Thursday, 1 April 2021
Prime Time Investigates Programme on Department of Health: Statements
Pauline Tully (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
The revelations on the "Prime Time Investigates" programme were shocking. The collection of information, especially medical and treatment information on vulnerable children and their families, was despicable. None of us would like to think that our personal information, which we had shared with a professional, was there for all members of a certain section in the Department of Health to see.
In the first instance, no families should be required to take the State to court over the right to a proper education. Second, the State should not be defending these cases in court and spending millions of euro of taxpayers' money defending the indefensible. Money can seemingly be found to defend the State in court but cannot be made available to ensure that all of our children are cherished equally and their educational needs met. Unfortunately, families are still being forced to revert to the legal avenue to get help for their children.
Since 2018, HSE-appointed solicitors and counsel have cost the taxpayer in excess of €700,000. This waste of money must stop and instead be invested in services and schools to provide assistance to children with special needs and their families. It abhors me that officials in the Departments of Health and Education would compile these dossiers and share this information, and none of them would question whether it is unethical and possibly unlawful. Did individual schools participate in this practice and share confidential information about students' ability in school? It does not make sense to compile a secret dossier on students in cases where it has been ten years since they engaged in any sort of legal action.
It is very possible that there has been a breach of data protection rules. I welcome the statutory inquiry that has been instigated by the Data Protection Commissioner. However, this practice is in direct contravention of several articles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Article 22 states, "States Parties shall protect the privacy of personal, health and rehabilitation information of persons with disabilities on an equal basis with others." The Government signed up to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities three years ago and this practice is in direct contravention of the convention.
We need clear information on this debacle. When did this practice begin? How many people were involved? Has it stopped and, if so, when? What exactly was the expert senior counsel asked to review? What was the brief and what questions were asked? If one asks a question in a certain way, one will get the answer one wants. I do not believe a cross-departmental review is enough. We need an independent inquiry into this issue immediately. The Government has responsibility to rebuild trust in the Departments that serve us. Enough is enough. Treatment of people with disabilities as second-class citizens must end.
It is two years since Deputy Funchion received overwhelming support for the establishment of an autism committee which is now needed more than ever. I hope that can be progressed.