Family still waiting for a ‘new era’ of justice

If there is a "new era" in the Department of Justice — as promised by Minister Frances Fitzgerald when she took over the troubled portfolio — then Lucia O’Farrell can’t see it.

Family still waiting for a ‘new era’ of justice

Left distraught since the death of her son in a hit and run in 2011, she is finding her fight for justice as frustrating as ever.

Shane O’Farrell, 23, was hit by a car on the N2 Dublin to Derry road in Monaghan sometime after 10pm on August 2, 2011.

The An Post cycling ambassador was out for a spin having just returned home from college where — his proud mother points out — he was a promising student fluent in French and Irish and with a degree in law from UCD. He was studying for a master’s in Trinity College Dublin.

“The very law he studied failed him and is continuing to fail him” his mother said yesterday as she continued her campaigning for an inquiry into the conduct of members of the gardaí and other state agencies before and after her son was killed.

A Lithuanian, Zigimantas Gridziuska, pleaded guilty for failing to stop at the scene of the incident and received an eight-month suspended sentence in March 2013.

He was given the choice of eight months in jail or leaving the country within 21 days. Not surprisingly, the 39-year-old went to his home country. But his wife remains living nearby, and he can come to the North — just a few kilometres away across the border.

Gridziuska had a history of drug abuse and already had 40 convictions involving drugs, burglary, theft, and road offences. He had also breached bail and suspended sentences.

Three weeks before the incident that killed Shane, Gridziuska had been pulled up by the drugs squad who took from the dashboard charred tinfoil containing a substance.

The substance went to a lab three weeks later and was confirmed to be heroin — something that would have warranted an arrest. Shane was already dead when the results came through.

An hour before he met the cyclist on the road, Gridziuska had been pulled over by gardaí on suspicion that the occupants were in possession of drugs. He was uninsured and the car had no NCT. The car was waved on.

The O’Farrell family believe that if the information had been entered into the system earlier, gardaí would have been aware that Gridziuska was breaching various bail conditions. This would have ensured he was locked up.

Defending him in his trial relating to the hit and run was senior counsel Conor Devally. He is one of seven barristers appointed by Ms Fitzgerald to review this and around 220 other complaints made by families, victims, TDs, and whistleblowers.

Ms Fitzgerald announced the independent review mechanism — which will take two months — as part of what her office has described as a “justice reform programme”.

Lucia O’Farrell has little faith in the process. She believes it is “not appropriate or ethical” that the counsel who defended Gridziuska in court will oversee the review panel that will determine if she will get the public inquiry she believes her son deserves.

In a letter to Attorney General Máire Whelan on July 26, she appealed to her as a Government adviser “but more importantly as a mother” not to stand over the appointment of Mr Devally to the panel of legal experts “knowing what you know about Shane’s case”.

The Department of Justice said it cannot comment on which cases will be examined in the review.

“Appropriate steps will be taken to ensure that nothing arises which might in anyway detract from the integrity of the review mechanism, including issues of conflict of interest,” the department said in a statement.

“If there is any conflict, or potential conflict of interest, the particular counsel will not be involved in the case. This is normal professional conduct and there are sufficient counsel on the panel to ensure the practicality of this.”

Mrs O’Farrell said she does not know what involvement Mr Devally will have in the review. “Even if he does not have direct involvement in this case, it is clear that counsel will be working together,” she said.

“It is impossible for the five junior counsel to act independently when one of these cases involve the overseer Conor Devally, their position will be compromised.”

There are other concerns that the process will involve a paper review only and that the families, who have long been frustrated that no one has been listening to them, will not be interviewed, or have an opportunity to have their say.

“Many of these cases have been laying around for years and nothing was done about them,” Mrs O’Farrell said.

“Do I have faith in the system? Absolutely not. The department is failing its people, Enda Kenny is failing his people.

“They are quick to use words like openness and transparency and a new era. But there is no evidence of this.”

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