Dáil debates

Thursday, 1 April 2021

Prime Time Investigates Programme on Department of Health: Statements


3:30 pm

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal, Independent)

Yesterday evening, I received a reply to a parliamentary question I asked of the Minister for Health on the way in which a compilation of a dossier on children with autism was permitted. Part of the reply states:

The allegations which were the subject of the RTÉ Prime Time programme on March 25th were brought to the Department's attention last year. The Department took the matters raised very seriously and commissioned an independent, expert review by an external Senior Counsel. This review was completed in November 2020.

That means the former Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, and the current Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, knew about this long before it appeared on "RTÉ Investigates". The Department stated that it took the issue very seriously and I presume that very serious issues are brought to the attention of the Minister and if that is not the case, it raises other questions. Why were we not told about this? Why are those Ministers not here today to account for themselves?

The illegal activities exposed by Shane Corr are inexcusable. There is no way to defend the clandestine gathering of highly sensitive and personal data in order to inform cases in possible continuing litigation. Of course, it is not only the Department of Health spying on citizens. I have never noticed in job advertisements for the public service that the Government is looking for people with investigative backgrounds, detectives in the making, candidates who enjoyed "Inspector Gadget" in their early years. Is there somewhere else that the Government advertises for people with spying experience?

The Department of Justice has people monitoring tweets from those who are critical of direct provision, both former asylum seekers and members of the public. The Department of Social Protection sends people out to go through lone parents' underwear drawers and sit outside people’s homes to check whether they are going to work. There is something wrong here and it applies to the Government across the board.

I thank Shane Corr for having the bravery and integrity to have seen something fundamentally wrong and to have highlighted it. Instead of staying quietly in his job in the Department of Health, Mr. Corr knew that he needed to go public with what he had found.

I have been asking many questions about the treatment of children with additional needs. I have asked whether a grant or other funding is available for parents of children with autism who seek to avail of early intervention services privately. I have asked about the numbers of children awaiting initial assessment of needs, the length of time waiting, by community healthcare organisation, CHO, and about the process of getting on the list for assessment. The Government recently moved the goalposts. As the HSE was consistently missing its statutory timeframe for completion of assessment of needs, instead of the Government and the HSE addressing the inadequacies of the service, they introduced a new standard operating procedure, SOP, that removed the need for it. The new SOP has been operational since January 2020. It is supposedly now allowing for a shorter assessment in order that the HSE can say it is meeting its statutory targets. That is sad.


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