Check against Delivery

 

 

Minister’s statement to Dáil Éireann

 

The tragic death of Shane O’Farrell

 

31 May 2018

 

Ceann Comhairle,

 

Shane O’Farrell’s death was a tragedy.  And I know, as many of us know, that his loss has had a catastrophic impact on his family.  In 2011, Shane was just 23 years of age when he was killed when cycling in Co. Monaghan.  He was taken from his family at a time when he held so much promise for the life he might have lived.

I again offer my condolences and profound sympathy to Mrs. O’Farrell and Shane’s sisters and extended family and friends.  I cannot imagine the scale of their grief and I know that no words of mine can bring Shane back to his family.

 

In the course of the last seven years, I have met members of his family and I am very familiar with their tireless quest to understand the circumstances which led to Shane’s death.

 

So, let me state categorically here that there are a number of matters surrounding the circumstances of Shane O’Farrell’s death which are of concern.  The fact is that the person who was responsible for the fatal accident did have multiple previous convictions, including for theft, drugs and road traffic offences, for some of which he had received suspended sentences.  It is also the case that, at the time of the accident, he was on bail related to a number of charges.

 

Shane’s mother, Lucia, has asked for a public inquiry.  

 

Over the years since Shane’s death, my predecessors have attempted to address the concerns of his family.  They have availed of the mechanisms at their disposal to determine what actions they might take.

 

In 2014, my predecessor, Minister Shatter, referred the matter to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC).  Members of the House will be aware that GSOC has a statutory responsibility to deal with complaints concerning the conduct of members of the Garda Síochána.  At the time of the Minister’s referral GSOC was already investigating the case on foot of a complaint from the O’Farrell family and it merged the two into one investigation. The following month, in May 2014, Minister Shatter, referred the case to the Independent Review Mechanism (IRM).  The IRM was established to provide for independent reviews of certain allegations of Garda misconduct, or inadequacies in the investigation of certain allegations with a view to determining to what extent and in what manner further action may be required in each case.

 

For clarity, let me state that the Independent Review Mechanism was not established to act as a Commission of Inquiry or Investigation.  Nor was it designed to make findings.  Its purpose was to examine allegations to see whether further action was needed by the Minister and what that action would be. Under the IRM, the allegations made by the O’Farrell family concerning the circumstances of Shane’s death and subsequent events were examined.

 

Having considered this case, the recommendation made by the IRM was that no further ministerial action should be taken in this case. Counsel for the IRM pointed out that the appropriate forum for raising matters related to alleged Garda failings was GSOC which was already investigating certain matters arising from the tragic death in this case. 

 

In December 2015, my immediate predecessor, former Tánaiste Fitzgerald issued a letter to Mrs. O’Farrell setting out the outcome and recommendation from the IRM review, and the reasons for these. Before leaving the IRM it is important that I make one further point as I know that the matter of bias or conflict of interest has been raised in relation to this particular case.  One of the senior counsel on the IRM Panel had represented the driver of the car which caused the death of Shane O’Farrell at his trial.  Repeated assurances have been given that such conflicts of interest were catered for and I am advised categorically that this senior counsel had no involvement in the review of Mrs. O’Farrell’s complaint. 

 

The House will be aware that when it comes to a panel of expert lawyers, it is always possible that a conflict of interest may arise and it is therefore essential that appropriate procedures are in place.  I am assured that the IRM panel took appropriate steps to ensure that nothing arose which might have in any way detracted from the integrity of the mechanism.  Arrangements were put in place to ensure that if there was any conflict, or potential conflict, the conflicted counsel not only would not be involved in the particular complaint, but also would not be aware of which counsel was reviewing it.  This is normal professional conduct and there were sufficient counsel on the Panel to ensure the practicality of this.  Whatever steps were necessary in this regard and in relation to this complaint were taken to ensure there was no conflict of interest.  This has been explained to the family, to their solicitor and to this House in reply to a number of Parliamentary Questions raising the matter.

 

As mentioned, a number of complaints were made to GSOC by the O’Farrell family and my predecessor, Minister Shatter, also referred certain matters relating to the case to GSOC.  GSOC's investigation involved consideration of all 56 complaints made to it, i.e 56 complaints made by the family and matters referred to GSOC by Minister shatter.  In April 2018 GSOC issued its first report on this case to me and provided a copy to the O’Farrell family.  The first report considered the case from a criminal perspective.  Each allegation was examined to determine if any conduct by the Gardaí could constitute an offence. 

 

The primary complaints considered by GSOC were alleged failures by the Gardaí relating to the fact that the person who caused the accident had breached bail conditions in the months before the accident, alleged failure to check tax and other matters when the car which was involved in the collision with Shane O'Farrell's bicycle was stopped shortly before the collision, alleged failure to bring charges against a person for withholding information about the accident and alleged failure to keep the O'Farrell family informed of certain matters.

 

GSOC found that there were no grounds for criminal proceedings against any Garda, however, it identified conduct that may lead to disciplinary proceedings.  It immediately began a report on the disciplinary issues that this case gives rise to under the Garda Discipline Code.  The current GSOC investigation is examining an alleged failure to check tax and other matters related to the car and the owner of the car involved in the collision and an alleged failure to bring bail conditions to the attention of the court or to re-activate a suspended sentence when the person was charged with subsequent offences prior to the date of the collision.

 

This work is ongoing and, given the lengthy and detailed investigation to date, I expect that report to be completed without delay.  The findings of GSOC’s report on disciplinary matters may be quite serious and I urge colleagues in this House to be mindful of the importance of allowing GSOC to determine whether any Gardaí may be guilty of a breach of discipline and to be careful not to interfere with that process.  Indeed, I am sure Members of the House have read the statement issued by GSOC last night.  

 

This statement clarifies that the investigation into complaints made to GSOC by the family of the late Shane O’Farrell is, in fact, ongoing.  The report provided to the O’Farrell family was pursuant to s.103 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 by way of an update at the completion of one phase of the investigative process.

 

GSOC is conscious that all parties, including Gardaí under investigation, have rights and are not jeopardising the ongoing disciplinary investigation by naming persons who have the right to be heard and offer an explanation for the conduct under investigation.  When the investigation is completed a report will be forwarded to the Garda Commissioner under s.97 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005.  It will be open then for the Garda Commissioner to consider what action, if any, he thinks appropriate under the Garda Discipline Regulations.

 

GSOC is the independent authority established by statute to investigate allegations of wrongdoing or failings by members of the Gardaí.  GSOC's independence is its guarantee to members of the public, and indeed to members of the Gardaí who are the subject of complaint, that any and all complaints will be investigated properly and thoroughly, with due regard to the rights of all those involved.

 

On the matter of its first report, my understanding is that GSOC did not immediately publish that report, so as not to cause further undue distress to the O’Farrell family.   However, I believe it is important that the report is published and that there is transparency in this case on matters which are concerning not just to the O’Farrell family but to many in this House and beyond.  It is my understanding that GSOC intend to publish that report today.

 

The House may find it useful to know that the GSOC Report made a number of more general recommendations which I would like to set out here.  It stated that attendance in court for victims, especially in cases involving fatalities and serious assaults, can be particularly traumatic.  This can be exacerbated by the fact that there is no clear listing system available, especially for the District Court, to the public.  Furthermore, cases are often taken out of turn, new cases are added etc. which further extends the waiting time.  GSOC also drew attention to the inability to hear clearly in the courtroom which can be clearly frustrating.

 

With regard to victims, the Report says that victims can miss all or part of court applications because they are not informed that a case is to be dealt with while they are outside the courtroom.  It states that victims should be provided with appropriate information about a case and given it in a timely fashion.  Finally, it says that better communications between the courts, Gardaí and prison service might prevent significant issues being overlooked or missed such as bail conditions that may have been breached.

 

I want to thank GSOC for these findings which I have asked my officials to examine to determine what action I as Minister may take to address these issues. On the question of a statutory inquiry into the circumstances of Shane O’Farrell’s tragic death, the House will be aware that the previous Taoiseach and Tánaiste, who met with the O’Farrell family in later 2016 have stressed that they would examine whether any further action was warranted once the GSOC investigation is completed.  While the criminal investigation has now concluded there is still an investigation under way that could result in a recommendation for disciplinary action against one or more Gardaí. 

 

I know that it is a source of deep frustration and indeed upset for the O’Farrell family but it remains the case that the GSOC disciplinary investigation must be completed before any decision on what further action, can be taken.  I want to strongly reiterate the commitment previously given to the O'Farrell family that once the GSOC investigation is completed, the question as to whether there remain issues that require further investigation will be fully and transparently considered.

 

At the heart of this is a tragedy and a family in pain. We should remember that this family are searching for answers and they deserve our sympathy and support. I would like to, once again, extend my sincerest condolences to the O’Farrell family.

 

Ends.

 

31 May 2018