17.10.23 – Dail – Aodhán Ó Ríordáin

Shane O’Farrell was just out for a training cycle when he was knocked down and killed in August 2011 in County Monaghan. We in the Labour Party extend our condolences again to Shane’s family. The pain caused by his death has been exacerbated by how needless it was. There are many moments during which it seems obvious, if the State or agents of the State had acted differently or had intervened at many different moments, Shane could still be alive. The O’Farrell family has been steadfast and persistent in their pursuit of justice for Shane and accountability for system failures that have been exposed by his death. They want to try to prevent this happening to anyone else and they are not prepared to be fobbed off by anything other than a full, independent inquiry.

I was delighted to meet Shane’s sister, Hannah, in Raheny and his mother, Lucia, in recent weeks.

I am conscious of the separation of powers and that Deputies are not in a position to make legal judgments on the facts of any case. It is the job of the Legislature to draft the best possible laws to be interpreted in the best possible way. It is the Judiciary’s responsibility to interpret the legislation and the Government’s job to ensure the laws are being properly and effectively implemented. It is the collective responsibility of all three to ensure that citizens are protected as much as they can be and that the three branches are working effectively and held accountable to public scrutiny.

In a case like this, there are so many procedural and legal questions about interaction in the legal system, questions around the interaction between the legal system and An Garda Síochána and questions around the effective practical implementation of legislation by the courts and An Garda Síochána, that there is no doubt that some sort of investigation into the case was warranted. To this end, a scoping exercise was convened to determine whether a public inquiry should be held. The objective of this scoping exercise was:

to identify whether or not any complaints/allegations, errors, flaws or issues arising from the circumstances surrounding the death of Shane O’Farrell are of such a grave and serious nature as in the public interest to:

(a) warrant further investigation or inquiry beyond those already carried out; and

(b) to advise the Minister for Justice and Equality whether any inquiry is necessary into the systems and procedures for the sharing of information between An Garda Síochána, the Courts Service and other relevant State bodies operating at the time of Shane O’Farrell’s death.

In order to fulfil these terms of reference, it seems clear that Judge Haughton has gone to great lengths to examine the detail of the case. The result is a report which goes into far more detail in answering questions than might be expected. It goes into so much detail that to call it a scoping inquiry seems no longer accurate. We have been presented with judgments on the facts of the case itself. Crucially – this is why the Labour party believes the scoping inquiry has already established a need for a public inquiry – the case has been made by virtue of the detail deemed necessary to address the points raised. The judge obviously realised the requirement for a comprehensive examination and adjudication.

In hindsight, it would have been better if a recommendation had been made at an early stage that a full public inquiry be made into the case. Instead, the judge attempted to prevent the need for that inquiry with a 200 page report of his own. Unfortunately, we are left with a report which presents as a complete investigation, but which has not been subject to the full rigour of scrutiny that a public inquiry would have brought. The fact that such a report was deemed necessary seems to be clear evidence that the threshold originally established was met.

I understand the reticence of the Department of Justice in wanting to limit the use of public inquiries due not only to the financial expense but also to the necessary investment of time and expertise such cases require. A public inquiry cannot be the means of first resort every time there is a controversy or that political pressure is exerted. Nor should a public inquiry be convened due to the power or influence of the people involved. There are, however, cases where the circumstances raise such concerns that a public inquiry is necessary, cases where the issues at stake are so important that they need to be examined in a public manner. I am not only thinking of this case, but also the unrelated case of Terence Wheelock and even the ongoing coroner’s inquest into the Stardust fire in which, for too long, families have been denied comprehensive public investigations.

In the Stardust case it had become immediately apparent to all of us that this coroner’s inquiry should have happened, as a bare minimum, many years ago. In the case of Terence Wheelock, his death in custody deserves a public inquiry as the case raised so many questions about how a young and healthy man lost his life in Garda custody.

In this case it is clear that many questions remain for the O’Farrell family. As legislators there is no way we can or should seek to prejudice the outcome of an inquiry, and I do not propose to pick through the detail of the judge’s report but in the case of Shane O’Farrell ample questions are raised by the recommendations of the judge alone to warrant a public inquiry, and we note that the Irish Council for Civil Liberties agrees with this stance. We agree with the O’Farrell family that Shane’s case raises serious issues with the criminal justice system around bail, previous convictions, coroner’s inquests, the effectiveness of GSOC and transparency around the use of informers by members of the Garda. There are also clear legal issues which remain unresolved. We agree with the O’Farrell family that the Government should commit to what the Oireachtas resolved to do, namely have a public inquiry. It is important to be clear that the answers we get may not be the ones we want to hear. Nobody can guarantee that even a public inquiry will result in the answers, accountability and closure the family deserve but the least we should do is provide them with a comprehensive and public process to try our best to get there. I as justice spokesperson for the Labour Party and my party leader, Deputy Bacik, will continue to support the O’Farrell family in their campaign.