THE provision of a state inquiry report into a garda investigation about the death of Sixmilebridge 23-year-old banqueting manager 37 years ago to his family on a confidential basis has been criticised as a “worrying u-turn” by a local Dáil deputy.
Former Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald appointed retired District Court judge Patrick Clyne to lead an inquiry under Section 42 into the Garda investigation and disciplinary inquiries that took place following the death of Patrick Nugent (23) Feenagh, Sixmilebridge at the end of a 40th wedding anniversary party in the early hours of February 11, 1984.
The death of Mr Nugent, Feenagh, Sixmilebridge, was one of the 320 cases examined by the Independent Review Mechanism set up by Minister Fitzgerald, following a complaint made by the family relating to alleged Garda misconduct in June 2014.
Deputy Michael McNamara has expressed his dissatisfaction the Judge Clyne report will be only provided by the Department of Justice to the Nugent family on the basis they don’t disclose its contents. This is despite the former Justice Minister Helen McEntee gave a commitment in the Dáil this review of the garda investigation and disciplinary procedures would be published.
Deputy McNamara welcomed the department’s commitment to provide the Nugent family with the report in view of the fact they have waited far too long for its completion. Acknowledging the Nugent family have been the most acutely affected by Pat Nugent’s death and requested the inquiry into the garda investigation, he said there is a broader interest in the investigation and prosecution of crime.
“A crime isn’t prosecuted by the victim of crime. It is prosecuted in the name of the state, regardless of whether a victim wants it to be prosecuted, particularly when it involves the death of someone.”
The Independent Deputy called on the Department of Justice to publish the entire Clyne Report as quickly as possible and to publish its main findings immediately, even if some sections have to be redacted.
He said people need to know whether Judge Clyne felt the garda investigation into Pat Nugent’s death was properly carried out, or whether he didn’t.
“We need as much of the report that can be published now to be published with a commitment to publish all of it at a later stage.
If there are reasons why the Department of Justice can’t publish this report immediately, the Independent Deputy stressed the Justice Minister needs to outline these reasons.
He stressed the main findings of the report needs to be published immediately and all of the report could be published at a later stage if there are compelling reasons why the entire report can’t be made public now.
“Everyone in Clare needs to know if their brother dies tomorrow morning, there will be a proper investigation and prosecution, if the investigation indicates this is warranted.
“I find it hard to believe if the inquiry found the garda investigation into Pat Nugent’s death was conducted in an exmplary manner, it would be published at this stage.
“If the garda investigation hasn’t been carried out in an exmplary manner, then a proper investigation needs to be carried out for every crime in this country, particularly when it results in someone’s death.
“If this is the case, then this new investigation needs to start very quickly in view of the fact this incident took place more than 36 years ago.”
Citing the case of Jo Jo Dollard and two missing women in the nineties, he pointed out the gardai are capable of carrying out new investigations into the death of people a long time ago.
“Hopefully, the same garda vigour will be brought to bear in the re-investigation of Pat Nugent’ death. It needs to be done very quickly.
“I think it is imperative the report is published. Otherwise what was the point of the inquiry? Secondly, people need to have confidence in an garda siochana and how they investigate all crimes.
The jury at Pat Nugent’s inquest into his killing clearly didn’t have confidence into the way the investigation was carried out.
“I do understand there may be circumstances where the report can’t be published immediately. But it does have to be published. Maybe, there is a case for a redacted version of the report to be published if there is some information that would suggest suspects weren’t properly investigated to ensure they can be properly investigated now and get a fair trial.”
If the report isn’t published in a timely fashion, he warned it erodes public confidence in An Garda Siochána, and investigation into crime in the country more broadly.
He described the failure of Justice Minister Heather Humphreys to meet the Nugent family last week as disappointing in view of the fact government ministers were generally available to impart good news to people.
“If there was a death in Northern Ireland in similar circumstances, there would be plenty of Irish government ministers who would travel to meet the affected family.”
Members of the Nugent family participated in a Zoom meeting, at their request, after Justice Minister Heather Humphreys pledged the Department of Justice would meet the family about the inquiry, which started in January 2017, and culminated with Judge Clyne sending his report to the department last October.
The Zoom meeting included the assistant general secretary of the Department of Justice, John O’Callaghan, Deirdre Nugent, Martin Nugent, John Nugent, and the family solicitor, Kevin Winters of KRW LAW in Belfast, and another department official.
In a statement issued by Mr Winters, the family stated it is pleased to receive a very firm commitment from the Justice Minster to release a 111-page report arising from Judge Clyne’s inquiry.
Speaking after the meeting, family member Deirdre Nugent said it has been terribly frustrating to have to wait this length of time for justice.
“However, we feel we are about to turn the corner now with news of the release of the report after 37 years since Patrick’s death.”
Mr Winters described the meeting as welcome and positive.
“The family have had to wait a year to get news about the findings arising from the Section 42 inquiry. Thankfully we now have a timescale for the release of the report but I have to stress that at this stage everything remains confidential until further engagement with the minister’s office and due process is complete.”
The Department of Justice had not responded to Clare Champion queries at the time of going to press.
by Dan Danaher