I met Lorraine and Maurice McCabe on 25 January 2017. Many Members of this House have also met them and will be aware of the heavy burden of the hurt and wrongdoing that has been inflicted on them. They have spoken very clearly of the devastating impact this has had on them and their family. They told me that the most recent development, involving the information they had received through the freedom of information process from Tusla, was worse than anything else that had already happened to them.
I was deeply conscious then and since then that it is the State that has almost destroyed this family. I was absolutely determined that, in every action I took, I would try to ensure that I, as a Minister, would not inadvertently cause them any additional hurt. They have now and will always have my support. They told me what was contained in the file. It is shocking. It showed an unacceptable breakdown in procedures. This translated in human terms into the most vile, graphic and false allegations made against Maurice.
At my request, Tusla provided a chronology and outline of their case to me on Friday, 27 January. I made arrangements to give these to the McCabes on Saturday, 28 January. I also included a letter saying that the report may "raise further questions" that they would need answered. I advised them that the CEO of Tusla had offered to meet them if they wished, but I acknowledged that I would understand if they chose not to accept this offer. I offered to facilitate them in getting further information directly from Tusla as an alternative.
Tusla has apologised to the McCabes, will co-operate fully with the tribunal of inquiry and has deleted the information held electronically on the McCabe family, including Sergeant Maurice McCabe and his four children. A paper file only will be retained holding all information to date for the purpose of review and the tribunal. The paper files relating to the McCabes have been put under lock and key. They have been taken out of the system where they would normally be held. These are the requests that the McCabes made of me at that meeting.
It is my view, though, that the apology and these actions are not enough. An independent external review must take place of Tusla procedures and protocols for dealing with child abuse complaints. That review is separate from the matters under investigation by the commission. It is wider. As the Minister with responsibility for Tusla, I have asked HIQA to undertake an independent, statutory investigation under section 9 of the Health Act 2007 into how Tusla manages child abuse allegations. In conjunction with the CEO of HIQA, Mr. Phelim Quinn, the terms of reference for the statutory investigation are going to be drawn up to ensure that it is focused and timely. The Secretary General and senior officials from my Department met HIQA today in order to progress this. I will seek advice from the Attorney General as part of that process. This process must be swift so that we can begin to restore public confidence in Tusla and ensure that its systems are fit for purpose in dealing with these issues as we move into the future.
In terms of political developments, there were three interactions with Government colleagues. My adviser met an adviser from the Taoiseach's office on Tuesday, 24 January, the day before I was due to meet Sergeant and Mrs. McCabe, and told him about the upcoming meeting. She told him that it was in respect of a complaint that the McCabes had about Tusla. Before meeting the McCabes, I told the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality that I was meeting Sergeant and Mrs. McCabe. As I stated when I spoke to the media yesterday, I also spoke with the Taoiseach prior to the Cabinet meeting last week. Just to be clear, this was after my meeting with the McCabes. I told him that I had met the McCabes and that we had discussed false allegations of sexual abuse made against Sergeant McCabe to Tusla. The Taoiseach said that this would be covered by the commission of investigation, which is what we were calling it at the time. I did not go into the detail of any of the allegations that I was aware of, but I did indicate to him that this was the nature of the conversation.
During the Cabinet meeting, it was my belief that Tusla would be covered by the inquiry under the terms of reference before us. I noted from radio and television interviews and debates over the weekend that the chair of the commission shared this view, that is, that the contents of the RTE "Prime Time" programme would have been covered by the initial terms of reference.
Perhaps I was overly cautious in protecting the details of the information that I had, and if that is the case, then I accept that. However, let us be clear that incorrect information circulating about the McCabes is at the root of the horrendous damage done to this couple and their family. I for one did not want to risk spreading these false allegations any further. In conversations I have had since, the Taoiseach and other ministerial colleagues have accepted the reasoning behind my decision and that it was an extremely difficult one.
The question remains as to whether I should have spoken up at Cabinet. The situation I was in was to consider whether providing information at Cabinet was necessary to achieve what I wanted to achieve, that is, to ensure that Maurice and Lorraine McCabe got truth and justice. I believed that the terms of reference covered all matters relating to Tusla. In order to bring clarity, however, I accept now that some colleagues would have preferred if I had made a contribution at Cabinet. I will learn from that.
As part of this learning, I would like to explore with my colleagues if there is a way that we could have time to look at sensitive memos for the Government in advance of Cabinet meetings. There is a practice of bringing memos directly to Cabinet. I understand the issue of sensitivity and confidentiality, but I would also like time to prepare adequately.
I also accept that there was confusion around my statements on Friday last. As the House knows, Friday was difficult in terms of communication, as I was on a brief visit to the west coast of the United States for family reasons and time zones came into play. The first statement said that I had informed relevant Government colleagues, and it is true that I had informed them of my engagement with the McCabes. That has been acknowledged by others, but some public commentary during the course of Friday led to the second statement to bring clarity. I wanted to be absolutely clear that I had not passed on files and information of confidential, graphic, disturbing and highly sensitive information. As I said then, this was also information that one could reasonably have assumed was the subject of the protected disclosure that was leading to the establishment of the commission.
I would like to reiterate that, for my own part, it was always my view that Tusla would be subject to the commission or tribunal of inquiry, a view that the chair of the commission seems to share. I believed that the information I was becoming aware of through speaking to the McCabes and through Tusla was the protected disclosure that had been a matter of public comment.
I have a job to do. I am the only Independent woman in the Cabinet and I like to think that I bring a different perspective than my colleagues. I believe that I can bring an influence that would be missing if I were not there. My only motivation in being cautious about the moment of information that I shared was that I did not want to cause any further distress to the McCabe family. There was no other motive. I believe that it was reasonable to assume that the information I had may also have been part of an existing protected disclosure. Colleagues accept that I believed Tusla was covered by the terms of reference.
People can accuse me of being politically naive. I do not agree, but people are entitled to their opinion. I would prefer that charge, even if I do not agree with it, rather than be the source that spread false allegations of the most horrific type further.
I have read the statement issued by Maurice and Lorraine McCabe. They have asked questions of present and former members of Government. They have asked if persons acting as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs since 2013, among others, were briefed formally or informally of the making of such allegations at any time by the Garda Síochána or by the Commissioner of An Garda Síochána since August 2013. As I fall into this category, I can confirm that I have never been briefed of such allegations by the Garda Síochána or the Commissioner.
They further identify six questions that they would like answered. I believe that two of these questions could relate to Tusla. Who interviewed the alleged victim in respect of that allegation in May 2014 as claimed by her solicitor? Was any decision made not to inform Maurice of the making of the 2013 allegation and, if so, why and by whom? I have been in touch with Tusla to establish the answers to these questions. I have received a response this afternoon and have this evening e-mailed that to Sergeant and Lorraine McCabe. They may wish to come back on this and interrogate it further. If they do, and if I can, I will assist them with it.