Clockwise from top left: Cynthia Owen, Conor Devally SC; former Garda Frank Mullen and his wife Ellen Mullen; the late Shane O’Farrell
You may recall the case of Cynthia Owen.
Ms Owen has alleged that she was prostituted by her parents to a group of local men, including three local gardaí, in the 1970s.
In January 2016, she posted on her Facebook page photographs of the surviving men alleged by her to have been involved in this abuse. These photographs included former garda Frank Mullen.
In May 2016, Mr Mullen, a founder of the Garda Representative Association and former chairman of Dalkey United football club, gave two interviews to journalist Michael Clifford – for the Irish Examiner and Newstalk. In both interviews, he strenuously denied the allegations.
Ms Owen’s case was included in the Independent Review Mechanism which was set up by the Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald, in May 2014, to look into 322 cases concerning allegations of Garda misconduct.
The panel included two senior counsel, Conor Devally and Paul Greene, and five junior counsel, Paul Carroll, John Fitzgerald, Tony McGillicuddy, Siobhán Ni Chúlacháin, Karen O’Connor.
On November 4, in a written answer, the Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald said:
“Appropriate steps have been taken to ensure that nothing arises which might in any way detract from the integrity of the review mechanism, including issues of conflict of interest.
Arrangements have been put in place to ensure that if there is any conflict, or potential conflict, the conflicted counsel not only will not be involved in the particular complaint, but also will not be aware of which counsel is reviewing it.”
In 2015, Ms Owen was notified by the Department of Justice that this mechanism recommended no further action be taken in regards to her case.
In The Sunday Times last Sunday Justine McCarthy reported how panel member Conor Devally – who advised Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald not to reopen the inquiry into the case of Cynthia Owen – previously represented former Garda Frank Mullen in a separate, unrelated case.
Ms McCarthy reported:
Department of Justice documents released to Owen via a freedom of information (FoI) request show Conor Devally was the allocated counsel for her case in the independent review mechanism (IRM) set up by Fitzgerald to assess alleged miscarriages of justice.
In July 2015, Devally recommended “no further action be taken” in relation to Owen’s allegations of incest, child rape by a paedophile ring, and suspicious infant deaths. Devally cited time lapsed and lack of evidence among reasons for his advice.
He was one of two senior counsel employed for the IRM. The documents show he was paid €800 for reviewing Owen’s case, after receiving the file in July 2014. A form in the FoI documents records the reply “no” to a question as to whether the counsel had a conflict of interest.
In a High Court case involving a disputed will in 2011, Devally was the senior counsel for Frank Mullen, a retired garda who has denied Owen’s accusations he was involved in her abuse.
Devally said: “I am constrained from speaking about the work of the IRM under the terms of my engagement as a legal adviser to the minister and the department. I am unaware of any conflict that is suggested to you. I was not conscious of any at the time.”
…Owen got the department’s file after appealing the department’s refusal to give it to her. “We are not saying Conor Devally was biased but if there is even a perception of bias his report should be set aside,” said Gerry Dunne, Owen’s solicitor.
In 2007, after a jury at the inquest into the death of Noleen Murphy unanimously found she was the child of Cynthia Owen; that she died at the family’s former home in White’s Villas in Dalkey; and that her cause of death was haemorrhage due to stab wounds; Minister for Justice Michael McDowell appointed Patrick Gageby SC to review Ms Owen’s clams.
In 2008, Mr Gageby’s report was delivered to the Minister for Justice.
In it, he advised against a public inquiry, apparently because of the legal difficulties that would be brought about by the serious allegations made against certain people, and because of the amount of time that had elapsed since the death.
It has since emerged that, prior to being appointed to review Ms Owen’s case, Mr Gageby had publicly called for a limit on the time allowed to elapse between an alleged sex crime and the prosecution of the suspect as there was a danger the accused could not receive a fair trial.
Lucia and Jim O’Farrell with a picture of their late son, Shane
Readers may also recall how the case of Shane O’Farrell was also included in the Independent Review Mechanism (IRM).
The 23-year-old student died in a hit-and-run just outside Carrickmacross, Co Monaghan on August 2, 2011.
The man who struck Shane, Zigimantas Gridzuiska, 39, from Lithuania, had 42 previous convictions in three different jurisdictions and was out on bail at the time.
Shane’s family also raised concerns about SC Conor Devally’s involvement in the IRM, as Mr Devally represented Zigimantas Gridzuiska.
The O’Farrell family were alarmed at Mr Devally’s inclusion given that they would have mentioned Mr Devally as having represented Mr Gridzuiska in correspondence with the Attorney General Máire Whelan and Minister for Justice for 18 months prior to the establishment of the IRM.
The O’Farrell family were told that Mr Devally wouldn’t be involved in the Shane O’Farrell case.
However, readers may wish to note…
In a written answer to Fianna Fáil TD Niall Collins on July 16, 2014, the Minister for Justice, Frances Fitzgerald said:
Counsel will be paid a fee on a case by case basis of €300, €550 or €800 depending on the complexity of each case. Senior Counsel will additionally have a brief fee of €20,000 to oversee the operation of the mechanism and ensure consistency of approach across all the cases.
In addition, in a written answer to a PQ by Fianna Fáil TD John McGuinness, on December 16, 2014, Ms Fitzgerald said:
“Appropriate steps have been taken that nothing arises which might in any way detract from the integrity of the review mechanism, including issues of conflict of interest. Arrangements have been put in place to ensure that if there is any conflict, or potential conflict, the conflicted counsel not only will not be involved in the particular complaint, but also will not be aware of the which counsel is reviewing it.
“The order in which cases are dealt with is a matter for Senior Counsel who, in addition to examining individual complaints, are required to advise the Department generally on the management of the process, take a joint lead in allocating cases to Junior Counsel, and jointly oversee recommendations with a view to ensuring as far as possible a consistency of approach.”
Peviously: Refusing To Collude