26.09.21 – Irish Times – Hit-and-run case facts not passed on to Fianna Fail

Justine McCarthy

The Department of Justice has been criticised for not including “significant” information about the driver involved in the death of Shane O’Farrell in a briefing it gave Fianna Fail almost three years ago under the party’s confidence-and-supply deal with the government.

O’FarrelI, 23, died in a hit-and-run incident while cycling near his home in Carrickmacross, Co Monaghan, in 2011. The driver, Zigimantas Gridziuska, hid his damaged car. He had 42 previous convictions and was on bail relating to other offences.

In 2013, he was found not guilty of dangerous driving causing O’Farrell’s death but was convicted of leaving the scene and was given a suspended jail sentence.

In December 2017 the department was informed by the Courts Service that due to “a filing error” in the District Court, Gridziuska had not gone to jail in 2010 after he was sentenced to six months for possession of heroin. Gridziuska was bailed pending an appeal hearing but the papers were never lodged, leaving him at large.

In 2018, the department drafted terms of reference for an investigation of the episode by- a senior counsel, but this did not go ahead.

This information was not included in a departmental memo on the case given to Fianna Fail’s confidence-and- supply team dated November 26, 2018. A Fianna Fail motion calling for a public inquiry into O’Farrell’s death had been passed by the Dail five months earlier.

“The department requested a report from the Courts Service into this error and this was provided on December 12, 2017,” said Jim O’Callaghan, who proposed the Dail motion as Fianna Fail’s justice spokesman at the time. “This was significant enough for the department to seek to appoint an independent lawyer to investigate the error, It is, therefore, surprising that the error and subsequent investigation were not brought to the attention of Fianna Fail during the confidence-and-supply discussions in late 2018.”

The existence of a Courts Service report concerning O’Farrell’s death emerged in documents obtained under the Freedom Of Information Act by Lucia O’Farrell, his mother, in November 2019. The documents showed that the attorney-general and the state’s senior counsel in a High Court action she is pursuing against the minister for justice had both advised Shane O’Farrell victim she be given a copy of the report. Lucia O’Farrell eventually received the report on February 24, 2020. In an accompanying letter Aidan O’DriscolI, then the secretary general of the department, said the failure to supply it previously had been an oversight.

“I can assure you this was not due to any reluctance to share this report with you but was an accidental oversight for which I want to express my sincere apologies,” he said.

In February 2019, Gerard Haughton, a District Court judge, was appointed to carry out a preliminary scoping examination of the circumstances of O’Farrell’s death. It is still under way.