back into this House so that we can debate them and suggest amendments where we feel the issue is not being addressed. If the Minister has respect for Shane O'Farrell's family and respect for this House and its wishes, surely he must feel obliged to bring the terms of reference back for a fuller debate. In answering the call for an independent public inquiry and having the terms of reference expanded, it will shine light on the system that needs to be reformed and corrected if we are not going to have another case similar to that of Shane O'Farrell and all of what happened to him and his family in the course of the investigation of that death.
I acknowledge the input of Deputy McGuinness in this sad and tragic case. I thank him for allowing me the opportunity to update the House on developments. I want to make it very clear that there is no conspiracy here. There is no cover-up here. I want to uncover the truth and the facts as much as any other Deputy in this House. That is why I am pleased to have the opportunity to clarify a number of issues that have arisen in the public domain. First, as I have said in reply to parliamentary questions and other fora, the terms of reference of the scoping exercise being conducted by Judge Gerard Haughton have been finalised. While the terms of reference for the scoping exercise are focused, they allow for review of the issues intended. I want to assure the Deputy that there is no intention on my part to limit in any way or curtail the scoping exercise. Second, as Judge Haughton has been asked to make an initial report by mid-November, I am expecting to receive that interim report in the very near future. I expect that Judge Haughton will, in that interim report, set out for me the expected timeframe for completion of the scoping exercise he has been charged with. I want to be very clear that Judge Gerard Haughton, a man of integrity and honour who has been on court benches for many decades, is independent of me and is free, as I said to him at the outset and as I confirmed by way of parliamentary question. I make it clear to Deputy McGuinness again now that Judge Gerard Haughton is free to make any recommendation he deems fit, including the setting up of any form of statutory or non-statutory inquiry or investigation. Indeed, should Judge Haughton recommend an inquiry of whatever type, I have asked him to provide draft terms of reference for such an inquiry in order to ensure that there is no element of greater delay involved here. I hope those points clarify any concern or confusion which may have arisen.
I want briefly to address the question of the terms of reference of Judge Haughton's scoping exercise in some detail. As the Deputy will appreciate, in establishing the scoping exercise itself and in determining its terms of reference, I have been guided by legal advice from the Attorney General. In advance of finalising the terms of reference, the most recent advice available to me and my Department recommended more focused and specific terms of reference to take account of the Supreme Court's decision in the case of Shatter v.Guerin, a judgment with which Deputy McGuinness will be particularly familiar. Notwithstanding this requirement to amend the original draft terms of reference, it is important to say clearly that there is no impediment or obstacle in respect of Judge Haughton and his position to make any recommendation he deems fit in respect of any future inquiry. Furthermore, the O'Farrell family is free to make any representations to Judge Haughton in relation to any matter it would wish to see inquired into in any future inquiry.
As I have said, Judge Gerard Haughton is an experienced and respected judge. He is also most dedicated to the work he has been asked to undertake. He is free to make any recommendation he sees fit in respect of this matter. I know, as Deputy McGuinness has said, which I appreciate, that he has been engaging with the O'Farrell family. I hope that this engagement would continue. For my part, I am as anxious as anybody to make progress on this matter but as Minister for Justice and Equality I must endeavour at all times to act clearly within the law and that is what I am seeking to do in this most sensitive and tragic case. I look forward to receipt of Judge Haughton's initial report. I should have it before the end of this month. I would be happy to engage further with Deputy McGuinness and others at that time.
I would welcome that but I am confused by the reply the Minister has given. I did not mention conspiracy or cover-up: I never mentioned that. Nor did I question Judge Haughton or his integrity or anything else about the judge. The Minister seems to defend something that has not been presented to him as an argument.
The family has said to me, and I wrote it down, that subsequent to Judge Haughton having met it, he submitted terms of reference to the Department on 24 April 2019. The family respects these terms, which go some way to reflect the motion passed in the Dáil and Seanad. That is what it has said but it also said that the Department has rejected Judge Haughton's terms of reference, and narrowed the original terms of reference which the Department had proposed in February 2019. It has removed reference to Shane and to the family's right, under human rights, to ensure an effective investigation into the unlawful killing. To date, the State has failed in its obligations in that regard. It further said that it has removed consideration of the prosecution of Shane's case, which was the first thing for consideration by the Department in the February terms of reference. It removed any consideration of the coroner's inquest into Shane's death, in which serious irregularities emerged. It removed any investigation into the previous prosecutions of the accused, despite him being in breach of multiple counts of bail when he killed Shane. It limited the judge's in taking into account of the outcome of reports prepared, being reports which in the family's view are deficient in many ways, rather than having a review carried out of the investigation behind these reports, as originally envisaged in the terms of reference.
The family engaged with the Minister and with Judge Haughton and is deeply dissatisfied with the manner in which this is progressing. I appeal to the Minister, based on the vote taken in this House, to please re-engage with Lucia O'Farrell and her family and with Judge Haughton. Please respect the type of inquiry that was asked for, which was a public, independent inquiry. There is too much at stake here.
We will learn a great amount from this case if we allow the judge full scope to deal with every single aspect outlined by Lucia O'Farrell. It will benefit the State.
I agree with Deputy McGuinness that all those concerned, in particular, the family in question, would engage fully with Judge Haughton. I am very aware, having met with the family on a number of occasions myself, having engaged with Deputy McGuinness in the past, and having seen his advocacy and interest, that at the heart of this matter this loss of a loved one by the O'Farrell family. I know that the family continues to feel acute pain arising from this dreadful loss and continues to seek answers.
As I said, the terms of reference of the scoping exercise are finalised and Judge Haughton is expected to make his initial report to me within the next couple of weeks. He is free to make any recommendation he deems fit, including the setting up of any form of inquiry or investigation. Indeed, in the event that Judge Haughton recommends an inquiry, of whatever type, I have asked him, in order to ensure no further delay, that he might include draft terms of reference for such an inquiry in his report. I will be happy to continue this engagement with Deputy McGuinness and Deputy Smyth, who also has an interest in this case.
I would also urge all concerned to engage fully with Judge Haughton, who is independent of me, and to continue to acknowledge and engage in the input to his important work. I look forward to receiving his report, which I understand will be completed and ready for me in the next couple weeks.