Thursday, 1 April 2021
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
An tseachtain seo caite, d'ardaigh mé an scannal maidir le cáipéisí agus sonraí a bhailigh an Roinn Sláinte agus Feidhmeannacht na Seirbhíse Sláinte ar pháistí a bhí ag troid ar son a gcuid cearta sna cúirteanna. D'inis an Tánaiste dom nach raibh na fíricí uilig aige ag an am sin agus go raibh deis uaidh é a scrúdú agus an clár á fheiceáil. An raibh deis ag an Tánaiste seo a scrúdú ó shin? An bhfuil an cleachtadh seo ag dul ar aghaidh go fóill? Ar cuireadh na teaghlaigh ar an eolas faoi seo go fóill? Tá ceisteanna móra dlíthiúla anseo fosta agus caithfidh an Rialtas na ceisteanna sin a fhreagairt.
I raised the revelations of the whistle-blower in the Department of Health last week on Leader's Questions. This was first reported by the "RTÉ Investigates" programme last Thursday. As the Tánaiste knows, these revelations were on the gathering of information about children who have autism and about their families, who had taken the State to court to vindicate the right of their children to access services that they should have been entitled to in the first place. The Tánaiste said last Thursday that it would be inappropriate for him to comment because he did not have all of the facts in his possession at the time but he agreed that it was a serious matter and that he would watch the programme. I presume that at this point the Tánaiste has had an opportunity to establish some of the facts, that he has watched the programme and that some of the facts are known on the issue. I am sure the Tánaiste will still agree that this is a serious issue. None of the explanations offered so far by Ministers, including the Taoiseach, dilute the seriousness of this issue. The dishonesty of this practice of gathering information about children in this way is self-evident. At the very least, it is extremely unethical and there remain legal uncertainties on this practice. I welcome the fact that the Data Protection Commissioner has instigated its own statutory inquiry into this matter.
"RTÉ Investigates" is reporting this morning that the senior counsel who authored the report in the wake of the protected disclosure being made by the whistle-blower last year is saying he did not see the legal advice on whether the HSE could provide this information to the Department without the consent of the parents. If this is true, this raises a serious red flag. We know this practice of gathering information was happening until at least 2019 and the question we need an answer to is as follows. Is it still happening today? Is this practice happening as we stand here and as I speak? The Taoiseach did not answer this question yesterday and I am asking the Tánaiste for a straightforward answer to a straightforward question.
Another question the Taoiseach did not answer yesterday is as follows. Have families been informed? I understand why he dodged that question because we have learned this morning that no families, nor their legal representatives, have been contacted by the Department to inform it that their personal information is being stored by the Department of Health in this way, as revealed by the "RTÉ Investigates" programme. Why has that not happened? One week on, why are families still in the dark on whether it is they who the Department has a dossier on in relation to some of this extremely sensitive and personal information? When will they be informed? It is important that the Tánaiste does not dance on the head of a pin in his response as to whether this is legal or not. Those questions will be answered in due course.
Does the Tánaiste remember when we were dealing with the CervicalCheck scandal? At the start, senior people told us there was no legal requirement at that time to disclose the information to the patients. Everybody accepts that it was the wrong thing to do to hide and deny that information and that it was unethical to do so. The same applies to this. Sensitive information on what we believe are 400 families has been stored by the Department of Health in this way and not one of those families has been told what information is stored and why.