Thursday, 3 June 2021
Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
Inquiry into the Death of Mr. Shane O'Farrell
113. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the status of the Haughton scoping exercise regarding the circumstances of the killing of a person (details supplied) in view of her commitment to publish the report; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27644/21]
Shane O'Farrell was from County Monaghan in the Minister's constituency. In August 2011, he was struck and killed by a car driven by a man who was unlawfully at large. Both Houses of the Oireachtas passed motions calling for a full public inquiry into the circumstances of his death. In February 2019, the then Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, announced that there would be a scoping exercise. When will it be complete? There has been delay after delay. The family are anxious that this situation be resolved.
I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. I wish to start by offering my deepest sympathies to the parents and family of the late Shane O'Farrell. Shane's death was a terrible tragedy and a huge loss for his family and community.
As the Deputy will be aware, a highly respected retired judge, Mr. Gerard Haughton, has been conducting a scoping exercise into the tragic circumstances surrounding Shane O'Farrell's death. The purpose of this exercise is to advise on whether any further investigation or inquiry beyond those already carried out is necessary and, if so, to advise on the form of such investigation or inquiry and its terms of reference.
Mr. Haughton furnished an interim report to the then Minister for Justice and Equality in November 2019. In his interim report, he stated that he would not restrict or limit Shane's family in their submissions to him or the nature and extent of the documentation they wished to furnish to him in his scoping exercise. I am awaiting the final report, which my Department expects to receive from Mr. Haughton shortly.
Mr. Haughton is completely independent in his work and I can neither intervene in nor seek to influence the outcome of the scoping exercise. My Department continues to provide all necessary assistance to him to enable him to complete his work. The previous extensions to the timescale requested by him have, as he has stated to the family, been necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic and his desire to be as comprehensive as possible in conducting the scoping exercise. While I genuinely regret that this process has taken significantly longer than any of us would like, I am also aware that Mr. Haughton is doing all that he can to ensure that the concerns that the family have raised with him during the process are followed through to the greatest extent possible. I understand that he has been in contact with the O'Farrell family throughout this scoping exercise.
I thank the Minister. The question to be answered here is how long is "shortly". The family have been waiting for more than a year. We expected that the report would be completed in May of last year, but we are now past May 2021. The scoping exercise will decide whether there needs to be a further inquiry. The Houses of the Oireachtas democratically voted on that. On the O'Farrell family's website, there is a long list of Deputies, Senators and MEPs who support a full public inquiry. What happened to Shane O'Farrell was a tragedy. Any Deputy who knows someone who was involved in a serious traffic accident knows the trauma that the family go through. The Minister can imagine how that trauma is multiplied when the person responsible should have been in custody at the time but was at large, and especially given how the case was treated afterwards.
What happened to Shane O'Farrell is one of the major scandals of the State. We are approaching its tenth anniversary. It is in the Minister's constituency that the family reside. It was in her constituency that the incident happened. I appeal to her not to worry about what happens to the scoping inquiry, but to commence the full public inquiry now. That is what needs to happen.
I am well aware of this case and have previously spoken to Lucia O'Farrell about it. I understand the grief that the family have gone through. It has been an horrific time for them.
The Deputy mentioned the delay in Mr. Haughton's report. I hope the Deputy will understand that Mr. Haughton is completely independent in conducting this exercise. It is not open for me as Minister to comment on any aspect of that work or the process of compiling the final report. My Department maintains regular contact with Mr. Haughton and has assured him that any assistance he requires to complete his final report will be made available. My officials recently contacted him to request an update. He responded to that request last week and has advised that he is awaiting further responses to his queries from another State body, GSOC, and the O'Farrell family.
It is welcome that the Minister has engaged with Mr. Haughton and that progress has been made, if progress is indeed being made. We need a set timescale now. We need to know exactly when the scoping exercise will be complete. I appeal to the Minister. In the coming weeks, she needs to put pressure on Mr. Haughton to get this completed. She needs to contact the family and ensure that the tenth anniversary of Shane O'Farrell's death does not pass without a full public inquiry being put in place.
We were in touch with Mr. Haughton last week. I understand that he is waiting on the family to revert to him with some answers. It is only right that we should give them the space to respond to him. I cannot interfere in the process, as it is ongoing. Like the Deputy, I hope that Mr. Haughton will make a recommendation as soon as possible.