Private Notice Questions. – Shercock (Cavan) Garda Station Death.
Deputies Gregory, De Rossa, Taylor, Farrelly and Woods have been given permission to put questions on Private Notice to the Minister for Justice. In view of the number of questions and in order to save the time of the House I have had the questions stencilled and circulated.
asked the Minister for Justice, in view of public concern surrounding the circumstances of the death of Mr. Peter Matthews in Shercock Garda Station, Cavan, if he will arrange for an independent inquiry to establish the facts and to recommend appropriate action; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
asked the Minister for Justice if, as a result of widespread public concern following disclosures during a court case in Cavan last week in which a member of the Garda was cleared of a number of charges arising from the death of a man in Shercock Garda station, he will order an immediate public inquiry into all aspects of the arrest, detention, treatment and death of Mr. Peter Matthews.
asked the Minister for Justice (a) what steps he will take in inquiring into the circumstances surrounding the death of the late Peter Matthews while in custody in Shercock Garda station in 1982; (b) the manner in which the investigation was conducted, (c) the number of gardaí involved in the investigation; if in order to allay public anxiety and concern in the matter, he will make a full statement on the situation and if it is his intention to establish an independent inquiry to examine and report on all the relevant aspects of the case.
asked the Minister for Justice if in view of the grave and widespread public anxiety and concern about the circumstances surrounding the death of Mr. Peter Matthews while in custody in Shercock Garda Station, County Cavan, he will establish an independent sworn inquiry to examine and report on all relevant aspects of this case.
Limerick East): There is every reason for public concern about the circumstances in which the late Peter Matthews died in Shercock Garda Station, County Cavan, two years ago. I share that concern and I share also what I am sure is the wish of every Member of the House, that is, the wish to ensure that whatever action is desirable in the public interest will in fact be taken. More time is needed, however, to determine what the best course of action is. In principle, I would have no hesitation whatsoever in recommending to the Government that a public inquiry be established to examine witnesses on oath. I cannot, however, proceed to do that without first carefully examining whether such a course of action would be likely to do more harm than good as would be the case if, for instance, it appeared likely that such an inquiry would not be able to establish the facts to any greater extent than they are already known and if, in addition to that, it appeared likely that the holding of the inquiry would itself operate to prevent other action being taken which ought to be taken or to cause undue delay in the taking of such action.
The position about formal inquiries, whether judicial or administrative, is complicated by the fact that two members of the Garda Síochána have, separately and before separate juries, been acquitted of charges of injuring Mr. Matthews.
No possible public purpose would be served by the commencement of a course of action that might superficially and immediately appear popular if in fact it were clearly foreseeable that such a course would end in stalemate or worse, as would be the case if, for instance, something were done that would invite High Court proceedings to have the action quashed. It is therefore necessary to take care to ensure that the right decisions are made and to take whatever time is needed to ensure that that care is in fact taken. In the meantime, I can say for the information of the House that Mrs. Matthews has commenced civil proceedings in the High Court seeking damages for the death of her husband. On the information available to me, I think it may be taken that the State will not contest liability and that the only issue that will arise will be the amount of the damages which will either be agreed or be determined by the court. All that is possible on the personal level is for me to say how much I and all members of the Government and I am sure all Members of the House regret this most unfortunate event.
To sum up, therefore, my position is that I am fully conscious of the seriousness of what has emerged and equally I am fully committed to the proposition that whatever action is right and likely to be in the public interest will in fact be taken. In this context may I say that I regret that the Leader of the Opposition in what was otherwise, according to the accounts in the newspapers, a carefully balanced comment in Cork, should have introduced what appeared to be an element of party politics into this matter when he sought to contrast the picture obtaining under a Fianna Fáil Government with that which obtained under a Coalition Government. The fact is that the death of Peter Matthews occurred during the period of office of a Fianna Fáil Government but it would be an absurdity for me to try to suggest that that Government were in some way to blame for it. Of course they were not; and I hope and believe that both sides of the House will agree to treat it in a non-party way.
Perhaps, a Cheann Comhairle, in view of the link being drawn between those matters and the recent Kerry case, I could be permitted to add a few words about the Kerry situation, especially as it is a matter in which the House would have an interest.
Seeing that the Minister has addressed me, had the Chair known when he was ruling on these questions what he knows now, that the matter has again become sub judice, he might very well have given another ruling. Certainly the Chair will now be bound to rule out any questions which might go into the matter in any detail or deal with the rights or wrongs or merits of it. The Chair has now been told that there are High Court proceedings pending.
On a point of order, is it not the case that the Minister has admitted liability in that case and that therefore the case would not be affected by what might be said?
That does not affect the question of sub judice.
Are you suggesting that no supplementary questions may be addressed to the Minister?
The Chair will decide what supplementary questions may or may not be addressed.
The Minister has been quite tendentious in his reply in regard to myself. I understand he is now going to answer questions which are not asked of him.
Does the Deputy not want to know the information?
Deputy Shatter is a failed junior Minister who should keep quiet.
Deputy Tunney never got that far.
He successfully filled such a post.
The approach of the Opposition in this matter has been very mature and responsible. In regard to the Kerry case we took a very clear decision as to the action we would take. If the Minister is purporting to answer a question which has not been addressed to him it is out of order.
I think we should confine ourselves to the questions dealing with the Shercock case.
(Limerick East): On a point of order, the events in Kerry and the events in County Cavan have been commented on and in the public mind have been connected. I simply want to give information to the House on the position of the investigation in Kerry.
I agree with what the Minister says about the two cases being commented upon together and being treated as part of the one cause for complaint. I will allow the Minister to continue.
That is a very bad ruling and a very serious one.
On a point of order, would the fact that the Minister is addressing the House without being invited preclude some Deputy tomorrow from asking a specific question about the Kerry situation?
Because of the very serious and sensitive implications in the Kerry case, which is a recent case as distinct from the Matthews case which is two years old, we on this side of the House decided on a very specific course of action. It is very much out of order for the Minister now to speak about the Kerry case when no questions have been addressed to him on it and when we are not in a position to put the sort of questions we would wish to put.
I have ruled on the matter. I have accepted the explanation that the two cases are being treated as part of a series. If, as a result of anything the Minister says about the Kerry case, a Deputy wishes to put a relevant supplementary on it, I will allow it.
This is very extraordinary procedure.
(Limerick East): In view of the link being drawn between these matters and the recent Kerry case, I would like to add a few words about the Kerry case, especially as this is a matter in which the House could have an interest. The position since I spoke here last week is that the senior Garda officers assigned to the preliminary inquiry have been endeavouring, so far as the allegations of pressure to make admissions and so on are concerned, to ascertain from the members of the family in question what exactly is alleged to have been done and by whom. This is essential information in view of the obvious fact that if the allegations are well founded the possibility of criminal charges, perhaps very serious charges, against individual members of the force will arise. Any other approach to the matter might end in a situation in which the facts might have been ascertained but on which the taking of legal proceedings would have been made more difficult, or perhaps made even impossible.
While recognising that what I have to say may be one sided in that it is the position as it appears from the stand point of the Garda authorities rather than the family, the House is entitled to know that as far as the Garda authorities are concerned they have found it very difficult to obtain details. I am informed that they were first asked by a solicitor for the family for unqualified guarantees that nothing that might emerge would lead to any prosecution of any member of the family. The Garda were naturally unable to give such a guarantee although they did emphasise that they had no reason to believe that such a development would arise. That apparently was unacceptable. (Interruptions.)
That is disgraceful.
There are implications that the family are not ——
I will not allow—— (Interruptions.)
This whole thing is out of order and the Chair should know it.
There is no necessity to make attacks on the Chair, either in a low voice or in an aggressive manner. (Interruptions.)
(Limerick East): The position in the Kerry case is different from the Cavan case.
Would the Minister repeat what he has been saying while we were asking our questions?
Because of the noise, part of your reply could not be heard. Would you repeat the last paragraph?
On a point of order, I do not think it is in accordance with the order for you to address the Minister personally as you have just done.
I was asked to do something and——
You should refer to the Minister in the third person.
On a point of order, if the Chair is so concerned about matters being sub judice, I presume he is even more concerned by the allegation of the Minister that people in Kerry who were the victims of circumstances are being accused of subverting the course of justice.
(Limerick East): I made no such allegation. (Interruptions.)
That is a disgraceful statement.
This whole exercise smells.
I would ask Deputies to show restraint and allow the Minister to reply.
(Limerick East): I made no such allegations.
The Minister half apologised by saying that the view he was expressing was one sided.
(Limerick East): I am endeavouring to inform the House of the present position and the investigation that—— (Interruptions.)
(Limerick East): I am not. The Garda were naturally unable to give such a guarantee but they did emphasise that they had no reason to think that such a development would arise. That apparently was unacceptable. Since then they have at various times been promised written statements which would have been vetted by a solicitor. The most recent development that I am aware of is that those statements, or rather most but not all of them, have again been promised for tonight.
The position in the Kerry case is different from the Cavan case in more ways than one, not least in that in the latter case, as I have said, two members of the force have been acquitted by a jury. On the information available to me at present, the position about the Kerry case is relatively straightforward in that if the preliminary Garda inquiries cannot clear up the matter, and be seen to have cleared it up, I would think it possible that a formal sworn inquiry would be justified. I will repeat that: I would think it probable that a formal sworn inquiry would be justified and, I hope, would be likely at least to achieve the objective of establishing the facts. However, this is not something to be embarked on unless it emerges that the inquiries now taking place are not successful.
Naturally I am fully alive to the fact that in any assessment of the success of those inquiries one of the criteria to be met will be the need to provide public reasurance. I would like to assure the House that there will be no question of that aspect of the matter being regarded as otherwise than of the greatest importance.
(Limerick East): In the Kerry case, I have outlined what has happened to date and that investigation is proceeding. I am putting it in the context of certain difficulties that have arisen and I am informing the House that if the Garda inquiry cannot clear up the matter, and is not seen to clear it up, then it is probable that a formal sworn inquiry will be justified.
The Minister has not answered my question. I am asking if the Garda have co-operated. The Minister has suggested that the family concerned were for one reason or another not co-operating fully in this investigation. I am asking the Minister if the Garda have co-operated in this investigation. Would he give us a straightforward answer?
(Limerick East): The nature of the inquiry is such that the precise allegations by the members of the family about what happened and by whom certain things were inflicted would have to be put to the Garda. I do not want anything to happen in this investigation that would prevent the course of justice from proceeding.
I am calling Deputy Gregory.
Is it not true that the Garda have refused to give any information at this stage? Does this not indicate that now is the time for the Minister to proceed with the full sworn inquiry so that the questions which people raise about gardaí investigating gardaí will be dealt with?
Could the Minister say how long he will take before deciding whether to hold inquiries into these cases? Do this case and the other recent cases in any way influence his thinking on the Criminal Justice Bill? Does he agree that it was his own failure and the failure of his predecessors to initiate inquiries into the Nicky Kelly case that resulted in a belief among certain sections of the Garda that there is at least unofficial, if not official, approval for heavy gang tactics?
(Limerick East): On the first part of the supplementary, I would envisage a short period, weeks rather than months. On the second part of the Deputy’s supplementary, part of the debate on the Criminal Justice Bill is ordered for tomorrow and I hope Deputy Gregory will play a part in that debate. He was noticeable by his absence when the debate was proceeding through this House.
The Minister did not answer my question.
(Limerick East): The answer to the third part of the Deputy’s supplementary is no.
Due to the public disquiet about the Cavan case, would the Minister tell the House if the independent public inquiry will be started immediately? It seems from his reply that this inquiry will be starting in a matter of weeks.
(Limerick East): No, the Deputy misunderstood me. What I have been attempting to communicate is this: on the question of the judicial inquiry into the Cavan case, if it is foreseen that the matter would end with a conflict of evidence then we would have wasted a lot of time and money. It could be even worse than that if the proceedings of a judicial inquiry brought about a situation where information was obtained in a manner which rendered it impossible to use it subsequently for disciplinary proceedings.
In view of the need to protect the confidence of the people in the Garda Síochána, does the Minister not consider that even a number of weeks is too long to wait before a decision is made regarding an inquiry? Further, will he indicate if the gardaí who were present in the station on the night when Mr. Matthews died are still on duty, if they are still arresting people and what is going on exactly in that regard? Will he indicate if the medical evidence which the State pathologist presented in the court will be made available to whatever inquiry takes place?
(Limerick East): The first part of the Deputy’s supplementary question indicates the urgency with which he treats the matter and I share that urgency. Certainly there will be no delay in the investigation of these matters. On the question of whether gardaí were suspended, the position is that when criminal proceedings are initiated against a member of the Garda Síochána he is suspended from duty. I know that the garda who was acquitted recently has not been reinstated. The situation of other gardaí is being evaluated at the moment by means of the inquiry being conducted under the auspices of the Commissioner.
(Limerick East): One course of action is the course now proceeding, namely, that separate inquiries under the Commissioner can proceed. The second course of action is a formal judicial inquiry, with which Members are familiar. With regard to the third course of action, I understand a Minister for Justice has certain powers under an Act — I am not sure if it is an Act of 1924 or 1925 — which enables him to nominate someone, for example, a senior counsel to carry out an investigation.
Will the Minister tell the House when he will make up his mind on the various courses of action? He has outlined here the possible courses. It seems to me and to the House he is trying to avoid the situation in which to set up an inquiry. What action has the Minister taken in the matter to date? Has he called for a transcript of the proceedings? He has not told us that. Let me convey to the Minister the deep and widespread concern that exists in relation to this case and the wish that he would make up his mind and take action immediately.
(Limerick East): As an investigation proceeds the information available to me regarding outside events changes. It is not a question of my saying that I will make up my mind by next Friday. When I make up my mind it depends on the information available to me at a particular point. I can assure the Deputy that I share his concern, as indeed does everyone on this side of the House. The House has been absolutely united in sharing that concern. There will be no undue delay. I am as anxious as anybody, and probably more anxious, that we get to the bottom of these allegations.
On a point of order, does the Minister realise that under the privilege of this House he has in his statement on a matter that was not addressed to him today already prejudiced the possibility of criminal proceedings in the Kerry case either way by disclosing here that guarantees were sought from one side, alleging that guarantees were sought——
That is not a point of order.
It goes right to the order of this House and indeed of the State because I do not think there is any precedent for statements being made here by a Minister which could prejudice a trial subsequently. The Chair has ruled in respect of the protection of matters that are sub judice but the Minister, gratuitously and spontaneously, has given a version that could only prejudice a trial if it is to arise. May I ask the Minister what reason could justify his making such a disclosure at this stage?
(Limerick East): I believe the Deputy is talking nonsense. I did not prejudice the trial in any way whatever. The information I gave to the House was, in large part, published in a local newspaper last weekend.
The Minister has spoken at some length about the concern in the public mind, saying that he shares that concern and that he has protested greatly about these matters. Will he not acknowledge that by joining these two cases together — which are totally separate matters, with a span of two years between them — he has not been direct and straightforward with this House? Will he not agree that the purposes of justice and of assuring public opinion would have been better served if he had dealt with the two cases in accordance with the normal rules of the House and had given direct and specific answers in regard to both cases separately and not mixed up the two as he has sought to do?
(Limerick East): I do not agree with what Deputy Haughey has suggested. There are five Private Notice Questions on this topic. Last week there were four or five Private Notice Questions on the Abbeydorney case. I thought the House would be interested in the up-to-date information.
In view of the fact that the Criminal Justice Bill, as amended, is likely to be discussed tomorrow, will the Minister agree, as has been pressed by Fine Gael Deputies but with little response from other Deputies, that now is the time for the independent complaints tribunal which would be entirely independent, not gardaí investigating gardaí? Will he not agree that the tribunal must be introduced now?
That is a separate matter.
That was the essence of the amendment by Deputy Woods which was rejected.
The Deputy voted against it in the House.
I am saying that this matter is an appropriate one for such an independent tribunal to consider.
With regard to the Garda investigation in Kerry, since the Criminal Justice Bill has not yet become law, will the Minister say if they informed him under what powers they arrested, detained and interrogated for 12 hours the four members of the family concerned?
There were reports locally that the gardaí had refused to co-operate with the investigating officers when they came down. Will the Minister comment on that? He has not answered the question. He took the trouble to tell the House that there was some alleged lack of co-operation on the part of the family concerned.
I ask him to answer the question. We have received those reports from the local area and the Minister is remaining silent or trying to avoid answering that question. This is an exceptionally biased approach on the part of the Minister. It indicates the need to proceed with an independent inquiry very urgently in both of these cases.
(Limerick East): I have already answered the question. I will repeat my answer for the Deputy. The Commissioner has informed me through my officials that there has been no evidence whatsoever that the gardaí are refusing to co-operate. That is the information available to me at the moment. If Deputy Woods has other information I will be glad to have it. (Interruptions.)
I am calling Deputy Shatter.
You allowed the debate to develop to this stage.
I am calling Deputy Shatter.
You did this to me before. We will be back here tomorrow.
We got you out of a mess once before.
It is quite unbecoming to be so abusive to the Chair as a matter of practice day after day. It is bringing the House into disrepute.
Arising from the death of Peter Matthews and the investigations which are taking place, would the Minister consider reviewing the procedures applicable within our courts when members of the Garda are prosecuted in matters such as this?
It has been established that a man died as a result of injuries inflicted in a Garda station. Would the Minister consider reviewing the manner in which our criminal justice system operates to ensure that, when such incidents take place, the courts have the facility to discover the persons responsible for inflicting injuries of this nature?
I am concerned solely about Standing Orders. I am asking the Chair to indicate whether, in accordance with the spirit of Standing Orders and bearing in mind the specific Standing Order which allowed the Minister to make a statement on the Kerry case, it was unwise of him to confuse the two questions. Normally a Deputy is not allowed to ask a supplementary unless the matter was in the question. A precedent has now been created under which a Minister can answer questions which were not put. To me this makes a farce of Standing Orders.
I will not discuss the Chair’s ruling. I stated why I was allowing the question. I am calling the Order of Business.
The fact that the Minister has confused the two cases leads us to think there is something here which is not obvious. There are two separate cases involved. (Interruptions.)
(Limerick East): Deputies should stop the party politics. This is serious.
In view of the concern which has been expressed in public about the Kerry case, the Cavan case and other cases, is the Minister taking steps to satisfy himself and the public generally that there is not in existence in interrogations throughout the length and breadth of the country any systematic means of applying undue influence or duress on witnesses to obtain statements?
Arising from the Minister’s reply concerning the gardaí involved in the Shercock case, will the Minister give us a guarantee that the gardaí concerned in this case will not return to duty until the whole matter is cleared up? When he has his mind made up about an inquiry, will he come into the House and announce it here so that Members of the House can respond?
(Limerick East): Yes, if I make up my mind about an inquiry I will be prepared to announce it in the House. In reply to the first part of the supplementary, I am not prepared to give that guarantee first because it is a matter for the Commissioner whether or not members of the force will be suspended and, secondly, in proceedings such as this where matters have already been tried before the courts it behoves everybody to move with caution.