17.10.23 James Lawless Dail Eireann

17 10 23 James Lawless

Uploaded by Lucia O’Farrell on 2023-10-19.

I too welcome the O’Farrell family to the Chamber and sympathise with them on the loss of their son. I had the pleasure of meeting Ms Lucia O’Farrell recently in Leinster House 2000 and we had a conversation about the case. It was all too brief, unfortunately, but I am mindful of it. I also want to recognise the work of my colleague, Deputy McGuinness, in continuing to highlight this over several years. I remember that debate in 2018 and 2019 well, when these Houses voted, as has been referenced already. Both Houses voted to form a public inquiry into this matter.
The first thing I will say is that as we are the arm of the State tasked by the people – we are the parliamentary assembly, the Oireachtas – I am at a loss to understand why, if we have made a decision in both Houses that is being second-guessed by a scoping inquiry? Why did that go off to somewhere else to see if it can happen? When I was on the county council, it was of great frustration to many members that a motion on a minor matter would be second-guessed and overruled by an official or a civil servant at some stage. They would say that we could not have that street light there or that road repair there because an engineer deems otherwise, even though it might have been voted through by the chamber. That was at a very local micro level and perhaps understandable, although dubious from a democratic perspective. However, this is a really major important report about how we manage the criminal justice system, voted through by two Houses of the Oireachtas. Why does it go off through another report to be scoped, only to come back with the view that no public inquiry is needed, when the Chambers that are elected to decide these things voted for it? I really struggle to understand that. I think there is a democratic deficit in that point.
In terms of the detail of what happened, there seemed to be a catalogue of errors both in the reports and in what happened and how the individual was allowed to remain on bail. It is a continual frustration of the public and many in these Houses that people can become repeat offenders and can continue to commit other crimes while on bail. That revolving door system is often criticised, often rightly. Occasionally there can be good reason for it but with 42 or 44 offences, it seems extraordinary that a person was allowed to go on. Legitimate questions have been asked by people in this Chamber and by the family and others.
Was he a confidential informant? Were there other reasons? Was discretion correctly applied in terms of drugs charges? The family deserve to know the answer to those questions and have those traversed in a public open forum, if necessary, of an adversarial nature, where they can be cross-examined and examined from both sides and where people have a right of audience, a right to say and a right of rebuttal. That is how we get to the truth. The engine for the truth is cross-examination. That is what a public inquiry would do.
On the administrative piece, I understand that there was probably a catalogue of administrative errors. One of the more serious errors was that a court report or court order was incorrectly filed or was mislaid or certainly did not carry the ramifications that it should have done in terms of another offence, and how that carried across and how that was implemented or otherwise. One could ask how can that happen but I actually have a fairly good idea how it could have happened, not necessarily in this particular case but from seeing many cases across both local district and circuit courts across a number of years. The registrars and the system are overworked and overwhelmed. I am Chair of the Committee on Justice and many of my colleagues are present in the Chamber. We have repeatedly stated that judicial resourcing must be increased, not only the judges which is sometimes a misnomer but the courts system, including registrars, support staff, people who are there to move the orders and the administrative back-up, to ensure that these kinds of errors do not get made because they have really serious ramifications. This error could have resulted in an unnecessary and avoidable death. That is about as serious as it can get. That is an argument for investment in judicial resources. The State is doing that now but it is taking a while to get there. It has been a consistent theme of the Committee on Justice that we need investment in the courts system, judicial resources and all the support services and perhaps we will avoid this happen again, which must be the foremost goal of all who speak on this.