Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
8. To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality if he will instigate a public inquiry into the death of Father Niall Molloy. [20854/13]
I am advised by the Garda authorities that the examination surrounding the circumstances of the death of Fr. Niall Molloy is almost complete and that a report of this examination is expected to be submitted to the Garda Commissioner some time this month. Upon receipt of a report from the Commissioner, I will review the situation.
I understand that the officers carrying out the examination are continuing to keep the family members of the deceased updated on progress. While I fully appreciate the concerns of the family, in any case where criminal behaviour is suspected, it is only through a Garda investigation and where evidence of criminal wrongdoing is available through the submission of a file by the Garda to the Director of Public Prosecutions that persons can be brought fully to account.
Therefore, I hope the Deputy will agree that, in the first instance, we need to allow the present Garda examination to proceed to its conclusion, which, I reiterate, I understand is almost complete. I understand it will result in a report being furnished to the Garda Commissioner this month, and I then expect the Garda Commissioner to report to me.
We will await the outcome of that report. The Minister will be very familiar with this case going back to the time when he was an Opposition spokesperson on justice. I have had a chance to review what is known about the case, most of which is in the public domain. Potentially it is one of the biggest scandals in the history of the State in terms of the range of people associated with it, including people in medicine, the Judiciary, policing and politics.
This was a remarkable scandal where a priest, Fr. Niall Molloy, who by all accounts was beloved in the midlands community he served, had his life taken. His family deserve answers. More importantly, the people of the State deserve answers. I believe it was a remarkable abuse of power by a range of people to deny information to the people of the State, the people of the community who loved him and, more importantly, his family. We will await the outcome of the report. Sadly, it is police investigating police. Owing to the seriousness of potentially one of the biggest scandals in the history of the State, we need an independent inquiry to examine all the allegations in the public domain, which are of the most serious nature and have serious implications for administration of justice
Like the Deputy, I am very familiar with the case. I am familiar with all the allegations made. I was familiar with it when I came into office. Shortly after assuming my position as Minister, I requested that these allegations be investigated. The Garda Síochána was the appropriate body to conduct the investigation should evidence emerge that would justify the taking of any criminal prosecution. It has taken a substantial amount of time for this investigation to be concluded. In 2011, I did not anticipate that it would take until May 2013 to conclude it. I understand it is on the verge of being concluded. I have been assured the Garda Commissioner will receive a report this month.
I hope the Deputy will understand if I, as Minister, do not in any way comment on what he has said about the matter because it is very important I do not prejudge the outcome of the investigation, that I say nothing that might prejudice any matters arising from it. At present, I am not privy to the outcome of the investigation and do not know what conclusions have been reached. I am very conscious that the tragic death of Fr. Molloy took place very many years ago. Clearly, in investigating his death, there are certain evidential issues that may be a cause of difficulty, but I have no reason to make any presumption one way or another about that.
There is the issue of the investigation into his death. Then we come back to an issue with which we have engaged this afternoon. The matter was dealt with in the courts. The Judiciary is independent and, as Minister, I cannot, nor would it be appropriate for me, to comment on the manner in which the case was dealt with when it came to the courts. I await with great interest the outcome of the investigation. I hope we will be in a position to know this very shortly. As Minister, I must then consider what happens next
I find it strange my Question No. 41, which deals with the same issue, was not grouped with this. The family was told on 11 March the report was with the Garda Commissioner. On Tuesday, the Minister told the House, through a reply to a question from Deputy Charles Flanagan, that it will be submitted some time this month, and the Minister has stated this again today. Who is wrong? Is it the Minister or the officer who is supposed to be briefing the family and explaining to them what is going on in this investigation?
Does the Minister not find it bizarre that the original Garda file was stolen, the coroner’s file was destroyed, the State Laboratory’s file is not available and now we find the review file is lost somewhere between Harcourt Street and the Phoenix Park? It is not acceptable to the family that this review is an ongoing issue when the Minister told me in the House almost 12 months ago that it was nearly completed at that stage. Will the Minister assure the House it will be with the Garda Commissioner by the end of this month and that he will, soon after this, receive a report on it and, on foot of this, take appropriate action?
The drama is clearly continuing with this and there is now so much controversy and unanswered questions that nothing short of a public inquiry will suffice. The information I have is that the head of the cold case unit, the person in charge of the investigation, briefed the family and stated the report the Minister said was not completed was completed at the end of February and given to the Garda Commissioner at the start of March. This is a fact. With regard to the Minister’s statement that the family is being consistently briefed by the Garda, the family state this is not the case and they have not been kept in the loop. This is a further vindication of my opinion that this tragic case and the cover-up around it requires a public inquiry.
An independent public inquiry will probably be required to achieve any transparency and accountability in this episode. When the Minister was in opposition, did he at any stage call for an independent inquiry on this matter?
I am concerned that the confines of this re-examination and report will be limited to the immediate investigation. As the Minister knows, a range of issues flow from this case which are of the utmost concern. This case is truly shocking. I had a chance to review it in detail over the weekend and I am stunned at the extent of the scandal. The public will not be satisfied with police investigating police, looking only at the initial investigation and not at all the issues which have flowed from it in the decades since, which would be of massive public concern. The State must be held to account and there needs to be an independent public inquiry, not just of the initial death and investigation but of all the issues which have flowed from it in the decades since.
I will begin by telling Deputy Naughten I am not interested in political points scoring. I am providing the information available to me from my officials. The information is that the Garda Commissioner will have the report during this month. I assume that, as I have requested, the Commissioner will report to me. It is an issue I have regularly made inquiries about since being appointed Minister. I cannot interfere in a Garda investigation and I will not do so. It is important that operational issues are dealt with independently by An Garda Síochána. I will not draw conclusions.
I am aware of all the allegations and I am aware of all the concerns. I have been for some time, which is why in 2011 I requested this matter be investigated. Deputy Daly has a habit of coming to the House and making all sorts of allegations. I will not respond. I can only say I have had this issue raised out of a genuine concern of what I know and what I have been told about the background to this matter. As I stated, I expect to receive the report. I will give very careful consideration to what is in it. I will then consider what action, if any, is appropriate arising out of the report. I do not know at this time whether the report might indicate some papers should be forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions. It may be that it will and it may be that it will not. I simply do not know the answer to this. If it does, this brings about certain consequences. I cannot be certain as to what will be said in the context of the report. I will deal with it when it comes to me. We will then see where we go from that point. It is an issue I treat with a great deal of seriousness and no one should be under any illusion about it.
I say to Deputies Daly and Wallace, I am not engaged in, nor party to, nor will be party to, any cover up. This seems to be something they love jumping to accusing people of with great regularity. My only interest and commitment is to do this job in the public interest, and this is where my focus is. I will do this job in the public interest for as long as necessary. I will cover up nothing of any description—–
I never said you would.
—–which could be contrary to the public interest. I have never believed in matters being covered up. I believe in transparency. I do believe where there is a suggestion of wrongful behaviour or a suggestion of criminality that these issues should be properly investigated. I will not prejudge allegations. It would be inappropriate of me to do so.