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 Header Item Inquiries into Garda Activities (Continued)
 Header Item Confidence in the Minister for Health: Motion

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 979 No. 6

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Charles Flanagan: Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan] The motion called for the actions of the Garda, the DPP, the courts and GSOC to be examined as part of such an inquiry. As Minister for Justice and Equality, I am particularly cognisant of the independence of each of these criminal justice bodies and it is imperative that their independence be respected.

When the Dáil passed its motion, I began examining how we could give effect to the intention of the House without undermining the work of GSOC. My officials began to explore options with the Attorney General. At the earliest opportunity following the completion of the GSOC disciplinary investigation at the end of January, I appointed a respected and experienced former judge of the District Court, Judge Gerard Haughton, to carry out a scoping exercise into the circumstances of the death of Shane O'Farrell, including the criminal prosecution arising from the road traffic incident, the independent review mechanism examination of the case and the investigations by GSOC.

I met the O'Farrell family two weeks ago to outline my proposals. While family members objected to the process of a scoping exercise, they agreed to consider the proposed terms of reference and to engage with Judge Haughton on same. I thank them for that. Judge Haughton has already contacted the family to commence that important engagement.

It is open to Judge Haughton to propose changes to the terms of reference to me. Following his review, he will advise me on any remaining unanswered questions that should be the subject of further inquiry or investigation and, if so, the most appropriate manner in which that investigation might take place.

I wish to state in clear terms that the Government is not opposed to the possibility of a further inquiry into this case if that is what Judge Haughton recommends. I have not placed any restriction on him in that regard. Like my Government colleagues and everyone on this side of the House, I wish to see questions answered to the satisfaction of the O'Farrell family. We are all in agreement on that, and I say that in the presence of the Chair of the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality, who also has an interest in this matter.

I thank the Deputies for giving me the opportunity to set out how I propose to proceed in this tragic case. I want to deal with it in such a way as to find answers to questions that have remained unanswered to date.

Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire: Information on Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire Zoom on Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire I hope that the judge revises the terms of reference, given that there are difficulties with them. They once again take the approach of examining the elements that have not already been investigated, notwithstanding the fact that the family is dissatisfied with a number of those investigations, in particular the GSOC investigation. This is a piecemeal approach. Terms 1 and 2 are focused on those areas of failure that have not already been examined while terms 3 to 6, inclusive, hinge on those first two terms.

I hope that this exercise allows the family to get justice but I also hope that the terms of reference are revised. The Minister should have consulted the family on them before publishing them.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: Information on Thomas P. Broughan Zoom on Thomas P. Broughan If Judge Haughton asked the Minister to move straight to establishing a full public inquiry under the 2004 legislation, would the Minister do so? The four-year GSOC investigation was unsatisfactory and we know little about the issue of disciplinary action. We need justice for Shane, his mother, Lucia, and the whole family. There is no need for a scoping inquiry. We should be able to proceed to a commission of investigation into the tragic death of this talented and highly regarded young man that has decimated his community and family.

Deputy Gino Kenny: Information on Gino Kenny Zoom on Gino Kenny As my colleagues have stated, this issue has become so protracted that it now compels the O'Farrell family. The family has always wanted truth and justice. Will the Minister be compelled to establish a public inquiry if Judge Haughton calls for one?

Deputy Niamh Smyth: Information on Niamh Smyth Zoom on Niamh Smyth It is clear that the GSOC inquiry has been a failure for the O'Farrell family. It is six years since the process began, yet the O'Farrells have no more answers than they did when it started. All that can be gleaned from the report is that the Government needs to step up and establish a commission of investigation so that we as a nation can learn from this awful tragedy and nothing like this ever happens again.

Deputy Charles Flanagan: Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan I have listened carefully to the points raised by Deputies Ó Laoghaire, Broughan, Gino Kenny and Smyth. I have already mentioned the independence of the criminal justice bodies that are engaged in various aspects of the O'Farrell case. It is critical that I make it clear that legal difficulties may arise in seeking to look at actions by the courts, which are independent under the Constitution, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution and GSOC, both of which are independent under law. We must have regard to the constitutional separation of powers where the courts are concerned. Where the DPP is concerned, the law is designed to prevent inappropriate interference with the office, particularly in cases where prosecutorial decisions are concerned. Therefore, any inquiry must at all times respect these boundaries.

I have initiated a scoping exercise to examine the various matters. This is a reasonable and responsible approach to take. There are various precedents of scoping exercises being carried out prior to the setting up of inquiries or tribunals. It is good governance to allow a scoping exercise by a legal expert to determine the net issues that might require further examination. Indeed, the exercise on the part of Judge Haughton will also be charged with responsibility for reviewing changes that have already been made to the law, practices and procedures in respect of the administration of bail and bench warrants and the extent to which those changes have or have not addressed gaps in the systems since the death of Shane O'Farrell.

I am acutely conscious that at the heart of this tragedy is a family in pain. I am very much aware that this family is searching for answers. Its members have the sympathy and support of the Government and everyone else in this House. Once again, I want to extend my sincere condolences to the O'Farrell family and assure the House, including all the Deputies who have raised the issue today, that a process is firmly in place to examine how best to give effect to the Dáil motion that was passed.

Confidence in the Minister for Health: Motion

Deputy Louise O'Reilly: Information on Louise O'Reilly Zoom on Louise O'Reilly I move:

That Dáil Éireann has no confidence in the Minister for Health, Simon Harris T.D., and calls on him to resign from his Ministerial position forthwith.

The submission of this no-confidence motion was not rushed. It is not vindictive or personalised. This motion was submitted because of the scandal of the national children's hospital, with the overspend representing for us the final straw. There are those in the Minister's own party and the media who say they believe this motion is unfair. When I hear that, I wonder if they have been living under a rock for the past three years or are being deliberately obtuse or just partisan. There are those who say that this motion will not build a hospital, reduce a waiting list or get a patient off a trolley, but let us face it - nothing that the Government is doing is achieving those aims either.

  We are not going to stand on the sidelines and let the Government off the hook for failing repeatedly to deliver and for presiding over a significant waste of taxpayers' money. We were elected to stand up and give voice to our constituents. At least we are using our voices, unlike the men and women of Fianna Fáil who proved themselves incapable of understanding political accountability when in government and who are now showing that they either do not understand political accountability or are afraid of it. What we in Sinn Féin are seeking to do is to do what is right in the service of political accountability and the future of our health service.

  The national children's hospital overspend is not an isolated incident. It is another in a series of scandals, mistakes and failures that have blighted the Minister's term. He will stand up in a few minutes' time and list off what he sees as his achievements, but they pale into insignificance against the failures he has presided over for almost three years. He tweeted today about the repeal of the eighth amendment and the passing of the Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018, but he did not do those things alone. To try to claim credit for the decades of hard work by pro-choice campaigners is more than a little bit sad. Even his most ardent supporter could not defend his record in good conscience. How can anyone defend record-breaking levels of patients on trolleys? How can anyone defend failed scoliosis action plans? How can anyone defend chronically understaffed child and adolescent mental health services, CAMHS?

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