Seanad debates

Monday, 29 March 2021

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

 

10:30 am

Marie Sherlock (Labour) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House and for her comprehensive statement. I join Senator Bacik in welcoming the Minister of State's statement on the publication of the senior counsel's report.

Like so many other people, I was horrified by what I learned from the "RTÉ Investigates" programme but we must keep reminding ourselves that at the heart of all of this are families with some of the most vulnerable in this State. These families are trying to vindicate their children's constitutional and essential right to appropriate education yet the Department of Health has chosen to expend valuable time, money and resources in an intelligence gathering exercise on both children and families at the centre of these cases.

We use the phrase "the State" but that is a broad term. I am sure hundreds of workers in the Department of Health and our health services are doing their best to deliver services to these most vulnerable of children day in, day out. It must be quite a kick in the teeth for those workers seeing the activities of the Department of Health's litigation unit.

The Minister of State and Senator Bacik referred to the seven questions that need to be answered. Ultimately, they boil down to the following questions. Why was the Department gathering this intelligence? To what use was it putting this information? It was not just about the child but about the family.

The Minister of State spoke about trust. Ultimately, the issue here is about culture in Departments. If one goes up against a Department, one does so at one's peril. There are serious question about why a litigation unit would want to gather information on a family member's alcoholism, obesity and overall mental state. Those were only some of the references we saw on Thursday night's programme.

We owe a debt of gratitude to the whistleblower, Mr. Shane Corr, the "RTÉ Investigates" programme and Mr. Conor Ryan for bringing this to light. The Government now needs to move swiftly because this is not just about the families concerned, it is about trust in the State's institutions.

I made a reference in the Seanad last Friday that needs to be repeated. The legitimacy of the State is facing a significant challenge from the far right, people who do not want to believe in the institutions of our State. I refer to revelations about the activities of our State, such as those about which we learned last week, coming out time and again and about the use of information. What was it going to do with the information? We are aware the State's institutions have previously used information about persons to undermine their cases. We saw it in the case of a child whose family was threatened with deportation a number of years ago. We must clean up Departments to restore trust in the State's institutions.

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