I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise the issue, which has been somewhat truncated from the original matter submitted. My concern is with children known to be at risk and notified to the health board or HSE as being at risk who have lost their lives or children who have lost their lives having already found their way into the care system. On 19 February I asked the Minister of State with responsibility for children to detail the number of children who have died in the past ten years and who had been notified as being at risk. I was astonished to discover that not only did the Minister of State not know the numbers who had died but also it appears the HSE had not even bothered to collate them. The reply stated:
I have asked the Health Service Executive to gather the information requested and to forward this information to the Deputy. The Health Service Executive has advised, that due to the length of the period covered by the question it will of necessity take some time to compile as material will have to be retrieved from the archives.
I would have thought that circumstances in which children lost their lives, having been reported to a health board or the HSE to be at risk would have been properly recorded and the background detail would have been known and properly investigated. That does not seem to have been the case.
Some days after I received the reply to that parliamentary question, Carl O'Brien, the social affairs correspondent of The Irish Times, reported that:
A total of 20 children who were placed in the care of the State have died over a six-year period, new figures show.
Five young people died from drug overdoses, two from traffic accidents, two from assaults and two from suicide according to the Health Service Executive.
Carl O'Brien's source of information is not revealed and this information was apparently leaked to him. Where children taken into our care system lose their lives it should not be a matter of secrecy as to the circumstances in which they lost their lives or as to what action if any could have been taken by a health authority to provide them with protection. We have an excessive amount of secrecy and a total lack of transparency.
To her credit, in April 2007, the Ombudsman for Children recommended to the then Minister for Health and Children, who also happens to be the current Minister, that consideration be given to the establishment of a mechanism to review systematically child deaths in the State. A year ago she held a seminar on the issue. Two years after the recommendation was made by her it seems absolutely nothing has been done despite a decision of the European Court which imposes an obligation on all states to ensure deaths of children — particularly those who should have been taken into care or who were in care — are properly and independently investigated. This requires a sufficient element of public scrutiny for the investigation of its results to ensure accountability.
We are in the extraordinary position of knowing the names of some children taken into care who have lost their lives. There was the tragic case of Tracey Fay in respect of which the HSE received an internal report towards the end of 2008. Tracey Fay died of a fatal drugs overdose in 2002. It apparently took six years for the HSE to receive a review of what had occurred. It is reported that the review found that instead of providing her with stable accommodation, a local health authority provided a "chaotic" response, including 20 different bed and breakfasts, hospital beds, a bench in an accident and emergency unit and two different dedicated services. I do not know whether Tracey Fay's life could have been saved. I do not know how adequate or otherwise the child care interventions were. However, I know that in a democracy it is entirely unacceptable that it took six years to produce this report and the report is apparently a State secret. It has been at least three months since the HSE received it and, for all I know, with the HSE late 2008 could be any time between September and December 2008. The Tracey Fay report has not been published. The same applies to the tragic death of David Foley, who was found dead in a flat off Blackhall Place in Dublin's north inner city on Saturday, 10 September 2005. Three years earlier, he entered the care system as a 14-year old child. David Foley, like Tracy Fay, was totally failed by our child care system.