Thursday, 9 March 2017
Commission of Investigation Announcement on Tuam Mother and Baby Home: Statements
This week, all of us have been deeply disturbed by the events in Tuam. Our hearts have been touched by the thought that so many children could have ended their lives in an environment that may have neglected or abandoned them when they were most in need of help. There is no defending or excusing away what is absolutely indefensible. It is a source of shame that so many of our nation’s children died in this way, and, indeed, continue to die through various forms of abuse. The State is complicit in the deaths and maltreatment of these children and their families but this is not yesterday’s problem. It is not a problem we have left behind. We continue to practice, with horrifying regularity, the betrayal of children and their families. After all, it was not 85 years ago, it was not 55 years ago, it was not even 25 years ago, that a report was produced that reviewed the deaths of almost 200 children who died either in the care of the State or who were known to the State’s care services . It was five years ago. Let us think about the number involved. Almost 200 children in the care of the modern Irish state died while in that State’s so-called care from 2002 to 2012, a mere ten years. That is shocking. Almost 200 children died in ten years.
Tuam horrifies us. It causes us all dismay and bewilderment as to how such practices could be carried out. Where was the accountability? It was not there. Where is the accountability now for that matter? Has anyone in the HSE or Tusla been held responsible for the neglect that led to the death of 200 children - unnatural deaths - from 2002 to 2012? This happened in the current period.
My colleague has just said he does not expect anyone to be prosecuted for Tuam at this stage, but this is going on now. I welcomed the Minister, wished her well on her appointment and complimented her two weeks ago in this Chamber when she came to bring truth to the untruthfulness that had been going on. I said it was refreshing. I wish her well in her portfolio - it is not an easy one - but we need the truth and we need action.
Tuam reminds us of the dreadful and pain-filled reality that characterised the lives of so many families. We stand condemned for our neglect and our resistance to hold those in power to account. We have sided with the powerful over the powerless; we still side with the powerful over the powerless. Tuam must lead us finally to break this cycle.
I thank the Minister for instructing her officials to reply to the parliamentary question I tabled that was being prevaricated over. I asked her the number of reports of abuse of children across the categories of abuse received in each of the past three years. I also raised this question yesterday with the Taoiseach. The Minister's reply is quite staggering. The figures show that a total of 19,407 cases of physical, sexual and emotional abuse as well as abuse related to neglect were received in 2013, a few years ago. For 2014, the number of abuse cases reported across all these categories was 18,676. For 2015, the year we were preparing in a gung-ho way to commemorate 1916, the number was 18,235. However, the total number of referrals to Tusla for 2015, inclusive of the 2015 abuse figures, is a staggering 43,596. That answers it all. We can wring our hands, speak about this and be aghast and horrified, but it is still going on under our noses and under our eyes. While we only have figures per category available for 2013-14, they still show an increase of almost 1,000 reports of children being emotionally abused over that time. It is clear from this reply that we as a society still have profound challenges to face in genuinely safeguarding the interests of children who suffer the most appalling abuse. This abuse does not all occur in State homes; much of it occurs in family homes. The figures highlight a very stark reality: that we cannot parcel off the widespread abuse of children as a legacy issue from a dark and disturbing past. It still lurks with us, it is on our shoulders, it is around us and it is here.
These cases continue to happen by the tens of thousands right under our noses and under the responsibility of a State agency, namely, Tusla, that is lurching from one crisis to another. I must ask the Minister to do something about Tusla because I receive complaints about it weekly. There is no accountability in Tusla, and how could there be? Some 4,000 staff were hived off, pushed off or whatever from the HSE with a budget and there is no accountability where they came from. They were trained and conditioned in a culture of a lack of accountability and now they are carrying on the same in Tusla.
Yesterday evening in this House with my secretary I met a lady from Tipperary who now lives in Kildare. I was weak after standing with her and her brother's file showing the abuse he suffered as well as the non-engagement, lack of transparency, lack of investigation and prevarication on the part of An Garda Síochána and the HSE. Her brother is disabled and in a home - one in my county, unfortunately. Now the State is doing its best to make him a ward of court, get him away from everyone and bury his case further. There are many cans of worms to be opened. This is not 40, 50, 60 or 80 years ago; it is current, it is live and it is here with us. A huge responsibility rests on the shoulders of the Minister and her Department.
I have just come from a meeting of the Business Committee, the members of which were very confused as to where we stand as regards the case of Grace. Quite honestly - I am not blaming the Minister of State, Deputy McGrath, whom I thank for withdrawing the terms of reference yesterday - a mess has been made of this by senior officials in the Departments. Either they do not know what they are doing or they are engaged in subterfuge. I do not know how the Business Committee meeting ended because I had to leave to come here, but we cannot continue like this. There are officials who are either covering up matters, hiding or ducking and diving, and it is just not acceptable. This is going on right across the HSE and Tusla, and they should be dragged out kicking and screaming. We are accountable to the people, and rightly so, but they are accountable to nobody. Deputy Harty has referred to this. There is no accountability and we must do something to get it, or else the HSE must be disbanded and the rotten sickness - I will not use the word I would like to use - treated so that we can have an accountable service that will provide some solace for parents and families who still have loved ones in institutions. Then there is the culture of HSE officials setting up companies before retiring in order to go into private care and sell care to these people, and abuse is carrying on there again. It stinks to high heaven. Legislation must be brought in to the effect that they cannot plan their retirements in this way, setting up private businesses and getting lucrative contracts. Money is their interest, not the care of children. I, together with former Senator Mary Ann O'Brien and others here, have raised such cases and got no accountability. I ask the Minister, in the name of our children and of future generations, please to continue with her refreshing stance and try to root this out.