17.10.23 – Senator Marie Sherlock – Seanad

17 10 23 Senator Marie Sherlock Seanad 720WebShareName

Uploaded by Lucia O’Farrell on 2024-01-07.

I thank the Minister for coming to the House. I am glad we are having these statements and I pay tribute to those who have organised them this evening, but I have listened to the debate in the Dáil and the debate here and there is a surreal disconnect between what the Government and the Minister are saying and what everybody else in both Chambers is saying. There is a surreal loyalty to the process and to what I and many others consider to be a deeply flawed report and its recommendations.

I read the Minister’s reply. With the greatest of respect, it is a cop-out. There is a fundamentally flawed attitude here. To me it reads like we are saying we will be okay in the future and there is no need to look back on the past. If we do not understand our past, how can we ever hope to make our future better? Arguably, nowhere is that more relevant that when it comes to An Garda Síochána and how our courts treat people in this country. The Minister has not said it specifically, but the attitude I am picking up from the response we got this evening rides roughshod over the very serious and legitimate concerns being raised by the O’Farrell family about the report and the scoping exercise into their son’s death. What is worse for me is that this deeply flawed report casts a cloud over serving members of the Courts Service and An Garda Síochána. We may never have the truth come out if the Government continues with the approach that this scoping exercise is sufficient and if it accepts its recommendations.

I pay tribute to the O’Farrell family, who are here in the Gallery this evening. I do not think any of us can understand the toll that the last number of years have taken since 2011. We are here because of their absolute determination to get justice for their son and brother. Of course, justice will never bring him back, but it will at least explain why their son and brother was killed on that night. Justice will show why there were failings in our policing and courts systems, and will detail why there was a litany of mistakes and failures. Justice will show why mistakes were made, and whether it was down to pure incompetence or something more sinister. That has been alluded to by others. Right now, for the O’Farrell family, it is a case of justice denied. I met Lucia and her daughter about a year ago. It is an enormous tribute to her and her family that they have continued this campaign. I am personally so disappointed that we are at this juncture all these years on.

Notwithstanding the 2018 motion passed by the Dáil and Seanad, if we were to take a step back we might see having a scoping exercise as an achievement and progress in itself, given that we hold judges in this country in very high regard. I think we would expect that a scoping exercise would be done to the highest standard. This report is not a scoping exercise. It passes judgment – Senator Pauline O’Reilly mentioned a statement of fact – on the manner in which Shane O’Farrell died that night. That goes beyond any terms of reference. As a cyclist, I find it harrowing to read the victim-blaming that goes on in this report. The report deflects from some of the most important questions at the heart of why Shane died. It appears that even the GSOC statutory reports were not even relied on or indeed sought out. The report passes comment on how every offence should not warrant custodial sentences, which is fine in itself, but yet fails to place importance on the question of how somebody could be on bail for multiple offences and not have that communicated before the District and Circuit Courts. It is surreal that anybody could be on bail for six offences at the one time and have a previous history of 34 convictions and still slip through the net. As Senator Pauline O’Reilly said, I do not think the rest of us here would expect to be met with that treatment. How did that happen in the case of the man who killed Shane
O’Farrell? I take very seriously any document produced by the Judiciary in this State, but I believe there are very serious flaws in this report. It is a reflection on the Minister’s Department and her Ministry that she is not willing to open up the scoping exercise or commit to a public inquiry. I agree with the calls of Senators Doherty, Gavan, O’Reilly and Gallagher to reject the recommendations of this report.

While the O’Farrell family are foremost in my thoughts tonight, I am also thinking about another family, the family of Terence Wheelock. Terence died months after sustaining life-changing injuries in a Garda cell in Store Street Garda station in 2005. There was a GSOC investigation in 2014. Having read the report, to my mind there are inconsistencies, inaccuracies and more questions than answers in it. Looking at the experience of Terence Wheelock’s family, it is really important that we ask what the impact of justice denied is to a family and a community. For Terence’s family, it is a sense of disrespect, a sense of being ignored and a sense of being treated like second- class citizens. That is being passed on to the next generation. As legislators, we all have a responsibility to ensure that people do not feel failed by An Garda Síochána and the legal system in this country.

The Minister has the responsibility to ensure that justice is served. Tonight, we stand with the O’Farrell family. All of us who have spoken here have called for that full inquiry. I ask the Minister to reflect on what she has said to us this evening and to reconsider her position on the investigation into why Shane died. The Government needs to do an awful lot more.