Thursday, 1 April 2021
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. Understandably, the "RTÉ Investigates" programme last week and the allegations contained within it have been distressing for many people. Parents and families will go to any length they can to protect their children's rights. Since last Thursday's broadcast, families have been wondering whether they are affected. Work is under way in the Department of Health to assess all the files and to see what contact may be needed so that families can be informed. I cannot say today when they will be informed but it will be as soon as possible, once the assessment is done.
The Department of Health, at the instigation of the Taoiseach, has set up a team to examine the facts in respect of the specific allegations made in the "RTÉ Investigates" programme and I look forward to it reporting back as soon as possible and any resulting actions being taken without delay. The team will investigate the matters further and following the broadcast, the Minister of State at the Department of Health with responsibility for disability, Deputy Rabbitte, met senior officials in her Department. I understand that 110 minutes are being set aside later in the day in the House for further discussion and debate on this matter.
The allegations, which were subject to the "RTÉ Investigates" programme on 25 March, were brought to the Department's attention last year. The Department took the matters raised seriously and commissioned an independent expert review by an external senior counsel. This review was completed in November 2020. The review found that information contained on the relevant files managed by the Department is consistent with and typical of the sort of information which arises in such litigation but I have not yet seen the report myself.
The reality is that the Minister for Health, the Minister for Education and the HSE are often named as defendants in cases taken against the State. The role of the Office of the Chief State Solicitor is to provide litigation services to Government Departments under the direction of the Attorney General, and it regularly jointly represents the State as defendants in litigation. I am assured by the Department that the legal approach has always been to settle cases on the best terms possible and on the issues and outcome of the proceedings. I reassure the House that the Department of Health and the Department of Education are also clear that regardless of any litigation, the primary duty of them, the HSE and the education system is to children and families, in order to provide the required care and supports, in line with available resources, policy and legislation.