Tuesday, 24 May 2022
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
Inquiry into the Death of Mr. Shane O'Farrell
6. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the timeframe for finalising a scoping report into the death of a person (details supplied); if progress has been made; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26134/22]
My question to the Minister is about the scoping report into the death of Shane O'Farrell that was insisted upon by the previous Minister, Deputy Flanagan, over two years ago. It is almost 11 years since Shane O'Farrell was killed in his home town of Monaghan. There has been a litany of failures by the State in delivering justice for the O'Farrell family. This delay is compounding that injustice and I ask the Minister to give the House a clear timeframe on the delivery of that scoping report, which is way too long overdue.
I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. As the Deputy will be aware, the retired judge, 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 investigation or inquiry and its terms of reference.
I am informed that the judge is on the verge of completing the scoping exercise and has begun the process to compile his final report. This is progress or is a change from the last time we spoke on this issue when information was still to be gathered. I am told now that this information has all been gathered and he has now begun the process to complete his final report, which will then be presented to me. I am told this will be very shortly but I do not have an exact timeframe. It has certainly moved on to the final stages where the report has been compiled. Once that process is complete, I understand the judge will submit it to me. Once I have received the final report, the advice of the Attorney General will be sought on publication.
I will conclude by restating in the clearest possible terms that neither the Government nor my own Department is in any way opposed to the possibility of a further inquiry or an independent inquiry into the case if that is what is recommended. However, the Deputy will understand, I cannot and do not want to pre-empt the outcome of the work that has been done and I appreciate that it is going on much longer than people would like. I know that this has been greatly challenging for Shane O'Farrell's family. I would like to see it completed as quickly as possible and not to be answering questions in here where I am not able to give a direct timeframe. I am assured that this scoping exercise is at the very final stages and that I will hopefully have it before the summer term.
I acknowledge that the Minister's answer is progress from the previous answers we have received. Being on the verge of completion is not an answer as to a timeframe. It then has to go to the Attorney General for his view and that will be sought before there is any publication of the scoping report.
I remind people generally in the public that this scoping exercise was sought as part of the journey for reaching the truth for the O'Farrell family. That journey, however, has actually become an odyssey and it has become an enormous task to get this over the line. It cannot be overstated how painful that has been for the family and how anxious they are to see the report.
Regardless of whether the Attorney General recommends a further inquiry, this will not go away because of the determination of the family and of those of us who support them. There will be the continued demand for a full public inquiry, which is based on the fact that we know there has been a litany of failures by the State and it is only due to the family itself lodging freedom of information questions that many of those failures of the State and of the justice system have been exposed. This, more or less, twisted the arm of the State to have this scoping exercise, which, I repeat, has been delayed inordinately.
I thank the Deputy for her contribution. The very fact that this is an independent inquiry and that the retired judge, Judge Haughton, is independent in the work that he is doing means that I am not able to give the Deputy the timeframe because I do not have it. I know, however, that the report is at its final stages. I am aware that this may not be much comfort at the moment without having a set timeframe.
What I have seen since coming into the Department is that the other section 42 inquiries are taking longer than anyone would like or had ever thought they would take. That perhaps is something we need to look at into the future if we are looking at further types of inquiries, or independent inquiries, that are led under the section 42 process. This process has obviously started and we need to allow it to continue to completion. I fully respect the independent work of the judge and I have no doubt that when it is finalised and that when the work is done, I will receive it as quickly as possible. I would also like that the advice from the Attorney General come back to me as quickly as possible.
I will ask that of him when he is presented with the report. I will seek his advice in terms of its publication but also the recommendations in it and where we go from here. I hope we will be able to respond at that stage to the Deputy and, most importantly, to the O'Farrell family.
I have to accept the Minister's bona fides in this matter, as I have said. However, it is almost 11 years since the terrible killing of this young man. It should never have happened, as we all know. Had justice been applied as it should have been, the killer would have been in custody instead of being loose on the roads and able to carry out a hit-and-run killing. Many questions need to be answered by the State and the justice system. I hope the scoping exercise has attempted to answer many of those questions. However, if the Attorney General sits on the report for a long period, how will we in this House manage to push forward a result on behalf of Shane's family and, indeed, on behalf of all the families who are watching these kinds of inquiries because they, too, have felt a great injustice was done in cases that appertain to them? There has been a compounding of insult to the O'Farrell family by the delay in issuing this report. Some indication of how quickly the Attorney General will allow for its publication - or not, as he may decide - is needed. That decision needs to be given within a tight timeline. My view, of course, is that he absolutely must allow it to be published.
I thank the Acting Chairman for allowing me in, although I would have preferred if my question, which is almost identical to that of Deputy Bríd Smith, was grouped with it, as that would have allowed for more interaction. The Minister said her Department is not opposed to a public inquiry or other types of inquiries. I do not buy that. The reason there has been a scoping exercise is the Department and the Minister at the time, rather than adhering to the wishes of both Houses of the Oireachtas and establishing a public inquiry, put in place the scoping exercise, which has taken three years to complete. That is in addition to the six years the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, inquiry took to complete. Of the ten and a half years that Shane O'Farrell has been dead, it has been impossible for nine of them to ask a question of a Minister for Justice because, we were told, another investigation was ongoing.
Shane's family has demanded a public inquiry, as have the Houses of the Oireachtas. The Minister said the section 42 provisions may not be adequate but she also seems to be saying that she has done no examination as to what a public inquiry might look like in this case. Are we looking at a further delay following the publication of the scoping exercise, which I would argue should be released into the record of the Dáil to give it privilege, regardless of what the Attorney General should say? Is the Minister suggesting there may be a further lengthy delay before we get the public inquiry that is so rightly deserved in this case?
I want to place on the record again that, as Minister, I have absolutely no objection to a full public inquiry, nor does my Department. The Taoiseach has put on the record that he has no objection on behalf of the Government to such an inquiry. I have not seen the work done to date and I do not know what is in the report. I have not begun any scoping exercise because I have not seen the report and I do not want to pre-empt what is in it. It may recommend a public inquiry or it may not. I do not know. It is important that we allow Judge Haughton to continue the work he has started and to make sure that process is complete. If we need to do something more after that, we will do so.
There are a lot of issues to be looked at, as Deputy Bríd Smith said. I have no doubt that all the concerns that have been raised, including in respect of the terms of reference and everything that has been set out, will be addressed by the judge. In regard to the Attorney General, all I can say is that, in my experience, he is not a man to wait about or delay on things. He is very efficient in his work. Certainly, if this report is presented to him, I know he will come back to me on it as quickly as he can.