Tuesday, 20 November 2012
Commission of Inquiry
I welcome the Minister of State, for whom I have great respect. I acknowledge that this matter does not fall within his area of expertise and that he is taking it on behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality. However, I am disappointed the Minister is not present because he is familiar with the case which has been ongoing for 28 years. It is a serious issue that needs to be resolved, as reputations must be restored. The Minister is a man of integrity and honesty and I would like him to address the case of the brutal murder in 1985 of Fr. Niall Molloy, to which we must bring closure, as the family requires it.
Fr. Molloy lost his life and reputation by attending a wedding in Clara, County Offaly. He was a Roscommon man whom everybody knew, loved and respected. He was Roscommon Man of the Year in 1985. The case still leaves too many unanswered questions 28 years later and the Molloy family deserves justice. Apparently, a senior Fianna Fáil Minister was in attendance at the wedding and a post mortem certificate was signed afterwards by a doctor who did not exist. The judge who heard the case had a clear conflict of interest, as he was a friend of the accused.
Thank you, a Leas-Chathaoirleach.
During the trial a senior medical professional was asked if it was possible that Fr. Niall Molloy could have died of a heart attack. When he said "Yes", the judge directed that the jury be dismissed and found the accused not guilty of manslaughter. There have since been damning statements by Circuit Court judges who were critical of the fact that the judge had taken the case. Senior gardaí have also been critical of the Garda murder investigation. A prominent surgeon who attended the wedding said his life was in turmoil having witnessed the murder and that he could not live with himself. He died a few weeks later at the age of 50. Other gardaí in recent times have come out in support of undertaking another investigation. The Catholic Church wants the case to be reopened. Files relating to the murder were robbed by Martin Cahill from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions during the investigation. Veronica Guerin's home was shot at when she raised her head about the case. Paul Williams wrote a book entitled, Bedfellows, in which he chronicled what had happened. To date, nobody has challenged anything written in the book. Apart from the Garda inquiry by the cold case squad which, apparently, has concluded, according to the latest edition of The Sunday Times, and found there was no cover up, I have given 12 good reasons an independent commission of investigation should be set up.
Prior to the general election, both Fine Gael and the Labour Party vowed that if they got into power, an investigation into the death of Fr. Molloy would be a priority. The credibility of the institutions of the State is at stake and there is only one way to restore confidence in them. I would like to think the Minister will not shatter public confidence in our institutions by failing to sanction an independent commission of inquiry. The Molloy family, the friends and neighbours of Fr. Molloy and the people of the country deserve it. As Shakespeare said, "Something is rotten in the State of Denmark". If he was in Ireland in the mid-1980s, Denmark would have been off the hook.
I thank the Senator for raising this matter which I am taking on behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality who is unable to be present because of other business. However, he is fully aware of the concerns expressed about the death of Fr. Niall Molloy and sympathises greatly with the Molloy family.
Fr. Molloy's death was the subject of an investigation by An Garda Síochána which resulted in the submission of an investigation file to the law officers who directed that a person be charged with manslaughter and assault occasioning actual bodily harm. At the subsequent trial, in June 1986, directions to acquit were given by the judge. The circumstances of Fr. Molloy's death gave rise to considerable public concern at the time and the Minister appreciates that the family has sought answers ever since as to how its well loved relative met his death. I am sure Senators will join me in also expressing sympathy to other families during the years whose loved ones were killed and where the perpetrators were never brought to justice.
Most recently the concerns raised surrounding the death of Fr. Molloy found expression in the publication of a newspaper article in October 2010, accompanied by strong representations made by the family. It is important that we acknowledge, in particular, the journalistic work of Ms Gemma O'Doherty in unearthing information on the case for the Irish Independent. On foot of this development, the Garda Commissioner arranged for a detective superintendent to meet Ms O'Doherty, as the author of the article, as well as family members.
The purpose of this was to facilitate an assessment of whether there was any evidence that was not available to the original investigation team and whether further investigation was required in the case. Shortly after the Minister's appointment, he inquired into the steps being taken by An Garda Síochána and was advised of the position. He has at all times emphasised the importance of all relevant matters being thoroughly examined and investigated. This examination is ongoing and the Minster is receiving regular updates from the Commissioner. The Garda authorities have indicated that during the examination additional information was provided to the investigating gardaí identifying further lines of inquiry which have had to be followed up. The Garda Commissioner has assured the Minister that each and every one of these lines of inquiry is being, or will be, pursued. The Minister also understands that the officers carrying out the examination are continuing to keep Fr. Molloy's family members updated on progress.
The Minister is well aware of the many issues of concern raised in the public domain surrounding the circumstances of Fr. Molloy's death and the context in which some form of inquiry has been considered desirable, but what needs to be considered first and foremost is that the matters at the heart of the Garda examination relate to potential criminal liability and, in that context, possible charges. It is important, therefore, that nothing is said or done which could prejudice or be seen to prejudice criminal proceedings. Moreover, in any case in which criminal behaviour is suspected, it is only through a Garda investigation and, where evidence of criminal wrongdoing is available, through the submission of a file by the Garda to the Director of Public Prosecutions that persons can be brought fully to account before the courts. This cannot be done by a commission of investigation, through journalistic inquiries or by any other type of review, no matter how thorough or independent.
The best form of justice for the Molloy family would be for anyone who has criminal liability in his tragic death to be brought to account through facing charges. In the Minister's view, it would be deeply inappropriate to do anything which could prejudice the possibility of that happening. It is also of crucial importance that the Garda receives the fullest co-operation from any individual who can provide information of relevance to the inquires being conducted. Whatever questions there may be about the original investigation, people should not prejudge the outcome of the current Garda examination. That examination, in the Minister's view, must be allowed to proceed unhindered, and he has been assured by the Garda Commissioner that all relevant evidence will be fully pursued, wherever it may lead. The House will appreciate that ultimately a criminal prosecution must be based on hard evidence, not rumour, speculation or conjecture. The Garda examination has not been completed and, accordingly, any media reports of its findings are, of their nature, speculative.
I would like to make clear that the Minister's commitment to reviewing the situation when he receives a final report from the Garda Commissioner remains firmly in place. Against that background, I hope the House can accept that we all share the desire to see justice done as much as possible in this case. I have tried to set out why, in the first instance, the best chance of achieving this lies with allowing the current Garda examination to proceed.
I do not have questions. I appreciate that the Minister of State is substituting for the Minister for Justice and Equality. Perhaps the reply was written last Friday because The Sunday Times this week clearly stated that the Garda investigation had concluded and no evidence of a cover-up had been found. Today the Molloy family wrote to the Garda Commissioner asking him to remove all of the members of the serious crime review team from the investigation. That is why I believe the Minister of State's response was written last Friday and is not up to date. The Minister said that if he was in power, he would give this investigation priority. No matter how many times other Members, the Molloy family and I are knocked back, we will still seek justice for Fr. Niall Molloy.