I want to raise an issue of some gravity. It concerns allegations of physical and sexual abuse of varying degrees of seriousness in a school in the country and the subsequent Ombudsman's report, which went on for some years, into how the school's board of management, the HSE and the Department of Education and Skills responded to those allegations.
I know that the child who made the allegations wrote to the Taoiseach on 17 November about these issues. The Ombudsman's report was completed in September 2014. Suffice to say that it is a damning indictment of the manner in which the response to the complaint was administered by the board of management, the HSE and the then Department of Education and Science. The Garda has accepted that its original investigation was not up to standard and it is renewing its investigation and further allegations have been received.
This occurred in 2005-06, not 50, 30 or 20 years ago. I will give the Taoiseach a flavour of the findings of the Ombudsman's report in relation to the then Department of Education and Science:
This office finds that the Department of Education and Science's failure to provide assistance to the board to evaluate the investigative procedures employed by the board was based on unsound administration within the meaning of section 8 of the Ombudsman for Children Act 2002.
Failed to respond [this is Education] when the HSE alerted the Department of Education and Science that the clinical psychologist was quite concerned with regard to corporal punishment at the school. [In fact, the local health officer had changed the psychologist's assessment. The psychologist was very concerned and had asked for follow-up investigations.] Education failed to respond when the board specifically requested guidance from the Department of Education and Science with regard to their investigation. On becoming further aware of the difficulties arising it limited its interaction to that of writing to the HSE to ask whether the allegations of corporal punishment came within Children First and whether these were being investigated by the HSE. Failed to respond to the board...
In terms of the HSE it states:
This office finds for much of the period under investigation allegations of physical abuse were miscategorised as corporal punishment. Should have been investigated by the HSE but were not properly investigated by the HSE.
In accordance with section 8 of the Ombudsman for Children Act 2002 this office finds that these actions were contrary to fair and sound administration.
To give a flavour of what was going on in the school in March 2002, the Ombudsman report quotes from the school Stay Safe Programme which says:
This school states:
The Stay Safe Programme has been approved by the board of management as a teacher's aid to be used in accordance with the Catholic ethos which demands that the law of God and of the church and not the child's feelings be the guiding principle.
There are fundamental questions to be answered by the three bodies concerned. What has alarmed me is the failure of the Department of Education and Skills to respond in any shape or form to the Ombudsman's report of September 2014.
Tusla has initiated an investigation but it seems to be a desk-top investigation. It will not be an investigation of what happened in the past but an investigation to help Tusla understand how things can be done better into the future. Tusla wanted to conduct this investigation in conjunction with the Department of Education and Skills. The fact that it is undertaking it on its own suggests to me that the Department is not willing to engage with Tusla in this investigation.
Will the Taoiseach agree to the establishment of an independent panel to investigate this scandal, in respect of which the Ombudsman for Children's report states without equivocation that this matter was not handled properly in any shape or form by the three bodies concerned? Will he indicate why the Minister and Department of Education and Skills have refused to meet the parents concerned and why they do not appear to have utilised the powers available to them under section 17 of the Education Act to intervene in this situation?