Frances Fitzgerald defends garda review barristers

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has defended her appointment of seven barristers to review around 220 complaints of garda malpractice, despite claims of a conflict of interest.

Frances Fitzgerald defends garda review barristers

She was responding to Fianna Fáil’s Niall Collins who wrote to her about the concerns of the family of a hit-and-run victim who have asked that the barrister who represented the driver who fled the scene of the accident be removed from the panel.

Lucia O’Farrell, whose son Shane, 23, died in the collision three years ago, said it was “totally unfair” that Conor Devally was appointed to the panel.

She said there was a conflict of interest because he represented Zigimantas Gridziuska, who had pleaded guilty to failing to stop at the scene of an accidentthat killed her son. He subsequently received an eight-month suspended sentence.

The family are calling for an independent inquiry into the events surrounding his death, including why Gridziuska was on the road when he had breached a number of bail conditions.

His car had been pulled up by the Garda drugs squad three weeks prior to the incident, and again an hour before Shane was killed.

In a letter to Fianna Fáil’s justice spokesman, Ms Fitzgerald said: “The counsel are all selected on the basis of their experience in the criminal justice system. In this regard, and having regard to the scope of the review, there is always of course the possibility that a conflict of interest may arise.”

She said the review of each complaint will consist of an examination of the papers in the case by the two senior and five junior counsel.

“The counsel are fully aware of and share my concerns that nothing arises which might in any way detract from the integrity of the review mechanism, including issues of conflict of interest,” she said.

“There is an absolute acceptance by me and the counsel concerned that if there is any conflict, or potential conflict, that the particular counsel will not be involved in the particular case.”

She said she was “satisfied that it is not necessary to remove individual counsel from the panel on the grounds that they may have a conflict of interest with any particular case”.

Under the process, each of the senior counsel will be paid a fee of €20,000, as well as a sum of €300, €550, or €800, for each case, depending on its scale and complexity.

The panel will recommend whether these cases should be referred to the Garda Ombudsman Commission or to an existing commission of inquiry examining complaints by a Garda whistleblower.

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