I propose to take Questions Nos. 2 and 8 together.
As I explained to the House during the Adjournment debate on 7 March, the report of the investigation into the tragic case of the child Kelly Fitzgerald was commissioned by the chief executive officer of the Western Health Board. The terms of reference of the inquiry team appointed by the chief executive officer were: to inquire into the circumstances of the late Kelly Fitzgerald and her family and, having regard thereto, to examine the Western Health Board's child protection practices and procedures and to make such recommendations as were deemed necessary; to make such other recommendations as were considered relevant; and to report to the chief executive officer of the board in the matter as soon as possible for presentation by him to the board.
The inquiry team submitted its report to the chief executive officer on 14 November 1995 and he then sought legal advice in relation to the publication of the report. The opinion of the board's legal advisers was received on 6 February 1996. Further clarification of certain aspects of the legal opinion was sought from the legal advisers and this was received on 5 March 1996. I did not consider it appropriate to seek a copy of the report pending the outcome of the consultations between the chief executive officer and the board's legal advisers.
In anticipation of a special meeting of the board copies of the report were issued to members of the board, together with the legal opinion received and a report to the board from the chief executive officer on 6 March 1996. Parts of the report were published in theIrish Independent on 7 March 1996, in advance of the special meeting of the board. In the light of this development, the chief executive officer of the board provided a copy of the report to my Department together with a copy of the legal advice in relation to the report. This was received in the Department on 8 March 1996.
The Deputies will be aware that at the special meeting of the Board on 11 March 1996 the board decided, having considered the legal advice from senior counsel, to publish the general recommendations of the report. The board also decided to refer the recommendations to the community care committee and the child care advisory committee of the board for consideration.
I would like to acknowledge the difficult task undertaken by the inquiry team in good faith. There are valuable lessons to be learned from this tragic case and these are reflected in certain recommendations of the report. My Department is studying the report in detail and will consult with the Western Health Board on actions that need to be taken on foot of the report.
The other major child abuse investigations which involve the publication of reports concern Madonna House and the west of Ireland farmer case. The investigation into the operation of Madonna House was commissioned by the Religious Sisters of Charity. As I have previously indicated to the House, I have received legal advice that substantial parts of the report of that investigation cannot be published without running a serious risk of committing grave contempt and defamation. In accordance with the express wish of my colleague, the Minister for Health, and myself that as much as possible of that report should be published, a report on the investigation is being prepared by my Department.
As regards the west of Ireland farmer case, I have been informed by the health board concerned that the work of the group established to review that board's involvement in the case has been suspended on legal advice pending the outcome of civil proceedings instituted by the victims concerned. Therefore no report has been completed in this case.
Both the Minister for Health and I are extremely concerned about the difficulties impeding the publication of reports of inquiries into child abuse cases. It has been our unequivocal position since we took up office that as much information as possible should be put into the public domain. Above all, we are most anxious to avoid suggestions of a cover up in any case involving a health board or child care agency.
There is sufficient experience at this stage to determine that the current format of inquiries into child abuse cases is unsatisfactory. It has become increasingly clear that a change in the law is required to overcome the difficulties encountered in publishing recent reports of this nature. It is for this reason we have decided to establish, on a statutory basis, an inspectorate of social services within the Department of Health. This is not the only initiative that needs to be taken and I will be making an announcement in due course on an additional range of measures.
It is proposed that this inspectorate should have responsibility for quality assurance and audit of child care practice. It would be charged with undertaking inquiries on behalf of the Minister. It is our firm intention that the enabling legislation will provide for the privileged publication by the Minister of any report made to him by the proposed inspectorate.
My primary objective is to ensure that all the lessons that can be learned from this and other unfortunate cases are taken on board and that our policies, priorities and management arrangements are influenced positively by these lessons, now and in the future.