Wednesday, 30 November 2005
Dáil Eireann Debate
—bearing in mind the specific matters considered by the Government to be of significant public concern arising from the making of a confession by Dean Lyons (deceased) about the deaths of Mary Callinan and Sylvia Shiels in March 1997 in Grangegorman, Dublin 7;
—further noting that a draft order proposed to be made by the Government under the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004 (No. 23 of 2004) has been duly laid before Dáil Éireann in respect of the foregoing matters referred to, together with a statement of reasons for establishing a commission under that Act;
It is essential to refer to the tragic human circumstances that give rise to the motion before the House. Most, if not all, Deputies will be aware that two innocent women, namely, Ms Sylvia Shiels, aged 59 at the time in question, and Ms Mary Callinan, aged 61 at the time in question, were brutally murdered in their home on the nights of 6 and 7 March 1997 at Orchard View in the Grangegorman area of Dublin. By any standards, it was a particularly heinous crime which shocked the nation and set in train a Garda man-hunt with a view to bringing the perpetrator to justice.
The aftermath of those tragic events gave rise to further tragic events. An innocent man, Dean Lyons, who is now deceased, confessed to the crime. Following consultation between the Garda and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, he was charged with one of the murders. The Garda Síochána now accepts that he had no participation in the murders and that his confessions were false. On 29 April 1998, the Director of Public Prosecutions, having received a further report from the Garda Síochána, directed that the charges against him be withdrawn.
There is no doubt that those events have had a profound effect on the everyday lives of the families of the women victims and on the family of the late Dean Lyons. We are all at one, I am sure, in expressing our deepest sympathy to those two families on foot of the suffering caused to them. The procedural formality of what I am about to say in no way takes away from those overriding sentiments.
Under the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004, a commission of investigation may be established by the Government, based on a proposal by a Minister, with the approval of the Minister for Finance, to investigate any matter considered by the Government to be of “significant public concern”. An issue giving rise to significant public concern is one that is of more than mere interest to the public or more than just the subject of vigorous political debate. It must, instead, be an issue which has profound implications for public life. Self-evidently, my Government colleagues and I are satisfied that certain aspects of the Dean Lyons case come within that category in that they have profound implications for the operation of our criminal justice system.
There are questions arising regarding Dean Lyons’s false admissions and regarding the investigating team’s conclusion that there was a prima facie case against him. In making these points, I am simply identifying them as matters that need to be addressed, not as matters on which I, as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, have already reached a definitive conclusion. I am convinced, however, that unless we do our utmost to get to the bottom of this controversy, it will simply continue to fester as an indictment of our criminal justice system. For these reasons the Government is of the view that the establishment of a commission of investigation is required. The motion before the House is a necessary prerequisite to the establishment of that commission. It seeks to have a draft of the order providing for the establishment of a commission of investigation into the Dean Lyons case approved by this House.
Mr. McDowell: The draft order is accompanied by a statement of reasons for establishing the commission, as required by the Commissions of Investigation Act, and a similar motion will be brought before Seanad Éireann. Under the provisions of the Act, the order establishing the commission must specify the matter that is to be investigated. The draft order which is before the House describes it in the following terms: “matters relating to and surrounding the making of a confession by Dean Lyons (deceased) about the deaths of Mary Callinan and Sylvia Shiels in March 1997 in Grangegorman, Dublin 7”. The original phrase was “matters ... arising from the making of a confession” but the phrase “surrounding the making of a confession” is considered to be preferable because it deals with matters before the confession was made, not merely after it was made.
Mr. McDowell: I am glad to hear that because it means we are on the same wavelength. It struck me today that there was an infelicity in the way in which the motion was drafted, and that is the reason for the delay in circulating the script.
The draft order authorises me as the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to set the commission’s terms of reference. If such provision were not made, that task would, in accordance with section 4(2) of the Act, fall on the Government. The Government has decided that I should be designated in this regard and in doing so has approved a draft of the terms of reference which I propose to set on the following lines:
These terms of reference concentrate on the three issues which need to be resolved. In approving those terms of reference the Government was conscious of the obligation imposed by section 5 of the Act on those framing the terms of reference, namely, that the terms of reference set out as clearly and accurately as possible the events, activities, circumstances, systems, practices or procedures to be investigated, together with the relevant dates, locations and individuals involved.
In addition, I am obliged as soon as possible after the terms of reference are set formally to prepare an accompanying statement containing an estimate of the costs of the commission and the length of time it will take. This will be published as soon as possible after the terms of reference are set, in Iris Oifigiúil and such other publications as I, as Minister, consider appropriate. I do not wish to be too definitive at this stage about the length of time the commission will take although I will have to do so when the terms of reference are set formally. I want the opportunity to discuss the matter with the commission first.
In that regard I am mindful that the obligation on the commission under section 32(4) of the Act is to “endeavour” to submit its report within the specified time period. Sections 34, 35 and 36 of the Act provide for an opportunity to persons identified in or identifiable from a draft report to submit comments thereon to the commission on the grounds that there has been a failure to observe fair procedures. A commission is required to give due consideration to requests for alterations and it may either amend the report, apply to the High Court for directions or submit the report to the relevant Minister without alteration.
In the alternative, a person identified in or identifiable from a draft report may bring the matter before the High Court seeking an order from the court directing that the draft be amended before submission to the relevant Minister. The court may either order the commission to submit the report without alteration or with such alterations as it may direct, or give a direction to the commission to provide an opportunity to the person to give evidence or make submissions to the commission before the report is finalised.
Either way, no one will be allowed to delay publication indefinitely as there will be time limits for making submissions to the commission or applications to the court. Giving affected persons an opportunity to comment on and to have their views considered will meet the requirements of natural justice and the commitment to fair procedures will reduce the likelihood of court challenges to the commission’s work and support the objective of an efficient and effective investigation. I envisage that the legal fees, salaries and other administrative costs for the commission will come to approximately €510,000 for its first four months of operation. This does not include any third party costs that may be awarded by the commission itself.
The draft order also authorises me to appoint the member or members of the commission. I place high importance on the independence and required expertise of a member of the commission. The powers and duties vested in a commission include the duty to caution witnesses, compel witnesses to answer questions, establish rules and procedures relating to evidence and submissions, adjudicate on matters of privilege and conduct the investigation. All have the potential to intrude into well established legal rights. For this reason I intend to appoint an eminent senior counsel with considerable experience of the criminal law as the sole member of the commission. I am pleased that Mr. George Bermingham SC, who is a former Member of this House, has indicated that he is willing to accept the appointment. I have discussed the proposed terms of reference with him and he is happy to accept the position on that basis.
The draft order also specifies the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform as the Minister responsible for overseeing the administrative matters relating to the establishment of the commission, receiving its reports and performing any other functions accorded to the Minister by the Act. One such function is the obligation to prepare general guidelines. Once the commission has been formally established I am required, in consultation with the Minister for Finance and the commission itself, to prepare general guidelines concerning the payment by my Department of legal costs necessarily incurred by witnesses in connection with the investigation.
The commission in turn is obliged to ensure that any direction it makes concerning the payment of legal costs by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform comes within these guidelines. The guidelines will also make provision for payment to witnesses of non-legal costs. Each witness will be furnished with a copy of the guidelines in advance of his or her giving evidence. This ensures that witnesses who wish to do so can arrange legal representation with full knowledge of the regime under which they may seek to have those costs recouped.
The commission is charged with the onerous task of establishing facts in a situation which is laden with complexity. The situation is compounded by the fact that Dean Lyons is now sadly deceased and no longer available as a witness. As I indicated earlier, he was charged with one of the murders in July 1997, three months after the women met their deaths. In August 1997, another person, who had been arrested and detained during the investigation of another double murder, made a confession in relation to the Grangegorman murders.
As a result of the admissions made by the second person, admissions which have since been withdrawn, the Garda Commissioner appointed an assistant commissioner to review all available evidence relating to these murders. That second Garda investigation concluded that Mr. Lyons did not commit the murders in question. Following completion of this review, a report was submitted by the assistant commissioner to the Director of Public Prosecutions. In April 1998, after consideration of the report, the Director of Public Prosecutions decided that criminal proceedings against Mr. Lyons be discontinued. In July 1999, Dean Lyons presented a signed and witnessed statement denying any involvement in the Grangegorman murders. On 12 September 2000, Dean Lyons died in a friend’s flat in the United Kingdom.
When the DPP decides not to prosecute in a particular case, the reasons for the decision are given to the State solicitor and the investigating gardaí. The director has stated that it is his policy not to disclose this information otherwise. The function of the prosecution of alleged offences is the responsibility of the Director of Public Prosecutions who is independent in the exercise of his functions. It would not, therefore, be appropriate to bring any aspect of his determinative process within the ambit of the commission’s terms of reference.
However, the adequacy of the information provided by gardaí to the DPP prior to his decision that Dean Lyons should be charged with murder is contained within the terms of reference. It is important that I state that the criminal investigation into these two murders remains open and, in particular, a forensic cold case review is being conducted on exhibits and samples taken from the scene.
On 24 February 2005, the Garda Síochána published a notice in a number of newspapers in which it stated that it is satisfied that Dean Lyons had no participation in the Grangegorman murders. The notice also stated that the Garda appreciated the embarrassment suffered by his family as a result of criminal charges preferred against him and subsequently withdrawn. The notice expressed regret and contained an apology to the family of Mr. Lyons for any embarrassment caused.
On 6 April 2005, the Commissioner furnished an up-to-date report, which had been prepared at my request, to the Secretary General of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. In response to public concern about these matters and in light of the Commissioner’s report of 6 April I appointed Mr. Shane Murphy SC on 27 June 2005 to complete an independent review of Garda papers and action taken regarding these matters.
For the purpose of that investigation he reviewed documents presented to him by the original murder investigation team, including statements, copy statements, job books reports, exhibits and appendices. He also reviewed documentation relating to subsequent reviews of the original criminal investigation file which were made by an assistant commissioner and his team. He also visited the Bridewell Garda station in Dublin for the purpose of examining the interview rooms and the medical room and the overall layout of those areas of the station where the interviews of Dean Lyons took place.
I am not in a position to publish the report because it was not written with a view to publication. It contains some matters which may cause distress and others which would be regarded as confidential and not suitable for publication. However, Mr. Murphy acknowledges that he received full co-operation from my Department and the Garda Síochána. While Mr. Murphy’s report makes a significant contribution to progressing the matter, he did not have the power to examine persons under oath and to determine matters of fact. He recommended that the best method to resolve these issues was to establish a full commission of investigation.
There is one aspect of Mr. Murphy’s recommendation which I have not included in the commission’s terms of reference. Mr. Murphy recommended that the adequacy of Garda protocols and procedures regarding the assessment of the fitness of witnesses to be interviewed should be examined and should form part of the commission’s terms of reference. However, I intend to pursue an alternative course in respect of that aspect. With Government approval I have decided to establish an expert group to examine these more general matters. I intend to publish the report of that group.
The reason for the difference in approach on this aspect is as follows. It has come to be recognised that having clear and well defined terms of reference which are tightly drawn is often the key to a successful investigation. Second, I am anxious to ensure that this commission of investigation will complete its work as quickly as possible. Hence, I want it to concentrate on those aspects which are peculiar to the Dean Lyons case itself and in respect of which the inquisitorial powers of the commission will, I hope, be of particular value. A commission of investigation is vested with considerable inquisitorial powers and the power to summon witnesses and examine them under oath or by means of interrogatories to direct witnesses to produce documents etc. These considerable powers will be best utilised in investigating the specific circumstances of the Dean Lyons case, and my intention is that this will facilitate a more focused approach to the commission.
The more general aspects are equally as capable of being addressed by the expert group, which will not be forced to have recourse to investigative powers when conducting its work. The success of the group will depend not so much on an ability to compel evidence but on a membership capable of bringing a multi-disciplinary approach to the issue. For example, I intend to approach a person with professional expertise in the area of human behaviour to join the group, who would be a psychiatrist or a psychologist, accompanied perhaps by a person with expertise in the area of criminal investigations, as well as a person with expertise in the area of criminal law. It is not my intention to appoint a serving member of the Garda Síochána or a serving official in my Department, although my Department may well provide secretarial expertise.
The work of objectively analysing the practices and policies of police bodies is ongoing daily without the need to establish formal inquiries that operate in a quasi-judicial fashion. Consequently these more general aspects will be assigned to an expert group to allow the commission to concentrate on the core issues of the Dean Lyons case.
Time does not allow me to finish my speech in its entirety, although there are some points of general application relating to the scope of the Act which I hope Members will take time to read. I urge Deputies to support the Government’s proposal for the establishment of a commission of investigation in this case by supporting the motion before the House.
Mr. J. O’Keeffe: I support the proposal to establish a commission of investigation. I do not wish to comment in detail on the amendment proposed by my Labour Party colleague, Deputy Costello, except that it appears to improve the terms of the motion. This will be dealt with in more detail by Deputy Costello and the leader of the Labour Party.
It is quite clear that the actions perpetrated against Dean Lyons by our justice system were not just extremely worrying and regrettable, but thoroughly unacceptable in a State which claims to administer the rule of law and the principles of natural justice. It raises very serious questions and I am glad these are being addressed at long last. The questions raised relate to conduct of the Garda in dealing with Dean Lyons at the time, its investigation of the matter and in particular the taking of a statement which ended up as inculpatory evidence. Questions on the general standards by which we treat vulnerable people in custody are also raised. In a way I have a sense of déjà vu. I recall in the early days of my career in the Dáil the Ó Briain report on issues that were somewhat similar, with the report being published by the then Circuit Court president, Barra Ó Briain.
Before we delve into the issue of investigation we should place on record that we as legislators dealing with the rule of law regret what happened to this unfortunate young man. He was one of many young Irish people who had fallen through the cracks of disadvantage and disaffection. There is a general obligation on us as legislators and public representatives to address the broader issues, and to ensure that fewer people fall through those cracks, aiming for a future where there are no such cracks. We should aim for a future where all young people can be given equal opportunities before the law and be equal in society. Equality before the law is a very important principle that we must espouse.
The first point occurring to me in speaking today is why this process has taken so long. We must examine our consciences, as well as our practices and procedures, in dealing with this issue. The terrible deaths of Mary Callinan and Sylvia Shiels occurred in March 1997, which is over eight years ago. The arrest of Dean Lyons occurred not long after this, and it became apparent relatively early that he could not have been responsible for the crime to which he had confessed. We have a case to answer as to why it took so long to have the case dealt with and properly investigated. It took the Garda Síochána until last February to issue an apology on the matter.
The people who emerged well from this matter were the relations of the deceased. I was impressed with the statement of Stella Nolan, the sister of one of the deceased, after the apology. She stated she was glad that the Garda had apologised to the family but that many questions were still to be answered regarding why Lyons was charged, put in prison and then released. She stated in a dignified manner that she was not looking for revenge, but justice. This was a fair way of putting her case, as she had been traumatised by the events.
The reaction at the time of the parents of Dean Lyons was very dignified. They stated that although they knew all along that their son did not commit the murders, they believed he was vulnerable and strung out when he made the admission of guilt. They fairly stated that Lyons had a hand in it when he admitted guilt to the Garda. However, the parents pointed out they were not angry or bitter, and in a dignified way they stated that the Garda had a job to do, and when it emerged that a mistake was made, it was admitted. This was a fair reaction on the part of the family of Dean Lyons at the time. This does not take away from the point that it has taken eight years to have a commission of investigation set up on the issue.
What occurred at Grangegorman was undoubtedly an horrific and sickening tragedy that shocked the nation to its core in 1997. The manner in which these unfortunate women were murdered was particularly brutal. The Garda were under much pressure to catch and detain the person responsible for such depravity. However, there can be no excuse for the events which transpired in an ostensible effort to take the killer off the streets. There is no explanation so far as to why it came about that an innocent homeless person who happened to be sleeping in the general vicinity was blamed. He clearly was a vulnerable person and must have been susceptible to manipulation by people in a position of power. There is no explanation as to why this led to a confession of guilt to murder which clearly did not stand up to scrutiny.
No matter the pressures on the Garda Síochána, there are certain pressures that should be resisted. It is not a question of responding to pressure or securing convictions, but of maintaining the rule of law at all times. This must be a basic facet of the approach of gardaí at all times. Unfortunately, one of the outcomes was that the arrest of Dean Lyons on 25 July and his detention in custody meant that the pressure to find the true killer eased. This is an issue I would like further clarified. It is important in the context that a forensic psychiatrist assisting the Garda in the investigation of the Grangegorman murders warned that the killer could strike again. This is of particular concern because Dean Lyons, having apparently been manipulated or coerced into making a confession, was arrested, resulting in the easing off of the murder probe. However, shortly afterwards, on 16 August, while Dean Lyons was still in Mountjoy Prison, a young Roscommon couple were stabbed to death in a similarly brutal fashion to the unfortunate ladies murdered in Grangegorman.
Perhaps there is evidence that this was the second strike of the killer about which the forensic pathologist had warned the Garda. It raises a question as to whether those murders might have been preventable if there had not been an alleged confession in the first case and an easing off of the murder investigation at that stage. The man who killed the Doyles was quickly arrested by gardaí. It was this same person who made four separate voluntary admissions to the Grangegorman murders, although I accept that those admissions have since been withdrawn. Serious issues arise as to whether the Roscommon couple might have been saved from their gruesome fate if the murder investigation had continued.
A further issue which must be addressed is that Dean Lyons remained in prison for seven months before the murder charges against him were withdrawn. Questions arise as to why it took so long to release a clearly innocent man from prison and the fact that no formal charges have been brought against anybody arising from the Grangegorman murders.
The case of Dean Lyons, allied to the revelations from the Morris tribunal, clearly establish that there must be a process whereby such issues can be brought to light, fully exposed and dealt with within a reasonable period. Serious questions must be asked and answered. I am glad that at long last that process is under way in this case.
A number of issues arise with regard to the approach adopted by the Minister towards the commission of investigation. I had hoped the Minister might be in a position to give a more detailed estimate of the costs he expects will arise in connection with the establishment of the commission of investigation. He referred to a figure of €500,000, but this only covers the salaries, fees and administrative costs of the commission for the first four months of operation and does not include any third party costs that might be awarded by the commission. I had hoped the Minister would have a more complete ballpark estimate with regard to time and cost, which are obviously issues in which the public is interested. While I appreciate it is not possible to give exact figures at this stage, it would be helpful to be certain of the time and cost involved.
There is genuine public concern in regard to tribunals generally, which can seem like runaway, out of control engines. This issue was discussed previously, in particular in the context of the Commissions of Investigation Act. There is a shared view in the House that this type of approach cannot continue. The establishment of this commission is the first example of an investigation under the new Act. We want to make absolutely sure that a proper precedent is set with regard to time and cost considerations.
This leads me to the question of the terms of reference. I take the Minister’s point as to why one of the recommendations of Mr. Shane Murphy SC is not being taken on board by him. I am concerned that any recommendation from an independent report should be given proper consideration. The Minister has proposed an approach which will ensure that the issue raised by Mr. Murphy SC will be considered, for which I am glad. On balance, I agree with the approach proposed by the Minister in dealing with that aspect of the matter, namely, there will be a general report from the expert group examining the broader issues, which will be published.
I support the establishment of the commission. I am concerned that it took so long to achieve this but, at this stage, we should get it under way and give the necessary authority to the commissioner to begin his work.
Mr. Rabbitte: We have waited a long time for this investigation and I welcome it, now that it has been announced. The amendment proposed by my colleague, Deputy Costello, would have made for greater clarity. He recommended that the order should refer to an investigation into matters surrounding “the arrest and detention of” Dean Lyons. The Minister told us that he has changed the wording of the order which is now before us to state that the commission shall investigate “matters relating to and surrounding the making of a confession by Dean Lyons”. The Minister is more knowledgeable in this area than I am and it may well be that his wording is adequate to deal with the point which Deputy Costello sought to clarify, although there may be merit in Deputy Costello’s framing of the term “the arrest and detention of”. It is an important point.
Why did this case take eight years to get to the House? Would it have got here under a different Minister? Why is there a last-minute change to the order? There may be a perfectly constructive and positive explanation, but one gets the impression there is still grandstanding in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform about this case and that the Minister directed this material change. I do not know if that is the case. Nevertheless, it is a cause for concern.
I have raised the matter on several occasions in the House. Dean Lyons was a constituent of mine, and his family still are. It is a troubling case and as a citizen one must be concerned that it has taken eight years to get to this point. The order is important and, taking the Minister at face value and his satisfaction with the term “surrounding”, I am happy to welcome it on that basis.
This investigation is important for one crucial reason. The story of Dean Lyons is not just the sad case of a strung-out, semi-literate heroin addict, who admitted to committing terrible crimes when he did not know what he was doing or saying. It is not just about an unequal confrontation between the forces of the State and one of its less adequate citizens.
In the absence of evidence to the contrary, the story suggests that within the ranks of the Garda Síochána a deliberate decision was made to frame a suspect who turned out to be innocent. The Grangegorman murders were savage and brutal and Dean Lyons was wrongfully charged with them. The Garda Commissioner, after a “comprehensive probative enquiry”, declared he was satisfied that Mr. Lyons had no part in those murders. He published a notice in the newspapers apologising for any embarrassment caused. The apology was, of course, to the Lyons family since Dean Lyons died in Manchester over four years ago from a heroin overdose.
The two murders, however, remain unsolved and we still have no explanation of how it happened that Dean Lyons confessed to two murders he did not commit. We know that Sylvia Shiels and Mary Callinan were murdered as they lay in their beds in a sheltered housing scheme on the grounds of Grangegorman hospital in March 1997. Dean Lyons was arrested in the months after the murders and, although he confessed to them, it transpired later that he could not have committed them. The charges against him were eventually withdrawn and he was released from custody in 1998.
He was living the life of a homeless heroin addict in July 1997 when he was arrested for questioning about the murders. Detective gardaí questioned him in a video and tape-recording suite. We are told the transcript of the taped interview showed him as confused and incoherent. In the interview, he admitted to every charge put to him. His parents visited him and said he appeared completely disoriented and was swaying and slurring his words when they met him.
After his parents left, he was questioned again. As a result he made another, written, statement. When this statement was made, however, there was no video or audio taping. The statement contains a chronologically correct narrative of the murders. There are also accurate descriptions of the interior of the house and the actions of the murderer inside, how he broke a window to get into the house, where he stacked the broken glass, the layout of the staircase and bedrooms of the house, what the victims looked like, what they were wearing and how they died.
Dean Lyons, the man the Garda Síochána now accepts had no part in these murders, was able to describe in his statement with chilling accuracy and in clear grammatical English how he emptied the kitchen drawers and took all the long knives and a carving fork to mutilate his victims. This information was not published in the media at the time of the murders.
On the basis of this “confession”, he was charged with the murders. If the trial had proceeded, it would have been impossible for him to withdraw a confession that contained such accurate and unpublished detail. Only the real killer could have known it and, of course, the investigating gardaí.
Then events took an extraordinary turn. A second man, Mark Nash, arrested in connection with a separate double murder in Roscommon, confessed to the Grangegorman murders, again with accurate and unpublished detail.
Dean Lyons’s trial did not proceed. He remained in custody for over eight months, his case adjourned from date to date, while the authorities worked out what to do. Eventually he was released without explanation and he left the country. To prosecute Mark Nash with the Grangegorman murders would have opened up a can of worms so, effectively, the case was dropped entirely.
There was an internal Garda inquiry but its findings have been kept secret. The Garda spokesman said much was learnt following this inquiry in respect of investigation and interviewing techniques. To publish the report, however, “would only be of assistance to the criminal fraternity”. The Lyons family has never received an explanation of what happened. It is to be hoped that this commission of investigation will at last deliver the answers they seek.
I must repeat, however, that I am bewildered by the Minister’s continued refusal to set up a similar such inquiry into the Brian Rossiter case. It has become increasingly clear that there are serious aspects of the Brian Rossiter affair which require investigation but which will be outside the limited remit of the inquiry announced by the Minister. The Minister has failed to explain or justify his decision to launch an inquiry with such a limited format, under a statute so little used that it will be repealed without replacement when the new Garda Síochána Act comes into operation.
There are growing and legitimate suspicions that the inquiry will be spancelled by its terms of reference and that such an outcome may well suit the Garda Síochána, the Department and the Minister. The Minister has decided to invoke an amended version of section 12 of the Dublin Police Act 1924, which allows him to nominate a person to hold an inquiry and to examine on oath “into the truth of any charge or complaint of neglect or violation of duty preferred against any member of the Garda Síochána”.
There is one basic problem with this procedure. It is an adversarial process, a mini-trial, and it requires that a specified “charge or complaint” be levelled against a Garda before there can be an inquiry into such a charge or complaint. In other words, as the gardaí involved will no doubt forcefully point out at the inquiry, it will be limited to examining allegations of specified misbehaviour by specified gardaí that have already been put on the record.
I raised this issue on Leaders’ Questions with the Taoiseach and subsequently in written correspondence. Specifically, I wrote to the Taoiseach on the Rossiter family’s behalf seeking clarification on reasons for using the 1924 legislation in preference to an Act passed just last year. The Taoiseach replied that, on the Government’s legal advice, a charge or complaint need not be specified in circumstances where there is widespread public concern. If that is what the legislation was intended to mean, that is what it would have said.
It is worth recalling that the Minister originally wanted to set up a similar section 12 inquiry in the Dean Lyons case also, until he was persuaded that it was not adequate or appropriate. The Minister eventually had to agree that the inquiry in that case should be under the broader terms of the Commissions of Investigation Act, legislation introduced by him. I do not understand why the Minister will not use the same legislation in the Rossiter case.
The issue, however, is now before the inquiry, headed by Hugh Hartnett SC, and it is a matter for him to resolve what still seems to be a basic procedural and jurisdictional difficulty. Perhaps the Minister is waiting for the report from Mr. Hartnett before making a final decision. For the life of me, I cannot see why the Minister will not use legislation which he recently put through the House that is arguably tailor-made for the Rossiter case as compared with the little-known and now repealed Dublin Police Act 1924. The Lyons family will welcome and be pleased with the Minister’s initiative today. However, it is a pity that our system means that it has taken us eight years to get this far.
While the Minister, in his unique style, took much persuading about certain aspects of the Garda Síochána Act, he did take some criticisms and recommendations on board from this side of the House. However, I am bound to say he missed a great opportunity in two major respects. At this stage, the argument for the establishment of a Garda authority is irrefutable. It is a pity the Minister did not import the police ombudsman system as it applies in Northern Ireland. It is not in the interests of our democracy or the Garda Síochána that confidence can be eroded in such a fashion as it has been over the last several years. Many diligent gardaí are coming around to this point of view. However, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform believes it must take up a defensive position on this issue, irrespective. Eight years later, the investigation we are now embarking upon is dragged out of the Department. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform knows far better than I the number of incidents throughout the country that give cause for concern.
The direction and framework of the Garda must be taken from the aegis of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and placed in a properly constituted Garda authority. An ombudsman system, along the lines of that obtaining in Northern Ireland, is needed. I know the Minister made some changes to his original proposals in the Garda Síochána Act which were an improvement. However, that even gardaí admit they have no confidence in the old complaints board system, through no fault of the people who served on it, is sufficient evidence, if needed, of how badly these reforms are needed.
Mr. Gregory: It is now more than eight years since Dean Lyons was charged with the Grangegorman murders and more than five years since the security correspondent of The Irish Times, Jim Cusack, first published a series of articles carefully documenting the case of Dean Lyons. Since then, this case has been persistently raised in the House with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, and his predecessor, Deputy O’Donoghue. On many occasions, it was argued the case demanded an inquiry, yet both Ministers persistently refused to listen. Responses were far removed from the Minister’s statement this morning that: “Self evidently ... certain aspects of the Dean Lyons case ... have profound implications for the operation of our criminal justice system.” If that is case, what was the criminal justice system doing for the last five years?
For five years, it was as if Ministers wished the case would go away, be swept under a carpet and forgotten about. After all, Dean Lyons was an impoverished, homeless, heroin addict. Who cared about his good name? Who cared about his parents who were traumatised by the charges made against their son? In the past, I argued in the House that it was an appalling indictment of the system that had Dean Lyons come from an affluent background, there is little doubt there would have been an independent inquiry into his case a long time ago.
In February 2002, the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O’Donoghue, when asked if he would have all documentation relating to the Dean Lyons’s case released to establish if there was sufficient evidence to warrant a public inquiry into the case, replied: “I do not consider that [there is evidence to] ... warrant any further investigation[.]” This was two years after The Irish Times documented in specific detail what must have been a serious concern that a further investigation was warranted. Why was this covered up for those years? There must be an inquiry into who formulated ministerial replies on this case and why they were so formulated.
As late as November 2004, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, grudgingly replied to a parliamentary question of mine asking for him to consider re-examining the case under the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004. In it he stated: “I am not [at present] satisfied that a commission of investigation is warranted ... The Garda investigation into the murders is [still] ongoing”. What an insult to the families of Dean Lyons and Sylvia Shiels who continued to plead for an inquiry. It prompted Stella Nolan, sister of Sylvia Shiels, to state the Garda investigation was ongoing in only one direction: nowhere. Will the Minister explain why he prevaricated for so long?
Many people had been asking the same question for five years. The Minister has not adequately explained what made him decide to take action, belatedly but still welcome, on this case. Was it because of the possibility of a challenge under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights on the failure of the State in its obligations to undertake adequate investigation into the Grangegorman murders? Will the Minister inform the House if this is the case?
Characteristically, the Minister has a curious way of making up lost ground. Over recent months, for every positive step in the direction of establishing this commission, the Minister leaked the details to the press, no doubt to ingratiate himself with his pals in the media rather than answer tabled parliamentary questions. Either way, this commission of investigation is still only a halfway house to the full truth. The solicitor representing Stella Nolan points to the many worrying aspects of the Grangegorman case. It is most important that any inquiry into the case be held in public so that the greatest degree of scrutiny of all issues is guaranteed. However, this will not now happen.
Mr. Cuffe: Justice delayed is justice denied. Although the years dull the pain, nothing can assuage the suffering that all families involved in this dreadful case still feel after the years have rolled on. I welcome the establishment of a commission of investigation into the Dean Lyons affair. I welcome the announcement that it will be headed by George Bermingham SC. However, I am disappointed the Minister has not taken the advice of Shane Murphy SC, recommending that the adequacy of Garda protocols and procedures regarding the assessment of the fitness of witnesses to be interviewed should be examined by the commission of investigation. This vital issue is buried in the bureaucracy of yet another expert group within the confines of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.
The commission of investigation must provide answers to three important questions. How did Dean Lyons come to be charged with the double murder at Grangegorman? Why were the charges later dropped? Why has no one else been charged with the double murder? This is, in so many ways, another example of a corrupt Garda investigation. Other examples of botched investigations which ruin lives and cause irreparable damage come to my attention on a regular basis and I propose to raise several examples.
Although the Garda Síochána includes some of the brightest and best of our citizens, it also includes more than a few bad apples. Systematic, root and branch reform of Garda training is required. While the Garda Bill includes some good provisions, I am not convinced it goes to the heart of the matter. More needs to be done. The daily drip feed from the Morris tribunal makes it difficult to have full confidence in the force. Although I appreciate the circumstances under which gardaí work, we must maintain the highest standards in Garda investigations.
I raise the murder of teenager, Kevin Reilly, in 1992. Kevin was 14 years of age when he was stabbed to death on the Cloonmore estate in Tallaght. His assailant was arrested and confessed to the killing but his statements were never admitted as evidence in court. Eyewitnesses to the attack were never called to give evidence and a person was eventually acquitted of the murder and walked free from court. Serious questions remain about the Garda investigation into Kevin’s murder. His father, Joe Reilly, has been campaigning for justice for his son for the past 13 years. An investigation into this affair is required.
We also need an investigation into the death of Mary Reid in County Donegal. The initial investigation into her death in 2003 is under review by the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation. When Mary’s body was discovered the Garda did not preserve the scene, collect forensic evidence or contact the State Pathologist. In this case, the gardaí involved acted on an assumption that Mary had taken her own life, an assumption which prevented a professional investigation into her death. Her brother, Joseph, continues to campaign for justice for his sister. I am pleased the Garda has at least provided sufficient manpower to investigate the case.
Deputy Rabbitte referred to the need for a completely independent ombudsman. We may continue to bang on a drum on this issue but it needs to be done, owing to the clear principle that the independence of investigators is crucial. We need an independent ombudsman. I hope the findings of the commission of investigation will bring some form of closure to the families at the centre of this tragic case, namely, those of Sylvia Shiels, Mary Callinan and Dean Lyons.
Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Chomh maith leis an méid a bhí le rá ag an Teachta Cuffe, deirim é seo. Caithfimid smaoineamh sa chás seo go bhfuilimid ag caint ar rud truamhéalach. Tá triúr daoine a bhí gafa leis an chás tragóideach seo marbh, beirt acu marfa ag duine éigin agus duine eile a fuair bás ó shin, Sylvia Shiels, Mary Callinan agus Dean Lyons. Ní gá go mbeadh sé chomh tragóideach is atá agus a bhí sé, dá ndéanfadh na gardaí an obair cheart ag an am. Ní bheimis ag déileáil leis an cheist seo anois, cúpla bliain ina dhiaidh sin.
It will be crucial to get right the terms of reference of the commission of inquiry if the wrongs inflicted on and suffered by the late Dean Lyons and his family are to be redressed to any degree. It is also important to examine the circumstances which gave rise to a case in which a vulnerable young man appears to have been set up by a garda or gardaí who, acting with impunity, manufactured a false confession and then sought to cover it up.
My colleague, Deputy Crowe, will examine the terms of reference of the commission of investigation and expert group and outline changes required to ensure they deliver the correct outcome. The Garda has always appeared to be able to operate with carte blanche in conducting its activities. Historically, one need only examine the role of the Broy harriers or, in more recent times, the activities of the Garda special branch over the past 30 years, including, for example, the role of the heavy gang, the Sallins case and the assassination of Eddie Fullerton. Inevitably, the culture prevailing in the special branch spread into other areas of Garda activity resulting in tragic cases such as those of Dean Lyons, Brian Rossiter, Terence Wheelock and John Moloney. The ultimate outcome was a force engulfed by a culture of unaccountability and impunity and a State willing to continuously turn a blind eye to its activities. If positive change is to occur, the prevailing culture in which members of the Garda Síochána are willing to cover up for their colleagues, as was the case in the Reclaim the Streets assaults or what is emerging from the Morris tribunal, must be replaced.
In light of the cases I raise and to prevent further travesties and injustice, Sinn Féin calls on the Government to instruct the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to adopt, even at this late stage, the full Patten model for Garda reform, including a Garda ombudsman with at least equivalent powers to those of Nuala O’Loan, the PSNI Ombudsman, to fulfil a complaints investigation function in line with the Government’s obligation under strand three of the Good Friday Agreement that it must ensure at least an equivalent level of protection with regard to human rights safeguards.
Sinn Féin intends to table an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill, which will introduce a statutory requirement for all Garda interrogations relating to serious crimes to be videotaped, following from the recommendation of the Martin committee in 1990, and that the corridors of Garda stations also be videotaped. It is in these corridors that regular beatings occur with the result that vulnerable people such as Dean Lyons sign confessions for crimes they have not committed. Rather than doing proper police work and the investigative, laborious slog this entails, many gardaí prefer the easy option of beating confessions out of people. This culture must be eradicated and the Garda Síochána, from top management down, must cease allowing practices of this nature to continue in stations in this city.
Revealing, understanding and accounting for the actions of everyone involved in the case to be investigated by the commission of inquiry is not only important to redress the wrongs suffered by Dean Lyons, his family and the families of Mary Callinan and Sylvia Shiels, it has broader implications for the much needed transition to a just society. If we fail to deal with all the pertinent issues surrounding the Dean Lyons case, among others, it will continue to loom over us and pose a threat to the future stability of and confidence in the Garda Síochána and the justice system. Such confidence is required and we must all strive to achieve it. It will not emerge unless the Garda Síochána and the judicial system are willing to own up to the mistakes of the past.
Ms Sexton: I wish to share time with Deputy O’Connor. I am pleased to have a brief few minutes to speak on the decision by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, in consultation with the Minister for Finance and following the recommendation by Mr. Shane Murphy SC, to establish a commission of investigation surrounding the making of a confession by Dean Lyons in the deaths of Ms Mary Callinan and Ms Sylvia Shiels in Grangegorman in 1997.
It is to the credit of such Members of the House as Deputies Gregory, Rabbitte and O’Connor, who have raised this matter consistently and relentlessly in recent years, that this commission has been established. They can be justifiably satisfied with their role in ensuring the families have their legitimate queries conclusively addressed. It is only right and proper that such an investigation take place given both the tragic nature of the deaths of the two vulnerable women in question and the disturbing questions the confession of Dean Lyons raises in the public consciousness.
Dean Lyons’s family has every right to feel anger and resentment that a loved one had a charge of murder proffered and withdrawn by the State under the unrelenting glare of media coverage of one of the most shocking and appalling murders in the history of the State. They deserve to have its legitimate questions answered. Those questions include how Dean Lyons, a marginalised, confused and incoherent heroin addict who was sleeping rough, came to be charged in the first instance with the brutal murders of 59 year old Sylvia Shiels and 61 year old Mary Callinan. How did it take a full seven months to release him from prison and drop all charges against him, and only after the admission by another party to the murder? How did part of Dean Lyons’s confession appear to have been audio and videotaped while the most crucial part of the interview, where it is alleged he confessed to having murdered these women, was not taped, allegedly at his request? How did the charges subsequently come to be dropped? How is it that Dean Lyons seems to have been in possession of particulars of the murder, such as the layout of the house and the weapons used, that were so detailed they could only have been known by those investigating the case and the murderer himself, which we now know was not Dean Lyons?
There are, no doubt, many other questions which could be added to those I have already raised. I have every confidence, however, that the highly respected Mr. George Bermingham SC will return a comprehensive report which will answer all the queries that have been raised by many people over the past eight years.
The extended Callinan and Shiels families have a right to be angry too because no one has ever been charged or prosecuted for the murder of their loved ones. I hope they will take some consolation from the fact that the Garda Síochána has begun a cold case examination of DNA evidence using forensic techniques that have been developed since the murders. It is to be hoped that the use of these techniques will lead to a successful prosecution of the murderer or murderers of those two defenceless women in Grangegorman on that tragic night in March 1997. These three families have been seriously and permanently traumatised by this dreadful tragedy. All three victims of this distressing situation are now deceased, leaving their families to pick up the pieces as best they can.
The commission will have full statutory powers to investigate and take sworn evidence in this case, but it will also have power to examine the adequacy of Garda protocols and procedures regarding, among other things, the assessment of the fitness of witnesses to be interviewed. That is to be welcomed. If this investigation is to have any moral authority, it must examine how Dean Lyons came to make a confession to a crime he did not commit and could not have committed, as well as examining how we can ensure that there is never a recurrence of such an indefensible set of circumstances.
It is welcome news that, in tandem with the investigation, the Minister has decided that an expert group will look at the adequacy of Garda training, protocols, regulations and procedures as they existed in 1997 and as they exist now on interviewing procedures, the way in which vulnerable suspects are questioned, and the recording and corroboration of admissions by suspects.
Lessons must be learned from this terrible tragedy in an effort to ensure that nothing similar occurs in future. I look forward to viewing the terms of reference which the Minister has stated he will announce shortly together with the name of the person to carry out that examination.
Mr. O’Connor: I will preface my remarks by referring to the sad case of Mr. Kevin Reilly which I have consistently raised with the Minister. It was a very sad murder during which Kevin Reilly was knifed to death. A court case subsequently acquitted the person involved. Mr. Reilly’s father, Joe, has been in contact with many politicians, including me as one of his local Deputies. I stress to the Minister that I am upset by references to the case.
While congratulating the Minister on taking this particular initiative, I am upset by the Dean Lyons case. I have great sympathy for the families of Mary Callinan and Sylvia Shiels and I offer my sympathy to them again. As my colleague, Deputy Sexton, has said, I have involved myself in the Dean Lyons case over a number of years. It is a difficult case. I know the Lyons family well and they are constituents of mine. I got to know Dean a little having met him a few times. This debate must be tinged with sadness because references were made to the difficulties he had. Many of us tried to help him but to no avail, so this is a sad occasion.
I welcome what the Minister is setting out to achieve by establishing a commission of investigation. While I realise political points will have to be made, this is an extremely difficult and sad case. As a local Deputy, I have taken a particular interest in the matter and I am sympathetic to the victims, of which there were many in this instance. I am upset and troubled by the fact that, as other colleagues have indicated, no more charges have been brought. Somebody knows the truth and I hope the Minister’s statement, that the case is still active as far as the Garda Síochána is concerned, proves to be so. It would bring closure and heal many wounds if the Garda Síochána was able to find sufficient evidence to take a case in this matter. It would be warmly welcomed.
I find it difficult to talk about Dean Lyons because I do not want to say anything insensitive towards his family. I knew Dean, however, and was aware of the difficulties he had. We were all deeply shocked when he was charged with these unfortunate murders. Many people were upset by the way in which the matter developed, not just in my community where people were upset on behalf of the Lyons family but also in the wider Dublin region and I suspect throughout the country. This is one of those cases that touched the public psyche. A long time has passed since March 1997 but there has not been any closure on this case.
Many people will watch this debate and hope that some good will come of it. I have no difficulty with colleagues making political points, although I will not do so. It is important to welcome the Minister’s announcement of the investigation and we should acknowledge what is being done in this regard. I wish Mr. George Bermingham, who is known on all sides of the House, well in this particular investigation. We know the skills he will bring to it. I hope the work of the commission of investigation will be far reaching and that it will examine all issues of concern. I also hope it will take particular account of the sensitivities of all the families involved in this tragedy. Those families will clearly be looking seriously at what emerges. There is a strong view that at the end of the day a real conclusion should come about and that some closure will be brought to this case.
I hope the Minister will use his considerable skills to ensure that the Garda investigation continues in that regard. I do not wish to patronise him but I believe the Minister, Deputy McDowell, is the man to achieve this. There will be much support for his efforts from my constituency. This case also caused much concern in the Grangegorman area. I was a member of the health board at the time and I saw evidence of that concern. I also visited the scene of the murders. People in my constituency and in Dublin generally were upset and concerned for Dean Lyons and his family. There will be support for what we are trying to achieve.
Mr. Durkan: I am glad to have an opportunity to contribute to this debate. The fact that an inquiry is being ordered now is to be welcomed. However, for a number of reasons it is sad that such an inquiry has had to be ordered. It is sad that the necessity for such an inquiry did not emerge until now.
The case has demonstrated weaknesses in the system. People’s lives and reputations have been affected by this case together with the very foundation of our justice system. When a person either admits to or is charged with a crime he or she did not commit, it shows a serious weakness in the system that needs to be dealt with.
I compliment the Minister on ordering a commission of investigation, but it is being done at a late stage. This demonstrates that it takes a long time to convince the powers that be that something is wrong. The Minister is much closer to the action than any other Members of the House and I am sure he has had an opportunity to examine the case in all its detail. One thing is certain, namely, if someone admits to a crime and has details relating to the crime scene, only one or two actions could have happened. Either the person was given or fed the information or was led with the information, all of which is unacceptable in any criminal investigation.
I have expressed a number of reservations to the Minister privately in respect of some practices, but referring to and relying on a confession or circumstantial evidence solely to achieve a conviction is the most dangerous pursuit in any judicial department. This has been proven time out of number, not only in this jurisdiction but in several others as well. Excessive reliance on a confession means that the system is now dependent on the extent to which the person confessed voluntarily. The system then becomes reliant on the extent to which there was coercion, suggestion and said or led information, all of which contributes to an undermining of the justice system. The sad part about this miscarriage of justice is that three people have tragically passed on, one accused of committing the offence and the two victims. We do not know any more today about what happened and who the culprit or culprits were than we did the day after the offence.
Were I in the Minister’s shoes I would ask serious questions about the procedures and why the system was allowed to drift along in a haphazard fashion. He may have done so already. The alleged perpetrator has also sadly passed away. It would be convenient for all and sundry to say it is over and is done and dusted. There have been similar circumstances. The Minister should be congratulated on this aspect of the matter. I gladly note that my former colleague will chair this investigation and I do not doubt that Mr. George Bermingham SC will do a good job. I hope it will not be as costly as other inquiries, that it will examine the situation, get to the root of the problem and deal with it as quickly as possible.
The inquiry must reveal a number of points, namely, the weaknesses in the system, how they occurred, the circumstances in which they occurred, the sequence of events and how it transpired that an individual admitted guilt. Anyone in the Chamber could admit to something similar if he or she were given the opportunity and the right circumstances prevailed. Suggested evidence must be cross-checked. I do not know what cross-checking took place in this case. Obviously, there was none. In the event of a confession, it is doubly important to call on all possible means of cross-checking evidence which should be able to stand up more so in the event of a confession than in any other circumstances. Too much would be left to conjecture. I hope the inquiry will bring about a conclusion but it will not provide closure as people will be hurt either way. A conclusion would be different.
Another concern I have noted in recent years is that there seems to be a long time lapse between a murder and when the crime scene is preserved and examined. It is very haphazard. In the United States of America the first ten hours after a crime is committed are supposed to be the crucial ten hours in terms of detection. The trail has gone cold afterwards. There are many reasons for this belief. I recall a number of cases in this country over recent years where full examinations of bodies did not take place until several days after the crime. This is unpardonable and under no circumstances should it be acceptable.
I strongly suggest extra staff be supplied to the State Pathologist’s office to ensure that no one is put under pressure. A person should not need to travel from one extreme of the country to another day after day to be at crime scenes. It is not physically impossible. Those of us who spend much time driving through the countryside know full well what it entails. Even given the current rate of homicides, which is not a political point, all must be dealt with. Each circumstance must be examined in isolation. Adding extra staff is an urgent need. This is not a reflection on the current staff who are doing a very good job.
The need to preserve crime scenes until such time as investigations have been concluded is obvious. The initial examination should begin as quickly as possible after a crime has been discovered. It is of no use to say it will be examined tomorrow or that it will be finished in two days’, a week’s or three weeks’ time. Now is the time. Points occur to us that do not seem to occur to those with responsibility in this area. In some cases these points are obvious.
I do not understand how superior officers could accept a case of this nature given that the confession took place. I would have presumed that questions had been asked how the confession took place and the precise circumstances surrounding it. The Minister has asked these questions but I wish to be reassured in his reply that they were asked by immediate superior officers. The chain of command is supposed to act of its own accord to the benefit of the community and with the confidence of the community and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Sadly it appears that such did not occur in this situation.
The old adage that 99% of gardaí are effective in how they do their jobs is true. However, as in every profession — politics, financial services, banking, teaching, etc. — there are one or two people who do not always observe the rules. It is very unfair for those who try to do their jobs well to be blamed and tarred with the same brush as those who cut corners and take shortcuts to the detriment and credibility of the entire force. This should be pointed out to the people concerned. They might be offended by the suggestion but the fact remains that certain procedures must be observed. If not, it would not be good for the people involved, for justice or the country. It is tough and rough but that is how it is. No exceptions should be made to this general rule.
I began by saying the system did not work. It is now working belatedly at a time when questions have been raised in other areas regarding the administration of justice and policing, which is sad. If this had been an isolated case, it would have been just one matter but other issues are still being discussed or pursued relating to items of police work. This should not have occurred. Gardaí require the confidence and support of the public. Otherwise, they cannot do their jobs. To achieve this, they need to carry out their duties in such a fashion that allows members of the public to go about their business knowing they will be protected by the police force at all times.
Mr. Costello: I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion. I also welcome the establishment of the commission of investigation into the Dean Lyons case, which is long overdue. It is important that, even at this late hour, we have it established. I had proposed to seek an amendment to the draft order, which I believed was possible within the terms of reference. I proposed it would be amended in the following fashion, namely, to insert the words “The arrest and detention of” after “arising from”.
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