Monday, 29 March 2021
Reports on Department of Health Policy in RTÉ Investigates Programme: Statements
I thank everybody who took the time to contribute to the debate. Like the Leas-Chathaoirleach, I thank Senators Ruane and Carrigy for sharing their personal information, and their children for allowing it to be shared. I am speaking off script and am giving my opinion. Sometimes people who work in Departments have to detach themselves and ask what the human side is, such as why there was a great deal of outrage about what was revealed on Thursday night last. I stand on the two Senators' side, as both a person and a Minister of State, because I fundamentally understand the outrage that was expressed. I understand what Senator Ruane said about having to sit and talk to daughter, who is now almost an adult. She brought her experience to the House to trust, share and tell. In her knowledge, training and experience, she asked her daughter to trust that this was the right thing to do.
On Thursday night last, Senator Ruane, her daughter, Senator Carrigy and all Senators watched what transpired to be a betrayal of trust. This is no longer a conversation about what is lawful and unlawful, it is about trust. It is time the State listened to the rights of persons with disabilities and, as Senator Craughwell said, put the person at the centre of the conversation. Senator Boylan talked about the conversation and where it is going. We have to recalibrate it and it needs to be independent. When the State acknowledges that it is prepared to listen, we can then step forward. We have to put ourselves in the space of understanding what the families have experienced. The outrage is that while the Department might be detached, and perhaps it is lawful, it does not realise the human impact of what it is doing to families.Does it realise that for years families have sought the service and perhaps the service was not available, which is why they ended up in litigation? I am not a legal person, but my understanding is that there is a judicial review system as opposed to going down the financial path. I did not know that until last Saturday. I had to find out and understand. There is much wonder out there. Am I part of that? Am I in the dormant sphere of it? Where does general data protection regulation, GDPR, come into it? These are all really relevant questions. I do not doubt the Department was doing its best lawfully. Perhaps, however, there is an element of trust. That is the core value of this. It is what the Ombudsman for Children and Professor Conor O'Mahony spoke about. That is what Senators want me to speak about and it is what I have spoken about for the last four years. Just because I became a Minister of State did not mean I threw all that in the boot of the car and forgot about those values, which are very important.
I am, therefore, delighted that the Taoiseach has put an advisory committee in place and that the Secretary General is looking to publish the report and is seeking legal advice. I do not know the timeframe as to when that will be, about which Senator Conway asked. I know, however, that the Department has worked really hard all weekend to answer the questions on how many are dormant, how many are currently active and on how it will communicate. The Department is working on that as we speak. The most important thing we need to do is re-establish that trust and get those answers. If we do not, we need to formulate how we can recalibrate going forward.
As for Senator Carrigy's Bill, of course, I would be delighted to sit down and talk to him. I would be delighted also if officials sat down and had that conversation. Let us involve others and bring more people to the table when we have that conversation about children and autism. There are good people with lived experience. Involve all of us because we can give it a more collective sense of purpose when the voices are there.
World Autism Month begins this week. I look forward to possibly stepping forward on Thursday with a published senior counsel's report. That is the first level of transparency and the first stage on which we can set forward. I wish for that and hope it can come to pass. Needless to say, I will lend every support to World Autism Month.
This goes back to the fundamental fact that this is a rights-based issue. We need to keep young people at the centre of it. This must be about them. For far too long, this conversation has not received the required airing on the floor of this House or the Lower House. I believe, however, more ladies should be involved in politics as it brings an empathy and a peace to it and brings this value system to persons with disability. We can have real, meaningful conversations and not be afraid to articulate our views or be closed down in favour of other priority issues. I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for allowing me to speak.