I will share time with Deputy Lawless. I welcome the O’Farrell family to the Chamber this evening, and I also commend them, in particular Lucia and Jim, on the tireless work they have done in exposing failings in the criminal justice system. The failings they exposed were not simply failings in respect of the tragic death of Shane but they are also more general failings in the system as a whole. As Deputy McGuinness mentioned, I was the Deputy who moved the motion back in 2018 that got the approval of this House to have an inquiry in respect of the death of Shane O’Farrell. We then had to wait until early 2019 for a decision to be made by the then Government that it would commence what was referred to as a scoping exercise. I understood from that term, “a scoping exercise”, that its purpose was to get a judge in to have a preliminary review of the circumstances of the case in order that a very quick and short report could be prepared to outline what would be the parameters of the inquiry, what areas need to be looked at and what areas do not need to be looked at. We are aware of scoping inquiries in this House and in fact we are doing one at present in respect of sexual abuse in certain schools. We have had scoping inquiries in the past. They are a preliminary process to identify and help the subsequent investigator in terms of looking at what should be looked at. It was very surprising that the scoping inquiry went on for as long as it did. When one looks at the report produced, it is certainly much more lengthy than any other scoping inquiry I am aware of.
More importantly than that, the scoping exercise goes beyond the definition of what it was. It is not simply a scoping exercise because clearly, as others have identified, there are findings of fact within the report. I think it is very dangerous for there to be findings of fact in a report when those findings of fact are not based on evidence that has been given before the person who is conducting the inquiry. If we look at the example that was mentioned earlier in respect of the lights on the bicycle, the way that issue should be determined is that an individual should be called to give evidence as to what they saw at the scene of the accident, the scene of the death of Shane, after it occurred. That would require the Garda members who came upon the scene to give evidence to the judge or whoever is adjudicating the issue and then for others to be able to test that evidence. Instead, we have a finding of fact in respect of it.
One of the factors that struck me as one of the strongest points that had been made in respect of the death of Shane O’Farrell and why it required investigation, is that there had been a hearing before Judge O’Hagan in the Circuit Court on 11 January 2011. At that hearing the judge said that if the individual – who we know was subsequently driving the car that knocked Shane down – was involved in the commission of another criminal offence, he would be sentenced to prison. Judge Haughton seeks to deal with this at page 402 of his report and the point he mentioned in his report is to ask who would know whether he would have been put in prison by Judge O’Hagan or whether he should have been put in prison. With the greatest of respect, I do not think that is the point. The point is that the Circuit Court judge who subsequently dealt with this matter in June 2011, when he was convicted of the offence of possession of heroin, should have been informed about the fact it had to go back before Judge O’Hagan. There was a breakdown in the criminal process as to why that issue did not go back before the judge. We also need to recognise that as a House, we need to take steps to amend the law in respect of dangerous driving causing death and careless driving causing death, under the former section 53. At present, if someone is acquitted on that, he or she cannot convicted of the other under section 52. That is something this House can do. I will now hand over to Deputy Lawless.