20.11.19 – Seanad – Statements on the need for Public Inquiry into death of Shane O’Farrell – Robbie Gallagher

20.11.19 – Seanad – Statements on the need for Public Inquiry into death of Shane O’Farrell – Senator Robbie Gallagher

I welcome the Minister back to the House this afternoon to discuss the tragic and evolving story of the death of Shane O’Farrell who, as we all know, died as a result of a road traffic accident in County Monaghan in August 2011. He was killed in a hit-and-run by a man who had 42 previous convictions. The driver of the car was on bail in respect of several offences. He had breached the conditions of those bail bonds and had been serving suspended sentences that should have been activated, had the courts been informed of his convictions. In short, had the criminal justice system been functioning properly, the driver would not have been at liberty on the day he drove that car and was involved in that hit-and-run. The family, naturally, are devastated by their tragic loss.

A Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, investigation commenced in early 2012. It was, I am disappointed to say, a total failure. It dragged on for over seven years and left the family with no real answers. While it was one of the cases referred under the independent review mechanism to consider allegations of Garda misconduct or inadequacies in the investigation of such allegations, the independent review mechanism directed no further action because the matter was with GSOC. Clearly, there are still questions to be answered.

On 14 June 2018, the Dáil voted in favour of a motion calling on the Government to immediately establish a public inquiry into the death of Shane. On 5 February 2019, the Minister appointed Judge Haughton to conduct a scoping inquiry into matters surrounding Shane’s death. The Minister sought to significantly curtail the terms of reference of that inquiry, as drafted by Judge Haughton, and in doing so has undermined the process of the scoping exercise and placed significant restrictions on Judge Haughton.

I do, however, take on board the presentation of the Minister at the outset of the debate.

Fianna Fáil brought forward the motion calling on the Minister to adopt the terms of reference as drafted by Judge Haughton. As the Minister knows, terms of reference are clearly binding on an inquiry. They establish the jurisdiction of that inquiry in setting out what it can and cannot inquire into. Limiting the terms of reference of this matter significantly limits what can be considered by the judge and, consequently, what recommendations the judge can ultimately make. The terms of reference, as they currently stand, do not reflect the spirit of the Dáil vote and nor will they enable us, as a nation, to learn of the extent of the dysfunctionality of elements of our criminal justice system. The Fianna Fáil motion was passed by Dáil Éireann but the Minister has refused to broaden the terms of reference.

The O’Farrell family, as we all know, have worked tirelessly seeking to get justice for their son and brother. The State has failed them in the manner in which the death of Shane was investigated and prosecuted. The State failed the family in the manner in which their complaints around the investigation and prosecution were handled by GSOC. The State is continuing to fail them in the attempt to limit the terms of reference of the scoping exercise.

The O’Farrell family must be commended on the courageous and dignified way in which they are pursuing justice for Shane. They have been unrelenting in their quest for justice and by so doing, they are doing the utmost to honour Shane’s life. In many ways, the lives of the O’Farrell family are in stand-by mode and have been for more than seven years. It is difficult for the ordinary man or woman in the street to comprehend why the wrong that was done was not made right at the first available opportunity. Here we are and, in the Minister’s words, not for the first time he is in this Chamber explaining what the State is doing in order to address the wrong.

The O’Farrell family have not had the time to mourn properly the death of their son. It is bad enough for any parent to bury a child. It is totally unnatural and goes against the grain of life as we know it. To compound that tragic loss is the fact that a wrong was done and that wrong still has not been righted. Clearly, there is a responsibility on us all, as legislators, and the least the O’Farrell family deserve is for the truth to be told about what happened not only so that the O’Farrell family can get justice and time to mourn the tragic loss of their son and brother but that we, as a State, can learn from the shortcomings that were illustrated clearly by this entire episode. We, as a State, must learn from the wrongs that have been done and can learn what actions must be taken in future to ensure that we will not be discussing another family at another time in this House or the Lower House.

I listened to the Minister’s words with great intent. I was heartened, as I am sure the O’Farrell family will be, by one sentence the Minister repeated. He said he is anxious to see progress on this matter, as we all are, and I ask that the Minister, through his good offices, will consult with the O’Farrell family. There is no point in us doing scoping exercises unless all the parties, particularly the O’Farrell family, are happy with what has gone into that scoping exercise. All we want is closure and the O’Farrell family deserve that.