Thursday, 1 December 2005
Commissions of Investigation: Motion.
That Seanad Éireann,
—bearing in mind the specific matters considered by the Government to be of significant public concern arising from the making of a confession by Dean Lyons (deceased) about the deaths of Mary Callinan and Sylvia Shiels in March 1997 in Grangegorman, Dublin 7;
—noting that it is the opinion of the Government that a commission of investigation represents the best method of addressing the issues involved;
—further noting that a draft order proposed to be made by the Government under the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004 (No. 23 of 2004) has been duly laid before Dáil Éireann in respect of the foregoing matters referred to, together with a statement of reasons for establishing a commission under that Act;
approves the draft Commission of Investigation (Dean Lyons Case) Revised Order 2005.
The matter before this House today deals essentially with technical and procedural issues which are a necessary prerequisite for the establishment of a commission of investigation.
Beneath this procedural veneer lies a tragic case to which I must refer at the outset. Most, if not all, Senators will be aware of the fact that two innocent women, Ms Sylvia Shiels, then aged 59 and Ms Mary Callinan, then aged 61, were brutally murdered in their home on the night of 6 and 7 March 1997 at Orchard View, Grangegorman in Dublin. By any standards it was a particularly heinous crime which shocked the nation and set in train a Garda manhunt with a view to bringing the perpetrator to justice.
The aftermath of those tragic events gave rise to further tragic events. An innocent man, Mr. Dean Lyons, who is now deceased, confessed to the crime. Following consultation between the Garda Síochána and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, he was charged with one of the murders. The Garda Síochána now accepts that Dean Lyons had no participation in the murders and that his confessions were false. On 29 April 1998, the Director of Public Prosecutions, having received a further report from the Garda Síochána, directed that the charges against him be withdrawn.
There is no doubt that those events have had a profound effect on the everyday lives of the families of the women victims and on the family of the late Dean Lyons. I am sure we are all at one in expressing our deepest sympathy for the enormous suffering caused to those families.
Under the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004 a commission of investigation may be established by the Government, based on a proposal by a Minister, with the approval of the Minister for Finance, to investigate any matter considered by the Government to be of significant public concern. There are questions arising from Dean Lyons's false admissions and from the investigating team's conclusion that there was a prima facie case against him.
In making these points I am simply identifying them as matters which need to be addressed. I am not, as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, expressing any definitive conclusion on them. I am convinced, however, that unless we do our utmost to get to the bottom of this controversy it will simply continue to fester as an indictment of our criminal justice system.
The Government is of the view that the establishment of a commission of investigation is appropriate. The motion before the House is a necessary prerequisite to the establishment of that commission. It seeks to have a draft order providing for the establishment of a commission of investigation into the Dean Lyons case approved by this House. The draft order is accompanied by a statement of reasons for establishing the commission, as required by the Commissions of Investigation Act. A similar motion was passed by Dáil Eireann yesterday without opposition.
Under the provisions of the Act, the order establishing the commission must specify the matter to be investigated. The draft order — the Commission of Investigation (Dean Lyons Case) Revised Order 2005 — which was laid before the Dáil yesterday describes the matter to be investigated in the following terms, "matters relating to and surrounding the making of a confession by Dean Lyons (deceased) about the deaths of Mary Callinan and Sylvia Shiels in March 1997 in Grangegorman, Dublin 7."
The draft order is a revised order because yesterday in the Dáil I proposed an amendment to the draft order which had originally been laid before the Houses. In effect, I substituted the phrase "surrounding" in the aforementioned provision for the phrase "arising from". I did this to ensure, lest there be any doubt, that the terms of reference which I propose to set were properly comprehended by the draft order. All sides in Dáil Éireann approved the inclusion of the revised order in the motion and passed it without opposition.
The draft order authorises me, as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, to set the commission's terms of reference. If such provision were not made that task would be a matter for the Government under section 4(2) of the Act. The terms of reference which I propose to set are as follows: to ask the commission to examine and report on the circumstances surrounding the making of a confession by Dean Lyons (deceased) about the deaths of Ms Mary Callinan and Ms Sylvia Shiels in March 1997 in Grangegorman, Dublin 7; the adequacy of the Garda assessment of the reliability of Mr. Lyons's confession, both before and after he was charged with murder; and the adequacy of information provided by the Garda Síochána on the morning of 27 July 1997 to the Director of Public Prosecutions and, in particular, whether any additional information should have been provided at that time.
These terms of reference concentrate on the three issues which need to be resolved. In this regard, the Act requires that the terms of reference set out as clearly and as accurately as possible the events, circumstances, systems, practices or procedures to be investigated, together with the relevant dates, locations and individuals involved.
I am obliged, as soon as possible after the terms of reference are set formally, to prepare an accompanying statement containing an estimate of the costs of the commission and the length of time it will take. This will be published in Iris Oifigiúil and such other publications, as I consider appropriate, as soon as possible after the terms of reference are set.
I do not want to be too definitive about the length of time the commission will take at this stage, although I will have to do so when the terms of reference are set formally. I will take the opportunity to discuss the matter with the commission first. In that regard, I am mindful of the fact that the obligation on the commission under section 32(4) of the Act is to "endeavour" to submit its report within the specified time period. Other technical issues must also be clarified, including how the report will be published and the opportunities given to people to ensure the report is fair.
I envisage that the legal fees, salaries and other administrative costs for the commission will come to about €510,000 for its first four months of operation. This does not include any third party costs that may be awarded by the commission itself.
The draft order also authorises me to appoint the member or members of the commission. I place a high importance on the independence and required expertise of a member of the commission. The powers and duties vested in a commission include the duty to caution witnesses, to compel witnesses to answer questions, to establish rules and procedures regarding evidence and submissions, to adjudicate on matters of privilege and to conduct the investigation. For this reason, I was advised by Mr. Shane Murphy to appoint a senior counsel to carry out the function. I am pleased to inform this House that Mr. George Birmingham, SC, who is a former member of Dáil Éireann, has indicated he is willing to accept the appointment.
The draft order also specifies that I, as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, am responsible for overseeing the administrative matters relating to the establishment of the commission, for receiving its reports and performing any other functions accorded to the Minister by the Act.
One such function is the obligation to prepare general guidelines. Once the commission has been formally established I am required, in consultation with the Minister for Finance and the commission itself, to prepare general guidelines concerning the payment by my Department of legal costs necessarily incurred by witnesses in connection with the investigation. The commission in turn is obliged to ensure that any direction it makes concerning the payment of legal costs by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform fall within these guidelines. The guidelines will also make provision for payment to witnesses of non-legal costs.
Each witness will be furnished with a copy of the guidelines in advance of his or her giving evidence. This ensures that witnesses who wish to do so can arrange legal representation with full knowledge of the regime under which they may have their costs recouped.
The commission itself is charged with the onerous task of establishing facts relating to a situation which is laden with complexity. The situation is compounded by the fact that Mr. Dean Lyons is now sadly deceased and no longer available as a witness. As I indicated earlier, he was charged with one of the murders in July 1997, three months after the women met their deaths. In August 1997, another person who had been arrested and detained during the investigation of another double murder, made a confession concerning the Grangegorman murders. As a result of the admissions made by the second person, admissions which have since been withdrawn, the Garda Commissioner appointed an assistant commissioner to review all available evidence concerning these murders.
That second Garda investigation concluded that Mr. Lyons did not commit the murders in question. Following completion of the review, a report was submitted by the assistant commissioner to the Director of Public Prosecutions. In April 1998, after consideration of the report, the Director of Public Prosecutions decided that criminal proceedings against Mr. Lyons be discontinued. In July 1999, Mr. Lyons presented a signed and witnessed statement denying any involvement in the murders. Unfortunately, on 12 September 2000, Mr. Lyons died in a friend's flat in the United Kingdom.
As the House is aware, when the DPP decides not to prosecute in a particular case, the reasons for the decision are given to the State solicitor and the investigating gardaí. The director has stated that it is his policy not to disclose this information otherwise or to make it public. Under our legal system, the function concerning the prosecution of alleged offences is the responsibility of the Director of Public Prosecutions. The director is independent in the exercise of his functions and it would not be appropriate to bring any aspect of his determinative process within the ambit of the commission's terms of reference. However, as Senators can see, the question of the adequacy of the information provided by the Garda Síochána to the DPP prior to his decision that Mr. Lyons should be charged with murder is contained within the terms of reference. It is also important to state that the criminal investigation into these two murders remains open and, in particular, a forensic cold case review is being conducted on exhibits and samples of material taken from the scene with a view to establishing whether they might identify the perpetrator and make a prosecution possible.
On 24 February 2005 the Garda Síochána published a notice in a number of newspapers in which it stated it was satisfied that Dean Lyons had no participation in the Grangegorman murders. The notice also stated that the Garda appreciated the embarrassment suffered by his family as a result of criminal charges preferred against him and subsequently withdrawn. The notice expressed regret and contained an apology to the family of Mr. Lyons for any embarrassment caused. On 6 April 2005, at the request of the Secretary General of my Department, the Garda Commissioner submitted a detailed up-to-date report on the arrest, charging and subsequent withdrawal of charges against Dean Lyons.
In response to public concern about these matters I appointed senior Mr. Shane Murphy, SC, on 27 June 2005 to complete an independent review of Garda papers and actions taken regarding these matters. For the purpose of that investigation he reviewed documents presented to him by the original murder investigation team, including statements, copy statements, job book reports, exhibits and appendices. He also reviewed documentation relating to subsequent reviews of the original criminal investigation file which were made by the assistant commissioner and his team. He also visited the Bridewell Garda station in Dublin for the purpose of examining the interview rooms and the medical room and the overall layout of those areas of the station where the interviews of Dean Lyons took place.
I am not in a position to publish the report because it was not written with a view to publication. It contains some matters which may cause distress and others which would be regarded as confidential and not suitable for publication. Mr. Murphy acknowledges, however, that he received full co-operation from both my own Department and the Garda Síochána.
While Mr. Murphy's report makes a significant contribution to progressing the matter, he did not have the power to examine persons under oath or determine matters of fact. He recommended that the best method to resolve the issues was to establish a full commission of investigation. In July 2004 the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004, which I had put through the Houses, was signed into law by the President and took effect thereafter. This mechanism has only been available since late 2004 to deal with this issue.
One aspect of Mr. Murphy's recommendations has not been included in the commission's terms of reference. Mr. Murphy recommended that the adequacy of Garda protocols and procedures regarding the assessment of the fitness of witnesses to be interviewed should be examined and should form part of the commission's terms of reference. However, I intend to pursue an alternative course with regard to that aspect. With Government approval I have decided to establish an expert group to examine these more general matters and intend to publish its report.
The reason for the difference in my approach is as follows. It has come to be recognised that having clear and well-defined terms of reference which are tightly drawn is often the key to a successful investigation. Second, I am anxious to ensure that this particular commission of investigation will complete its work as quickly as possible. Hence I want it to concentrate on those aspects which are peculiar to the Dean Lyons case itself and in respect of which the inquisitorial powers of the commission will be of particular value.
The commission of investigation is vested with considerable powers. These considerable powers will be best utilised in investigating the specific circumstances of the Dean Lyons case. My intention is that this will facilitate a more focused approach for the commission. The more general aspects are well capable of being addressed by an expert group who will not need to have recourse to these investigative powers when conducting their work. The success of that group will depend not so much on an ability to compel evidence but on its own membership which is capable of bringing a multidisciplinary approach to the issue. For example, I intend to appoint a person with a professional expertise in the area of human behaviour, perhaps a psychologist or psychiatrist, accompanied perhaps by a person with expertise in the area of criminal investigations and a person with an expertise in the area of criminal law.
It is not my intention to appoint a serving officer of the Garda Síochána or a serving official of my Department even though they would have something to contribute. The work of objectively analysing the practices and policies of public bodies goes on every day without the need to establish formal inquiries which operate in a quasi-judicial fashion. Consequently, these more general aspects will be assigned to an expert group to allow the commission to concentrate on the core issues which are central to the case of Dean Lyons himself.
I will now revert to the proposed commission of investigation which is the subject of the motion before the House. The commission will be under a statutory duty to conduct its proceedings in private except in very exceptional circumstances, which are set out in section 11. In effect it will be for the sole member to determine whether or not these circumstances arise. As I said earlier, there is no doubt that because Dean Lyons is now sadly deceased the task of the commission will be more difficult than it might otherwise be. Of course, I intend to give a copy of the report by Mr. Shane Murphy, SC, to the commission to facilitate its work. At the conclusion of its work the commission will prepare for me a written report based on the evidence received and setting out the facts it has established on the matter referred to it.
It is not the function of a commission to speculate or to make findings or to reach judgments based on the balance of the evidence. However, Senators should note that if the commission concludes that the facts relating to a particular aspect of its terms of reference have not been established the commission is obliged to identify that particular aspect. Furthermore, in any such case the commission is empowered to indicate its opinion as to the quality and weight of evidence relating to any area where the evidence is incomplete, insufficient, inconsistent or disputed.
There is no general restriction in the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004 on the identification of persons in reports of a commission. However, section 32(3) sets out considerations that may lead to the omission of certain details from a report identifying persons who gave evidence or any other person. The grounds include where the context in which the person was identified has not been clearly established or where disclosure might prejudice any criminal proceedings pending or in progress or where it would not be in the person's interest and the omission would not be contrary to the interests of the investigation or any subsequent inquiry.
In accordance with the provisions of section 38 of the Act, it is my firm intention to publish the report of the commission. I point out, however, for the information of Senators that the Act empowers me to seek directions from the High Court where there is a risk that anything in the report or interim report could prejudice any pending or ongoing criminal proceedings. I make this point simply for the purposes of clarity. There are no criminal proceedings pending at present but as I stated earlier the case remains open.
It is important to state that there are two pieces of legislation now on the Statute Book which would make dealing with this situation a different proposition were it to occur in the future. The first is the Garda Síochána Act 2005, which provides for the establishment of an ombudsman commission. The ombudsman commission will be empowered to directly and independently investigate complaints against members of the Garda Síochána.
The ombudsman commission will also be empowered to investigate any matter, even where no complaint has been made, where it appears that a garda may have committed an offence or behaved in a manner that would justify disciplinary proceedings. It will also be empowered to investigate any practice, policy or procedure of the Garda Síochána with a view to reducing the incidence of related complaints. I am conscious of the need to have the ombudsman commission established as soon as possible and an implementation review group is currently working under the chairmanship of Senator Maurice Hayes. It is in the process of drafting a report for which I am grateful. Substantial progress has been made and I expect to be in a position to seek Government approval for the nomination of the members of the commission at an early date.
Had the ombudsman commission existed in 1998 things would have been radically different. However, cases such as this serve to illustrate the importance of the provisions which were made for its establishment in the Garda Síochána Act 2005. The Commissions of Investigation Act mechanism, which is the subject of today's debate, is another new inquisitorial tool which was not available in 1998, only becoming available in the latter half of 2004. In that sense I respectfully submit that things have progressed considerably since 1998. I regret the delay in this matter but if any attempt had been made to establish an inquiry prior to the second half of 2004 it would either have to have been a full-blown tribunal of inquiry with all its attendant difficulties or an inquiry under the Dublin Police Act 1924, which is a narrow statutory provision.
The matter has been carefully investigated and the Commissioner reviewed the case again in April 2005. I appointed Mr. Shane Murphy, SC, in June 2005 and he reported to me during the parliamentary recess. I am acting on his report, therefore, in the first parliamentary term after it was produced. While one might be critical of the time that has elapsed since these events first came into the public domain it should be borne in mind that as Minister my field of options has been narrow and has opened greatly since the passing of the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004, which made it possible to have an inquiry of this kind.
I welcome the Minister to the House on this important day on two fronts. I understand this is the first commission of investigation to be established since the legislation went through this and the other House. When the Minister put forward his proposals in this whole area, he gave a firm commitment that there would be an investigation into clerical sex abuse in the Dublin area. It is significant that the matter concerning the entire episode around the late Mr. Dean Lyons will be the first issue to be tested. We are, in effect, going into uncharted waters in respect of the commission of investigation which was the Minister's proposal. It will be a good way of investigation in the future, primarily because much of the work will be carried out in private, thereby reducing costs and not requiring a whole battery of lawyers arguing over every scintilla, comma and statement. I wish the commission well. It is a very important day for the family of the late Dean Lyons who come from my part of Dublin, an area I represented in the other House for five years. They have been looking forward to this day for some time. As the Minister said at the outset, it has taken eight years to get to this point.
The point should also be made that we are not talking here about events in the 1960s, 1970s or the 1980s. We are talking about recent events. This entire saga began as recently as 1997. That is why it is so important for the commission — the sole member of which will be Mr. George Birmingham, SC, whom I wish well as I am sure all Members do — to get to the truth as soon as possible. The Minister said that, when published, he hopes the report he envisaged will come to some clear conclusions and findings.
While we are not talking about a case equivalent to the Birmingham six or the Guildford four, because in both cases there was a conviction, and this case never reached a conviction stage, there is a similarity between the cases because Dean Lyons was stitched up. He was a homeless young man who was caught up in the whole drugs scene. His life was ruined as a result of drugs. He just happened to be homeless, living in and around the Grangegorman area, close to the time of the savage murder of Sylvia Shiels and Mary Callinan. As the Minister rightly said, we are talking about two tragedies, the tragedy of the stitch-up of Mr. Lyons and what happened thereafter and the appalling murders of Sylvia Shiels and Mary Callinan.
Major issues must be dealt with by Mr. Birmingham and the commission concerning Garda discipline and the methodology of investigation by the gardaí at the time. These questions remain unanswered in the public domain as a result of the treatment meted out to the late Dean Lyons in 1997. Dean Lyons was an easy target. He was homeless and had an addiction problem. He was someone who had a chaotic lifestyle, yet he was easy prey for people who wanted to charge him for a crime he did not commit.
It is important to state that the double murder of Sylvia Shiels and Mary Callinan happened in March 1997, but by July of that year, through routes yet to be determined, Dean Lyons signed a confession. A number of questions flow from this. The forensic psychiatrists at the time had warned the gardaí that the Grangegorman killer would strike again. We know that in August 1997, the tragic case of the murder of Carl and Catherine Doyle was brought to public attention. That led to the arrest and conviction of Mr. Mark Nash who then signed voluntary admissions to the Grangegorman killings. As the Minister said, he has since withdrawn these statements. It is important to state that the evidence to the gardaí at the time, through their own professional services, was that the Grangegorman killer would strike again. We still do not know the full identity of the Grangegorman killer. As the Minister said, the case remains concerning both named individuals who were brutally murdered in 1997. I presume someone is at large for that particular crime. All of these matters must be determined ultimately if there is a court case and an active investigation remains.
A number of questions must be put on the record arising from this case. Why did Dean Lyons remain in prison until April 1998 when it was clear charges would have to be dropped? He spent a total of eight months in Mountjoy Prison from the time of his alleged confession to these crimes to April 1998. He remained in prison for that eight month period and we still have not received any explanation either from the Chief State Solicitor or the gardaí as to why this was allowed to happen when it was clear to the gardaí at the time that he had no involvement in the crime. Second, the internal Garda investigation that followed all of these matters coming to public attention has never been published. The question must be asked, why was it not clear from the circumstances that prevailed in 1997-98 that something had gone badly wrong and action had to be taken? Why did it take four years for a full apology to be given to the Lyons family? In 2004, the Garda took out newspaper advertisements apologising for the suffering caused to the Lyons family as a result of the whole case. Why did it take so long for the apology to be issued when it was clear in 1998 that something had gone so seriously wrong? The question must also be asked — I am sure it will be set out clearly in the course of the commission's work — why did the details of the Grangegorman killing end up in Dean Lyons' statement to which he put his name in 1997? There were considerable and detailed issues in his false statement that only someone who had prior knowledge of the case could include, because clearly Mr. Lyons did not have the information when he signed the statement.
Many other questions must ultimately be asked by the commission. However, the fact of the matter is that Dean Lyons died at 27 years of age in a friend's flat in England after an appalling miscarriage of justice. The State and this House have an obligation to get to the truth of the matter. Today's proceedings are the first step along that road.
Yesterday, the Minister changed his terms of reference to include the word "supportive", which we welcome. If it is the case that the commission needs an alteration to the terms of reference, can it make this fact known to the Minister, who may then have to change the terms of reference in both Houses?
There is interest in this issue not just because the case has such a high public profile but because of the importance of the commission of investigation. This route will get to the truth in a faster and more cost efficient way and I hope it will become the model used by this and future Governments to find out what happened when such people were in custody.
We also welcome the fact that the ombudsman commission will soon be established. I hope it will happen sooner rather than later so such matters can go before it in future.
I welcome the Minister to the House and the opportunity to speak about the establishment of the commission of inquiry into the Dean Lyons affair. It is not the first commission to be established, a commission under the stewardship of Mr. Patrick MacEntee, SC, into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings was set up only a couple of months ago.
The murders of Sylvia Shields and Mary Callanan are among the most callous and brutal ever carried out in this State. They shocked the country and caused concern and anxiety in the area where they happened, off the North Circular Road in Grangegorman, an area I represented for many years. The occupants of these houses would have been known to me and I would have knocked on the door of this house on many occasions while campaigning.
It would be difficult to imagine two more vulnerable people to have been subjected to such an assault, living as they were in sheltered accommodation under the guidance of the health authority. I commend the Minister for establishing a commission to investigate the whole scenario and everything that befell these poor innocent people. I am also heartened to know that the inquiry will have full statutory powers to investigate all matters and it will be able to take sworn evidence as well. This is important because we have seen situations in the past where investigations did not have the necessary powers to come up with the goods. I am also encouraged that an expert group is being set up to examine and report on general Garda training and procedures for dealing with vulnerable witnesses.
Three families have been deeply scarred by the events surrounding these murders, those of the murdered women and that of the late Dean Lyons. After seven years the families of the two victims still do not know who murdered them while the Lyons family is no nearer knowing how a young man in Garda custody could end up signing a statement confessing to a murder he did not commit. Justice for these families should begin and end as swiftly as possible but not so quickly that we do not get the full facts. We must bring about closure.
The episode began for poor Dean Lyons on the morning of 25 July when he was arrested in his bed in the Salvation Army hostel for homeless men in the inner city. Many of them, like Dean Lyons, would have been heroin addicts. He was taken from there to the Bridewell Garda station where he was put into a cell for eight hours. Unfortunately, to add to his situation, he was barely literate and given to be fanciful with his imagination. Bearing that in mind, and the fact that he was suffering from withdrawal symptoms, having taken heroin in Benburb Street that day with a friend, he was probably not in the mental or physical condition to be involved in a prolonged interrogation.
We are told his answers during interrogation were confused and rambling and, in some instances, nonsensical. Under pressure and perhaps to escape the situation, he may have confessed the killings. In fairness, he also confessed to those killings to his mother at a later stage. At this point the gardaí were within their rights to do what they did. Dean Lyons had been placed in the frame by a low level informant, who was also a heroin addict, who had said Dean was making these statements about the murders to him. He probably, however, embellished the story to make himself look good in the eyes of the gardaí. Irrespective of that, the gardaí were within their rights in eliminating Dean Lyons from their investigations because he had been put in the frame in the first instance.
What happened thereafter is where the Garda investigation could be questioned. It appears that the confession was taken without the benefit of audio or video taping. That is why we are still talking about the case after seven years. The statement taken from Dean Lyons appears accurate when compared to the events of the day. It is critical that a statement could be so accurate in details about the murder scene and weapon and other aspects. The fact that it was taken from an individual later shown to be innocent raises serious questions. It suggests that it either came from someone who was at the murder scene or from the interrogators. Hopefully the inquiry will bring those answers to us. It is in everyone's interests that these matters are brought to a close. As long as they remain unresolved, a shadow will hang over the Garda in terms of this investigation.
There are many people affected by this, including the family and friends of Dean Lyons, those of the murder victims and, indeed, the families of Carl and Catherine Doyle who were killed in Roscommon. These people were murdered in a brutal manner similar to the murders in Grangegorman. The man who was arrested for those murders, three weeks after Dean Lyons had been charged, gave evidence to the effect that he murdered the two victims in Grangegorman. If the gardaí had not lost their focus after Dean Lyons confessing, could the incident in Roscommon have been avoided? They lost their focus for three weeks because they thought they had the killer of the two women in Grangegorman.
The Garda Síochána now found itself in the situation where it had two confessions to one murder and, consequently, were unable to bring charges against the individual who confessed to the Roscommon murders. As the Minister said, this situation is still live and we hope that the person who murdered the two ladies will eventually be held accountable and that the commission will help to achieve that outcome. In general, the Garda has had a bad few years given what happened in Donegal and in this case. That is unfortunate but the Garda has only a little work to do to bring about a scenario where members are completely and absolutely trusted by the public. There are question marks over the force. I speak to young children regularly and they do not hold the Garda in the esteem I held the force when I was growing up. They say the Garda takes the soft option at times when that should not be the case.
The Garda Síochána Bill 2004 includes many fine provisions, which will bring the force's operation into the 21st century when it is enacted. I have observed the Minister's work over the past number of years and a number of fine Bills have been passed by the House, which, in the fullness of time, will bring about a much better situation for all of us living on this island.
I welcome the Minister to the House. I have but a few remarks, as many of the salient points have been made by my colleagues. The Minister's contribution dealt with the technical parameters of the Act and I cannot think of a better person to deal with these issues. However, I refer to the terms and references of the draft order, which states, "matters relating to and surrounding the making of a confession by Dean Lyons (deceased) . . .". How far could the term "surrounding" lead us? I am concerned not only with the matter of the confession of Dean Lyons but also about the plight of the family. A niece was in touch with me and I raised the issue in the House a little time ago. Family members feel there will be no closure for them and they are interested in the possibility of a further prosecution.
Senator Kett mentioned that a man in custody made a confession that appears to be more consistent with the facts. If there is evidence, I hope there will be a prosecution because the human impact on the bereaved in these circumstances must be recognised. I believe I am correct but I am sure I will be corrected if I am wrong. This has happened in other cases — for example, the same phenomenon emerged in the case ofMalcolm MacArthur where, because a conviction was secured on one count, other counts were not pursued. That leaves the families of the victims in limbo. They feel there is no closure and they feel the dignity of the lives of their murdered relatives have not been addressed by the State.
The expense of running a trial is an issue but, in this case, €510,000 has been made available for the investigation. I would like the Minister to come up with a solution. There may be an ingenious solution whereby charges can be added. I do not know because I do not have the necessary background or expertise but surely it is wrong that people should be murdered and their fate left in a legal limbo when it is relatively clear who perpetrated the act, nobody is convicted and there is no closure for the relatives. This needs to be addressed.
The sum provided for the inquiry is modest in comparison with sums provided for other commissions and tribunals of inquiry. Will further funding be needed? Can the inquiry be completed in four months? If not, why not? The Minister has cracked the whip a little over his erstwhile colleagues in the legal profession. I am glad about this, although I do not mean he is doing it a nasty way. He is suggesting that, as an elected politician, he has a duty to ensure value for money for the taxpayer. There is variety in the performance of these various inquiries, some of which are extraordinarily efficient, achieve results and come to conclusions while others dither and dally and wander all around the place. I hope the Minister will confirm this will be an efficient inquiry. It will deal with a targeted case and it should not be allowed to become diffuse. It should, however, consider the terms outlined by the Minister.
Such a case is potentially damaging to the perception of the police. Ironically, approximately seven years ago, I was asked to speak at an international police convention in Dublin Castle. I was invited because the organisers wanted to spice up the event. I certainly obliged and I recall being virulently attacked by an Irish-American police chief. However, recommendations had been made at that time that Garda interviews and interrogations should not only be subject to an audio recording but should also be videotaped. I pointed out that this would protect not only the suspect but, importantly from the point of view of the State, it would protect the integrity of the police. A number of interrogations have been conducted in an improper manner and the Minister is aware of this. It happens in every jurisdiction but videotaping will help to get around that.
However, false accusations are sometimes made by the accused against the police. The Minister has spoken on the wireless about difficulties in this regard. For example, where video recordings are made, the defence counsel may apply for them and they may find their way to the associates of the accused and be used for nefarious purposes. Somebody of the Minister's intellectual ability and ingenuity will find a way around that problem. It is regrettable that a vulnerable homeless person should have found himself in this situation. One can understand the alacrity with which the police received a confession because it made their job so much easier. However, in this case, the shortest way home was the longest way around. I could use many clichés including a number in Latin such as festina lente but, sometimes, a bit of a rush mucks things up. Will the Minister outline whether it will be possible to provide closure for the family of the two women, Mary Callinan and Sylvia Shiels, because they feel it keenly? I doubt if I am only person who was written to in this House about this. It hit home to me that these people were essentially forgotten. They feel very keenly seven years later that their two vulnerable elderly relatives were butchered but there has been no trial or conviction and there can be no closure for them until somebody is made to accept responsibility for the crime.
I welcome the Minister to the House. Over the past few months, I have participated in debates in this House on the Ferns Report, the tragedy of juvenile crime and the distressing events in Iraq. We again find ourselves discussing disturbing circumstances. The awful events, which have led to this debate, began more than eight years ago on the 6 March 1997. As Senator Norris stated, it is important to briefly outline the circumstances of the case again because the families of the victims should not be viewed as a statistic. The events began with the brutal murders of Ms Sylvia Shiels and Ms Mary Callinan in Grangegorman, Dublin. Four months later, the late Mr. Dean Lyons made a questionable confession to investigating Garda officers of his alleged guilt in the double murder.
After consultation between the Garda and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, Mr. Lyons was charged with one of the murders. One month later, another person, who had been arrested and detained during the investigation of another murder, made a confession regarding the Grangegorman murders. In April 1998 the DPP decided to discontinue criminal proceedings against Mr. Lyons. In July 1999 Mr. Lyons presented a signed and witnessed statement denying any involvement in the murders.
Mr. Lyons unfortunately passed away some four years ago. On 24 February last the Garda issued a statement that it is satisfied that Dean Lyons had no participation in the murders. There was also an appreciation of the embarrassment suffered by his family as a result of criminal charges preferred against him and subsequently withdrawn. Significantly, there was also an expression of regret and an apology to the family of Mr. Lyons for any embarrassment caused.
It is difficult to know where to start given this awful sequence of events. As the Minister said yesterday in the Dáil, it is crucial that we refer at the outset to the tragic human circumstances that gave rise to this motion. Ms Callinan and Ms Shiels were victims of a heinous crime. Notwithstanding the subsequent events, we must not minimise or forget that tragedy. Their families suffered at the time of their loss and at several points as the terrible events I outlined earlier unfolded over subsequent months and years. All members of this House will share my feelings of deepest sympathy for the Callinan and Shiels families. They will again be reminded of their loss as the investigation is debated, and we should be mindful of that.
On the investigation, I share the view of the Minster that this case is of significant public concern and therefore warrants the establishment of a commission of investigation under the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004. I welcome this investigation and commend the Minister and the Government on the steps recently taken. Other Ministers might have acted differently given the unfortunate passing of Mr. Lyons and the incarceration of the person who subsequently admitted to the crimes, although that statement was subsequently retracted. The Minister is to be congratulated for acting on this issue.
Many questions emerge from the events of this case. The closure of the Grangegorman murder cases remains outstanding. On the specific issue before us now, five obvious questions emerge. What were the circumstances surrounding the confession by Dean Lyons? How did the Garda assess the reliability of that confession? What lessons can we learn from that process? How was adequacy of information provided by the Garda Síochána to the DPP assessed? Could and should additional information have been provided?
Under the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004, an investigation may be established to investigate any matter considered by the Government to be of what is termed "significant public concern". While the five questions I set out refer to this specific case, the significant public concern arises because the events pose fundamental questions about how our policing and justice system operates. I welcome the fact that the draft terms of reference proposed by the Minister ask the commission to examine and report on the five issues related to the Lyons case. I also welcome the appointment of Mr. George Birmingham, SC, to the commission, and specifically that he is happy to accept the position on the basis of the proposed terms of reference.
Regarding the wider questions posed about how our policing and justice system operates, I commend the Minister for his decision to establish a separate expert group to examine these issues. This approach is wisely chosen to ensure that the commission of investigation has well defined, clear and precise terms of reference and that the investigation can be completed as quickly as possible. The wider issues must be examined, and the establishment of the expert group is the proper way to proceed.
As a society we need to be sure that Garda training, protocols, regulations and procedures are adequate. We need to be confident that the fitness of persons to be interviewed is properly assessed. Leading questions should be avoided with vulnerable suspects. The capacity of a person in custody to be interviewed should not be affected by administration or non-administration of drugs. We need to be confident that the reservations of gardaí as to the truthfulness or accuracy of self-incriminating statements made by a suspect can be recorded and communicated.
This terrible case forces us to consider arrangements to allow the Garda Síochána to have suspects professionally assessed as to their fitness to be interviewed. I wish the proposed expert group every success in its important work, the result of which will, I hope, lead to measures to prevent many of the aforementioned events from ever happening again. We must recognise the series of tragedies that emerged over the eight years since that horrific March night in Grangegorman. As legislators we must put in place the mechanisms to investigate how these tragedies came to be and to prevent them ever recurring. I commend and support the Government in its efforts.
I thank the Members for their contributions to this relatively short debate and for their constructive and warm remarks on the proposal before the House. This case poses serious issues. As a number of the Senators said, we must learn from this. While listening to Senator Minihan I was reminded of a thought I had in yesterday's Dáil debate, which is that while such cases may be embarrassing and difficult for the Garda Síochána to come to terms with, this could be used as a test case and a template for training detectives. Some good may come from much bad. This should be studied by trainee detectives and interrogators to illustrate how things can go wrong.
As Senator Kett said, this person was not chosen at random. Low level intelligence pointed in one direction. The accused did not deny involvement but was a suggestible young man who volunteered to gardaí and to his mother that he was involved. Crucially the early statements in his detention were not reliable. At a late stage in his detention an apparently reliable statement came forth. As Senator Minihan said, that was the crucial point. People should have doubted the man's confession given that his statements did not add up. However, when he confessed to the crime he was considered reliable. Alarm bells should have been ringing.
Professional gardaí will say that some suspects fence around the issue at the start and then become truthful, but bearing in mind the man's drug addiction and the fact that he made statements that they knew could not have been true at the beginning, the question arises what happened thereafter. That is for Mr. Birmingham to consider, not for me to prejudge. As Senator Brian Hayes and others have stressed, this is a very important issue.
Many members of the Garda Síochána are as disturbed as we are about these events. I thank them for the work they do day in and out and empathise with them that the force of which they are members comes under the spotlight again. We should reflect on the fact that, by and large, the majority of gardaí do their job conscientiously and professionally and command the support of the majority of the public. They must have been pleasantly surprised by the results of a recent Garda satisfaction survey which showed they were still well thought of despite recent events.
Senator Norris raised the matter of a competing confession. As Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, I cannot say much in that regard. If there was a competing confession one need not be Einstein to work out that the Director of Public Prosecutions was thrown into a terrible dilemma because he had two confessions with two sets of gardaí contending for their validity. To put one man on trial while gardaí in another part of the country have an apparently reliable confession from an accused person is a difficult situation to deal with. Whereas he does not give his reasons in public, it is not difficult to see the problem with which the DPP was confronted in these circumstances.
Senator Norris asked whether there was hope of closure in this matter. It may well be that the cold case re-evaluation of all the exhibits could be capable of yielding DNA and forensic indicators that would move the case on and make it possible for a prosecution to be brought by the Director of Public Prosecutions. This is being examined and I must be careful that nothing I say prejudices it.
The terms of reference of the commission of investigation will be set by me after the Houses pass the draft orders. While I must remain within the ambit of the orders they pass, the exact terms are for me to decide. I will ensure that what is put in place will be adequate to enable the nub of the issues, which we all understand, to be fully and properly investigated by Mr. Birmingham.
Senator Norris asked the cost of this investigation. The cost of a criminal trial is of no concern whatsoever. If the Director of Public Prosecutions becomes satisfied that there is reliable evidence on which he can run a viable trial, no doubt he will proceed, regardless of the issue of cost. A budget of €510,000 is set aside for the first four months of the commission of investigation. It is important that this money is spent and that we have a proper inquiry now. If we leave the issue unaddressed, there will be problems downstream.
Senator Norris asked whether the investigation would go on and on. I am grateful to Mr. Birmingham for accepting this commission and have full confidence in his desire and capacity to bring the matter to a timely and appropriate conclusion. He is in a position to seek extra time if necessary. Likewise, if the terms of reference unduly constrain him, he is in a position to ask me to alter them, and I am free to do so without coming back to the House on it. Nothing should stand in the way of a proper investigation.
Senator Norris suggested that I am sometimes critical of the legal profession. I have absolute confidence that Mr. Birmingham will do the job appropriately and effectively. From what I know of him and of the terms on which he will be appointed, this is not something he will prolong unnecessarily. The new rates of remuneration provided by the Government decision are not such as to encourage investigators to drag out investigations, despite the suspicion of cynics. In the case of Mr. Birmingham, no such notion enters my mind.
The starting point for the commission of investigation will be decided when we have all our ducks in a row, in terms of accommodation, terms of reference and when Mr. Birmingham is ready to proceed. The four-month period is indicative and, if it is inadequate, I will extend it. The enterprise should not take substantially longer than that. It will soon be 2006 and these events took place in 1997. Now is the time to bring closure to the issue and to learn what lessons there are from it.
I earnestly hope this is an event from which we will learn. Some 98% of Garda interviews are now the subject of audiovisual recording. Unfortunately, there are some occasions where people want to talk to gardaí, but not on tape, because they can be pressurised by their colleagues to ask their lawyers, as part of the defence process, to get the tape and show them to their colleagues in crime. There will always be some occasions where people, for some reason or another such as fright or fear, are unwilling to commit to a permanent record of a kind they cannot later deny. However, the majority of interviews are recorded on audiovisual tapes.
The courts have now begun to require a convincing explanation for an unrecorded interview being used as evidence. It is not that it cannot be admitted, but we have reached a point where it is not just a matter of accepting a signed written record under old rules. The Judiciary now suggests that unless there is a good reason a formal interview was not recorded, it will take a jaundiced view of any effort to introduce it. The 98% recording rate now achieved and the attitude of the Judiciary address the issues about which Senator Norris was concerned. I thank the House for its attention and support.