Thursday, 21 October 2021
Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
Inquiry into the Death of Mr. Shane O'Farrell
79. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality when the results of the scoping exercise in relation to the death of a person (details supplied) will be made available to their family; and when the full commission of investigation will be established. [51337/21]
My question this morning relates to the scoping exercise with regard to the case of Shane O'Farrell, which has been going on for quite some time now. I hope the Minister has some positive news in that regard so that it can be ensured that the commission of investigation will start as quickly as possible. As the Minister will know, the entire Oireachtas voted on this. It is very important that we ensure transparency around this. Shane O'Farrell lost his life in the most tragic of circumstances and his family has waited too long to see justice delivered.
I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. I assure him that I recognise the ongoing pain and anguish of the O'Farrell family on the tragic death of Shane and I deeply sympathise with them on their loss.
As the Deputy will be aware, a highly respected retired judge, 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 as to whether any further investigation or inquiry beyond those already carried out is necessary and, if so, to advise on the form of such an investigation or inquiry and its terms of reference. Judge Haughton furnished an interim report to the then Minister for Justice in November 2019 in which 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.
As the Deputy will appreciate, the judge is completely independent in conducting this scoping exercise. It is not open to me, as Minister, to comment on any aspect of the judge's work or the process of compiling the final report. My Department maintains regular contact with the judge and has assured him that any assistance he requires to complete his final report will be made available.
While I genuinely regret that this process has taken significantly longer than any of us would wish, I am also aware that the judge is doing all that he can to ensure that the concerns which the family have raised with him during the process are addressed to the greatest extent possible. I understand that Judge Haughton has been in contact with the O’Farrell family throughout his scoping process. I am informed the process is now at the stage of seeking comments on various sections of the report from the parties named in it, including my Department.
I thank the Minister. I appreciate that the process taking place is independent and that Judge Haughton has his work to do. We all understood that from the very outset. Unfortunately, it has taken a very long time for this family to reach a point at which they feel they are getting some semblance of justice. As many of our teenage youngsters do, Shane O'Farrell went out to ride his bicycle and get in a bit of exercise but he never came home. His family were shocked that the man who killed him had numerous charges against him and was on bail in both the North and the South. How this tragedy unfolded for the family is just unbelievable. While I am not directing this at the Minister herself, the system seems to be covering this up. Until we get a breakthrough, there can be no other word for it.
I thank the Deputy. I, too, understand what this family has been through. I know Deputy Carthy, who is sitting behind Deputy Martin Kenny, has been speaking to the family, as have I. It is not easy for them but it is fair to say that this process is in place and that the judge is doing his work. We have to wait until he produces his report. As far as my Department is concerned, we will support him in carrying out his work in any way we can. The judge's final report on the outcome of his scoping exercise is awaited. I assure the Deputy that this final report will be an important part of ensuring that any outstanding questions are answered.
We need progress on this. The experience of the family and their community has been one of delay and more delay. I ask the Minister for an assurance that she will contact the judge, not to interfere in the process, but to relay the heartfelt grief of this family and to let him know that this grief is being compounded by these delays. I ask the Minister to do that as a matter of urgency and to bring an urgency to this case. This happened in her own constituency. I know she has spoken to the family herself. This is one example but many other families feel they are in the same circumstances. With regard to the Shane O'Farrell case, we want the Minister to speak to the judge to ensure this is delivered as quickly as possible. It cannot go on forever. It has been going on for years now.
I thank the Deputy. As I said, and as I know the Deputy will appreciate, the judge is completely independent in conducting this scoping exercise and it is not open to me, as Minister, to comment on any aspect of the judge's work or the process of compiling the final report. I understand that Judge Haughton has been in contact with the O'Farrell family throughout this scoping exercise. He recently wrote to my Department seeking comments on a number of sections of his draft report. The Department further understands that Judge Haughton has been in touch with the O'Farrell family regarding this matter. Following receipt of responses from all relevant parties, it is understood that Judge Haughton will be in a position to finalise this report. Like the Deputy, I hope this report will be made available very soon.