Seanad debates

Monday, 29 March 2021

Reports on Department of Health Policy in RTÉ Investigates Programme: Statements


10:30 am

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

It is great to have the Minister of State back in the House. Like other speakers, I was disturbed by what was revealed in the "RTÉ Investigates" programme on Thursday night. It is a programme that, by and large, gets things right. That is not always so and the case of Fr. Kevin Reynolds was one where it did not get it right. However, by and large, it gets things right and would not run with and put significant resources into this type of programme unless it was fairly sure of its ground and that there were serious questions to be answered.

That said, the Government has acted swiftly. The Taoiseach, to his credit, ordered a review the following day, which was the appropriate thing to do. We have been told by the Department, confirmed by the Minister of State today, that a senior counsel carried out a review following the protected disclosures made by the whistle-blower. I welcome the fact that the report is going to be published. The Joint Committee on Health wrote to the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, on Friday evening, requesting a number of things, including that the report be made available immediately to the whistle-blower. This Minister of State might confirm whether that has happened and if the report will be made available to the health committee by tomorrow, ahead of its private meeting to discuss how to proceed on this matter. It has, essentially, been decided by the health committee that we will invite the current acting Secretary General of the Department of Health to a meeting immediately after Easter. We will also invite the former Secretary General of the Department of Health, Mr. Jim Breslin, who is now Secretary General at the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science. We are interested in having a discussion with both gentlemen about their concerns. It was reported over the weekend that the current acting Secretary General contacted the director general of RTÉ to share information and express concern about the programme. It would be unusual, to say the least, for the Secretary General of the Department of Health to ring the director general of RTÉ to intervene in a programme to be aired that night. I will not say it was inappropriate because he had good reasons for doing so and is a long-standing civil servant. I do not question his motivation. However, it is rather unusual that it would happen. I would like to know why it happened and what was the information he had and shared with the director general that he felt should change her mind about airing the programme.

Much will be clarified when the senior counsel's report is published but the core principle here is medical ethics. Have medical ethics been broken here? That is the nub of the problem and it is a serious situation. When any of us goes to our consultant or GP, we expect absolute confidentiality and that information will only be shared with our prior knowledge or consent. This is exacerbated further when we are talking about children. If information has been shared to build and compose a legal case without the prior knowledge of the parents or their legal representatives, that to me appears to be a breach of medical ethics. The medical and professional bodies must make a statement and, in order to restore public confidence, outline their exact view on this matter. It is always regrettable to see parents having to take the State to court in order to secure educational supports for their children. It should not happen and should be avoided.However, I live in the real world and I know these things sometimes happen. They may happen for reasons with which I am not comfortable, but they happen. Of course, if the State is seeking to defend itself against a case, it is entitled to build a case in order to put forward the best defence possible because this involves taxpayers' money. When that happens, all relevant information should be provided. However, if medical ethics are broken, then we have a serious problem.

I hope the rapid review the Taoiseach has ordered within the Department will report without delay. The parents who may currently be considering legal action are in a perilous situation and do not know whether they are coming or going. The sooner there is clarity on this issue, the better.

If the Minister of State cannot confirm to the House that the report of the senior counsel has been made available to the whistleblower, I sincerely hope she will prevail on the Secretary General of the Department to make the report available to him. The consensus is that the whistleblower has done the State service with this protected disclosure and has shone a light on activities that, at the very least, are questionable and need to be examined. It is not good practice for him to be refused access to the report of the senior counsel. Will the report will be made available to the Joint Committee on Health? It is due to meet at 9.30 a.m. tomorrow. In order to allow me and other members of the committee to deliberate on the report in an effective and proper way, we need sight of it sooner rather than later. I ask the Minister of State to confirm the timelines in that regard.


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