The director general of the HSE Tony O’Brien is appearing this afternoon before the Public Accounts Committee in relation to the abusive foster home in Waterford.
Earlier Fine Gael’s Waterford TD John Deasy repeatedly asked him if people who were involved in the foster home are still working in the HSE.
Mr Deasy also asked him what, if any, disciplinary action has been taken against those people.
Mr O’Brien repeatedly stated that he was hampered in answering questions at PAC because of a request by An Garda Síochána not to go into the detail of two reports on the home.
John Deasy: “Cut to the chase here. Outside of Garda investigations, outside of Commissions of Investigations, there are people still in the system, whom by that I mean the HSE, who have graduated to other organisations dealing with child protection. And their work and their involvement in this, in some cases, goes back to the 1990s. They’re still in the system and they’re still dealing with children, making very serious decisions at a very senior level when it comes to children. What are you doing about that? What are you doing…no, I actually want you to answer this, considering you’re the Director General of the organisation. What are you doing? You must have concerns that if there are people in there who are responsible for this, for the neglect, as you put it, the poor care, the failings, I mean surely the most basic and obvious step would be to have those people step aside until any investigation is concluded. Because the public interest dimension of this now requires, in my opinion, those people to step aside while an investigation is concluded.
“I mean what’s not tolerable, in the public, at this point, is for those people who are responsible for this to continue in their jobs based on the fact that they have still senior positions dealing with child protection in this country. If your organisation doesn’t understand that, you understand nothing. And that’s really, I think, the kernel of this today. And I think that you probably should have addressed it in your opening statement and I’m surprised you didn’t. Before you leave these committee rooms, I think you’re going to have to address that and satisfy the members of this committee that the individuals involved, responsible for this, account for themselves. That’s critical, it’s necessary it’s obvious.”
Tony O’Brien: “In relation to the events of the 1990s, the individuals concerned are no longer in public service. In relation to subsequent events, the Conall Devine Report was commissioned specifically to identify…”
Deasy: “Are you sure not all of them are in public service? Are you absolutely sure about that?”
O’Brien: “The three who made the decision that I referred to…”
Deasy: “That’s not what you said, I’m not talking about that specific decision, I’m talking about people in the HSE and the health board who are involved in that foster home, who made decisions around that foster home – they’re still in public service, correct?”
O’Brien: “Let me answer the question.”
Deasy: “No, no, answer that question.”
O’Brien: “If I had been unclear in my first answer, I need to restate it, I hope that you will allow me to do that?”
O’Brien: “I referred in my first answer, when you asked me what I was apologising for, to a specific decision that was made to leave Grace in that foster home in the 1990s. That was made by a three-person panel, for want of a better word, and those three person are no longer in the public service. So just to be clear about that. The Conall Devine Report was commissioned specifically in order to lay out in full, unvarnished detail who did what and when and would be the basis upon which any action in the disciplinary space would be taken. From the outset of its commencement there was close liaison with An Garda Síochána and it was always understood and intended that the report would be published and available for whatever action may be necessary. However, since its conclusion, in 2012, it has not been possible to use it for that purpose and that is why no disciplinary action has been proceeded with on foot of the Conall Devine Report…”
Deasy: “That’s not sufficient. I understand, this has gone on for 30 years.”
Deasy: “With regard to the reports, what’s curious for people is the invocation of one of the health acts so that the minister and junior minister involved can finally request the reports – finally – after all this time. And it’s curious and problematic for us that, after years, months, of being told there’s no way we can read these reports, they finally have the reports. And all they had to do is read and act and, say, well, the definition of the act does allow us to get these reports. You’ve basically, you’ve got to let me finish. Again, the kernel of this is, and there is the public interest dimension of this, now that you’ve admitted the mistakes and failings and we know the detail involved and the allegations. And we know that the people who are still within the system in many cases, some of them have moved on to other organisations dealing with child protection. The reality is that a Garda investigation, a previous one, collapsed. This may not go anywhere, the second one. And a Commission of Investigation takes time, people retire, they leave the system, the people who are actually charged with making these mistakes, they’ve access to files, emails, they’re in situ, they’re sitting on potentially evidence, and that’s a big issue. If you’re so frustrated legally, if you’re, ‘my god I can’t do anything, these people, they’, you know. Well, have you asked anyone if there needs to be a change of course with regard to your powers internally? I mean if it’s the case that you’re going crazy at not being able to deal with this, and not being actually able to make these people account for themselves, have you just given up and left it at that, is that effectively the answer to the committee here today?”
O’Brien: “No, deputy it’s not….I’m not stonewalling you. I’m prepared to answer any question I can that doesn’t involve me effectively publishing the two reports that An Garda Síochána have asked me not to do. So I want to be clear, that’s the only reason they’re not published.”
Deasy: “Now that you’ve read the reports, Mr O’Brien, do you have any concerns that the people involved making these mistakes – neglect, poor care – that you’ve described yourself in writing to this committee, are still involved in child protection?”
O’Brien: “There are a wide number of people whose actions are detailed in the report, it’s clear from my reading of the report that there were many instances, missed opportunities but not all of the people covered were on, shall we say, the downside of that. I am concerned that there is an ongoing delay to enable us to publish the reports which would enable each of those involved, each of the people implicated as it were, to have an opportunity to answer what it says in the report, so that those do have something to account for, can account for it and that those who are blameless can have their name restored as it were.”
O’Brien: “There were occasions upon which there was information available which, had it been treated differently, would have removed Grace from that situation earlier that she was. And, on the basis of what is alleged to have happened, that she would have therefore been protected from the egregious abuse that is alleged to have occurred.”
Deasy: “These people are still working in the HSE?”
O’Brien: “There are many people who were involved in different ways in those processes. One of the features of this is the disagreements that occurred at different times as to what should have occurred and different people on different sides of those disagreements. Some of those people are still working in either the HSE or Tusla.”
More to follow.
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Previously: ‘Poor Quality Of Service’