Bríd Smith – Question:
10. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Justice her views on the demand for a public inquiry into the death of a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32020/20]
The question speaks for itself. I am very concerned about what has happened in response to the demand for a public inquiry into the death of Shane O’Farrell. This was brought before the previous Dáil many times.
I would like to see what progress is being made on it.
At the outset, I offer my condolences to the family of the late Shane O’Farrell. I understand that he was an exceptional young man and his death nine years ago, at the age of 23, was a terrible tragedy.
I note that the Deputy has raised this case a number of times and that she raised it previously with me in the Chamber. As she will be aware, a retired judge, Gerard Haughton, is currently conducting a scoping exercise into the tragic circumstances surrounding Shane’s death. The judge furnished an interim report to my predecessor, Deputy Flanagan, last November and, following consultation between the judge with Shane’s family and the Attorney General, the interim report was published on 17 December 2019. In his interim report, the judge stated that he would not limit Shane’s family in their submissions to him or the nature and extent of the documentation that they wished to furnish to him in the scoping exercise.
My Department maintains regular contact with the judge and he has assured us that he will ask for any assistance that is required to complete the final report and we will of course make it available to him. However, given the Covid-19 restrictions, the judge recently informed my Department that it is likely to be mid-December before he will be in a position to conclude the scoping exercise. I assure the Deputy that it is of course open to the judge to make any recommendations that he sees fit in his final report and this includes the establishment of any form of statutory or non-statutory inquiry. He is not precluded in any way from proposing that. I hope Deputy Bríd Smith will appreciate that it is only appropriate that I would await the recommendations of the final report of the scoping exercise before making any decision on further inquiries into this matter. I also hope that we will have the report before the end of the year.
It would be wonderful if we could have the report before the end of the year. I remind the Minister – not that she needs reminding but for the record – that Shane O’Farrell was killed on 2 August 2011, so we are coming into the tenth year of the anniversary of his death. The Minister and the House are aware of the efforts his family have gone through to get an inquiry and to get justice. There are significant questions regarding what happened with the killer, his criminal record and the fact that he was at large when he probably should have been incarcerated. There were many prison sentences attached to the list of breaches of legislation, in the North and in the South, of which he was found guilty. For nine years, Lucia O’Farrell in particular and the rest of her family have been campaigning extremely hard.
On 14 June 2018, this House passed a motion, tabled by a current member of a Government party, Deputy O’Callaghan, to demand an open public inquiry into the events leading up to Shane O’Farrell’s death. On 13 February, 2019 the Seanad did likewise. The two Houses of the Oireachtas have called for this and we are still waiting. We cannot keep hiding behind Covid. A lot of work can be done online and we need to progress these matters. If the Minister is giving a commitment that something will be produced by the judge by the end of the year, then we should all hold her to that. By that I mean the family and the Oireachtas, because both Houses have voted for this to happen and we are still waiting.
I am informed that it is likely that it will be mid-December, so I do hope we will receive the report then. That is the timeline that I will set and that I will ask the judge to stick to. The most important point is that the family get answers to their questions. The reason we have set out this scoping exercise first is to see whether a public inquiry would bring about those answers for the family. I understand there have been many motions in the Houses, but until we have the answers to the current scoping exercise it is hard for me to say whether the judge will recommend an inquiry. As a Minister in this Government, I wish to be clear that we do not object to an inquiry if that is what is recommended in the report, but it is important that we see the report first. The most important point is that I hope we can get the answers this family want and that they can feel somewhat at peace because this has been a very challenging time, almost ten years as the Deputy pointed out. I can only imagine that it must be extremely difficult to lose a loved one in those circumstances. I will do everything I can to ensure that they do get the answers that they want.
Like everybody else, I sincerely care about the family and that they get closure and find out what happened to Shane and why, but there is also a matter of public interest here because the wheels of justice turn in many strange ways and when one knows even a little bit about this case, one can see that there are so many questions to be asked. It is a matter of public interest and not just personal interest to the family that we have an inquiry to find out exactly what happened because nine years ago it was Shane O’Farrell and it could be anybody else tomorrow. There is a question regarding how this criminal was dealt with, why he was not incarcerated and what led to the events on that day, which took a young man’s life and which took his family’s basic existence away. When we get the answers – the sooner we get them the better – they will probably lead to more questions about how the justice system works as opposed to answering those that have already been asked. That is why it is important for everybody to see how the wheels of justice turn, rather than it just being confined to the O’Farrell family. However, the family are, of course, are of the utmost concern here. The case provokes many more questions about what happens within the system.
It is difficult for me to pre-empt what may or may not be in this report but I have every confidence that Judge Haughton will carry out his work, will take all of the information and the evidence that is available to him and will come to a decision and include that in the report by the end of the year. I again offer my condolences to the family of Shane O’Farrell and I will work with them, irrespective of what comes out of this report, and we will follow through as soon as possible.