Written Answers. - Post Mortem Inquiry.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

202 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Health and Children if the chairperson of the Dunne post mortem inquiry will present her report in September 2002 as outlined in the terms of reference; the rationale behind the confidentiality undertaking which relatives are being asked to sign; if those who refuse to sign this undertaking will be excluded from having their cases investigated by the post mortem inquiry; the benefit for whom this undertaking exists; if there will be a second tier to this inquiry as originally proposed; whether this second tier will have statutory powers to compel witnesses to attend and to produce documentation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15091/02]

The work of the post mortem inquiry commenced in March 2001. It had initially been agreed by the chairperson of the inquiry, Ms Anne Dunne, that this work would be likely to take approximately 18 months. I have had no formal indication of a significant change in this position and I understand that the work of the inquiry, which is considerable, is proceeding apace.

The inquiry is a private, non-statutory inquiry. It depends upon the voluntary co-operation of those involved in its work. The inquiry took the view from an early stage, that in these circumstances, it would be conducive to the success of its work if its proceedings were confidential and were not subject to dissemination publicly. The confidentiality undertaking requires that anyone contributing to the work of the inquiry is requested to enter into a written confidentiality agreement and undertakes to treat as strictly private and confidential all information, given or received, relating to the work of the inquiry, whether written or oral. This undertaking ensures that the work of the inquiry will be totally private and confidential. The inquiry has received a satisfactory response to its request for this undertaking and has explained its reasons for seeking it to the persons concerned. It is not intended that the undertaking would in any way limit or restrict the scope of the inquiry's work or its report.

It had been agreed by Government that when Ms Dunne submitted her report to me that I would then submit it to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children for examination in order that the committee could draw its own conclusions on the matter. The powers of the committee in this context will need to be clarified in the light of the Supreme Court judgment in the Abbeylara case. I have written to the Attorney General's office seeking clarification on the relevant issues and will consider this matter further on receipt of formal legal advice.