14.06.18 – Senator Ivana Bacik – Call for Public Inquiry into Death of Shane O’Farrell Labour Seanad

Senator I Bacik: “I welcome the Minister to the House and Ms Lucia O’Farrell to the Public Gallery. As others have done, I offer my sincere condolences to Lucia, Hannah and Gemma and to all of the O’Farrell family on the sad death of their son and brother Shane on 2 August, 2011. As colleagues have said, Shane had a long connection with Trinity College in Dublin. He studied there for a Master’s degree in law and had just finished that when he was so tragically killed. His sisters are also graduates of the law school of Trinity College. Like others, I know this case and am aware that my Labour Party colleagues, Deputy Howlin and Senator Nash have been actively engaged on it for some years. I know from speaking with Deputy Howlin that he asked the then Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, some years ago to initiate a scoping inquiry into the death of Shane O’Farrell to see if a commission of investigation was warranted. Had that been followed up at the time, it would have met the needs of the family in terms of what they now seek. Indeed, the Dáil has just voted to require a public inquiry into the killing of Shane and the into the circumstances surrounding the State’s failures.
I am glad that the Minister has acknowledged in both Houses, the failings of the State in respect of Shane’s case but the question now is what we, as legislators, do about those failings. As Deputy Sherlock said earlier this week in the Dáil, what the O’Farrell family needs is more than empty platitudes; we need to see action on this. I commend the family, and Lucia in particular, on the forensic work they have done in compiling such a detailed file on the case – on the perpetrator and on the events leading up Shane’s death on 2 August and the way in which the case was dealt with subsequently. The submission made to the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly’s plenary session by Mr. Nick Scott on behalf of the family provides an extremely concise and comprehensive account of the numerous failings.

They included permitting Zigimantas Gridziuska the perpetrator of Shane’s death to be at liberty on 2 August at a time when he was, in fact, in breach of bail orders and suspended sentences, and had been sentenced to a custodial term, which he did not serve. Less than one hour before Shane O’Farrell’s death, the car in which Mr. Gridziuska was a passenger had been stopped in a drug squad traffic stop and the car was then able to continue. Failings following the hit and run are also listed, such as ensuring that criminal justice was effective with regard to the further charges being faced by Mr. Gridziuska before the courts, at which points the Garda failed to raise the breaches of bail and suspended sentences and where answers were not given to judges in courts who were seeking information, and information was not provided.

When we consider the litany of failings we see they were failings of communication within and between the different courts and justice agencies in our system, as well as failings on a cross-Border basis between the courts in the North and the South. It is especially sad when we look at the dates. On 14 July 2011, just two weeks before Shane O’Farrell was killed, Gridziuska had been arrested in Newry and the PSNI had contacted the Garda to confirm his address and check his criminal background. He received a suspended sentence the following day from a Newry court, but no steps were taken to ensure a joined-up action by the Garda in this jurisdiction and the PSNI in the North, which would have ensured enforcement of court orders made against Mr. Gridziuska. I will not go through all of the details of the failings, but the forensic work by the family clearly outlines the numerous failings. I have referred to the Newry court, but there were also courts in Border counties in this jurisdiction. It is not a coincidence that this case arises from Border and cross-Border incidents. As Members are aware, before the disclosures tribunal currently there are gardaí who were in charge in Carrickmacross and other Garda stations at the time. Moreover, policing on a cross-Border basis and in Border counties here has been the subject of numerous critical reports over recent years. It is a failing of all of us that we have never joined those reports up. As the Minister is aware, I was a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice and Equality for several years and during that time, the committee heard from the Garda Inspectorate and addressed Seán Guerin’s report. There also was the Morris tribunal and all of these reports, many of which focus on policing in the Border counties such as Monaghan, Cavan and Donegal. The Minister is aware that there has been a whole sequence of findings that were highly critical of our practice of policing. In his own speech, the Minister referred to the GSOC report into Shane’s death, that was finally produced in April this year. The end of that report summarises some of the issues arising from problems in the justice system. I believe the GSOC report could have gone a lot further, to say the least, simply by referring back to the many criticisms levelled at gardaí and policing by the policing inspectorate and others. Some of those criticisms have been: lack of co-ordination; lack of communication internally; sloppiness in following up on complaints made; lack of respect for victims and families of victims and problems with information technology, IT. While these may be mundane to point out, they can be critical. When one reads through the forensic list of failings, one sees there are problems with IT systems, and a lack of ability to use IT systems. This is not a new point, it has been made by the Garda Inspectorate also. Seán Guerin’s report refers to lack of supervision and probationary gardaí being appointed to investigate quite serious cases in many instances, and yet not being given the support, supervision and mentoring from senior colleagues that would have been required to enable effective investigations. We know that all of these policing failings form a context within which this case has arisen.

There has also been the immense delay in GSOC producing the report. As Senator Mac Lochlainn has pointed out, the Dáil has just voted two to one in support of holding a public inquiry into this case and in support of a motion, as amended, which criticised GSOC for having a timeframe that was not acceptable for producing such a report. I am a defender of GSOC. I supported its establishment but I was somewhat critical of the lack of powers given to the organisation when it was originally set up in 2005. Given the immense delay, however, and the multiple failings both within policing and the justice system with regard to lack of communication, the O’Farrell family clearly has lost faith in the ability of GSOC to investigate the matter adequately. I practised in the District Court for many years in criminal practice and am aware of many of the difficulties and issues that arise. I believe it would be useful to have a public inquiry and commission of investigation into this case. It would serve a useful function, not only in bringing closure and adequate information to this desperately grieving family that is so directly affected, it would also serve a useful function to us all in giving us a focal point to outline how the justice system can be remedied so it will no longer fail victims of crime and their families in the way Shane’s family has been failed. It would help us to see precisely where the errors arise in communication, lack of supervision or lack of joined-up practice in our policing, especially our Border policing. It would enable us to improve upon the system and make sure that no family suffers in the way Shane O’Farrell’s family is suffering.

I ask the Minister to respect the vote of the Dáil. He did not refer to the vote in his statement but what does the Minister propose to do to ensure the Dáil vote today in support of the public inquiry is carried out? On behalf of the Labour Party, I endorse the call for a public inquiry.”