Clarification of Statements made by the Taoiseach and Ministers: Statements

The sole objective of the Government in regard to the shocking allegations that are now in the public domain has been and remains getting the full truth for all of those involved. These allegations are extremely grave. At their heart is the suggestion that there was a deliberate smear campaign against Sergeant Maurice McCabe based on false claims of sexual abuse and that that campaign was orchestrated by senior Garda management.

Sexual abuse is probably the worst crime a person could be wrongly accused of. The suggestion that false allegations could be spread to undermine the credibility of a serving member of the Garda force is truly shocking. It should be noted that the Garda Commissioner has emphatically denied these allegations. We owe it to Sergeant McCabe and his family, and to all others about whom allegations have been made, to ensure that the truth of all of these matters is definitively established. This objective has been central to the Government's approach to these issues.

When two protected disclosures were made to the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality in October 2016, she referred them within four days to Mr. Justice Iarfhlaith O'Neill for examination and assessment. Following a thorough analysis of the protected disclosures Mr. Justice O'Neill reported back to the Tánaiste and recommended that Government establish a commission of investigation to determine the truth. Last week, the Government accepted this recommendation and published Mr. Justice O'Neill's draft terms of reference in full and without any changes. The Government also announced the nomination of the eminent serving Supreme Court Judge, Mr. Peter Charleton, as head of the commission.

Is a copy of the Taoiseach's statement available for circulation?

I will have a copy circulated.

Will each of the Ministers also circulate a copy of their statements?

Some in the House have suggested that the Government tried to constrain the work of the commission. I utterly reject that assertion. Not only did it accept Mr. Justice O'Neill's draft terms of reference in full but the Tánaiste agreed to accept some amendments from Opposition parties and to consider others. It has now emerged that Sergeant McCabe has indicated that he is not happy to participate in a commission of investigation because of the private nature of its proceedings. This would make it difficult for a commission to establish all of the facts. In that context, the Government decided this morning to have these matters investigated by a tribunal of inquiry under the 1921 Act. The Tánaiste is drawing up the terms of reference for this tribunal and will be in contact with Opposition spokespersons on justice in that regard. It is essential that these terms of reference are fair to and respect the rights of all those involved in these matters.

I want again to refer to the important work being undertaken by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. As Minister with responsibility for Tusla, Deputy Zappone engaged with Maurice McCabe about very sensitive and personal matters. She quite rightly respected his right to privacy and confidentiality in relation to those matters. As I have said previously, I was aware of the meeting between the Minister, Deputy Zappone, and Sergeant McCabe but I was not aware of the details of, or the very serious and disturbing issues that arose at the meeting. In referring to this last Sunday I mistakenly said that I had spoken to the Minister, Deputy Zappone, prior to her meeting with Sergeant McCabe. That comment was inaccurate. The correct sequence is that I was informed through officials in my office that the Minister intended to meet Sergeant McCabe and last Tuesday she informed me that she had met Sergeant McCabe. However, as confirmed by the Minister, Deputy Zappone, she did not divulge any of the details of those very serious issues to me or to anyone else in government, which was the correct course of action.

I remind the House that this Government, like the previous Government, has a strong track record on justice reform in terms of the changes in structure, the analysis being carried out by Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring in regard to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, the putting in place of the first ever independent policing authority since the foundation of the State, an independent police inspectorate and protection in legislation for whistleblowers.

In my responsibilities, it was my direction that we would have a Ministry for children, a Department of children and an agency for children and that we would deal with enshrining the rights of children in Bunreacht na hÉireann by way of referendum and deal with the issues of the separation of Church and State, with particular reference to sexual abuse over the years. I referred to the latter in a speech delivered in respect of the Cloyne issue. Only last year, when I had an opportunity to speak to Pope Francis, I brought to his attention another case of sexual abuse.

I believe the central and fundamental issue here is that there is a claim and allegation that a deliberate smear campaign was carried out against a serving member of the Garda by Garda senior management. I am happy the House is accepting in principle the setting up of a tribunal of inquiry under the 1921 Act. I hope the Opposition and the spokespersons on justice for all the parties can agree on the terms of reference so they may be approved by both Houses of the Oireachtas this week. I hope this commission of inquiry, under whoever is chosen and agrees to direct it, will be allowed to commence its work as soon as possible in order that everybody involved in this can have fairness in terms of the terms of reference and that the truth of the fundamental question being asked can be determined, that is, the question of whether Garda senior management were involved in a deliberate smear campaign against Sergeant Maurice McCabe and his family.

I welcome this opportunity to put on the record of the House certain matters. I want to deal with the events of last week. Last Tuesday, I brought a memorandum to Government to seek approval for the establishment of a commission of investigation under Supreme Court judge, Mr. Justice Peter Charleton. That memorandum arose in the context of protected disclosures which had been made to me by two members of An Garda Síochána last October.

I have always made it clear that any wrongdoing within An Garda Síochána must be addressed fully and fairly. It was with that in mind that within days of receiving the disclosures, I had appointed Mr. Justice larfhlaith O'Neill to review the allegations and to make recommendations to me. He reported to me in December, having asked for extra time. Complex legal issues arose and when these were resolved I brought a memorandum to Government last Tuesday. The purpose of the memorandum was to give effect to Mr. Justice O'Neill's recommendations, or terms of reference, which the Government accepted in full. I published the terms of reference and his conclusions and recommendations through the process of laying documentation before the Houses of the Oireachtas, required under the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004. I published what was legally possible. Mr. Justice O'Neill, having access to the information contained in the protected disclosures, believed that it was the matters which he set out in the terms of reference which required investigation by the commission.

Suggestions have been made that I had knowledge of Tusla records at the time the matter was before the Government, which would have required me to amend the terms of reference. As I have repeatedly stated, this is not the case. I was as taken aback - and disturbed - watching the revelations about Tusla that were aired last Thursday as anyone else. Clearly, very serious issues have arisen.

Throughout my entire career I have worked to ensure that cases of child sex abuse are not kept hidden and are dealt with openly and properly. I was the first Cabinet Minister for children in the history of this State. I was responsible for initiating Children First and for suggesting a referendum to enshrine children's rights in our Constitution.

On a different topic, my engagement with Deputy Jim O'Callaghan last Wednesday was constructive throughout and entirely focused on ensuring that a commission of investigation would establish the full truth. I accept that each of our positions on this aspect of the discussion is genuinely held and I acknowledge very much that this is the spirit in which Deputy O'Callaghan has worked. I regret that differences have arisen between the two of us as to what exactly was said. I have always found the Deputy honourable and I know he made very helpful suggestions about changes that might be made to the terms of reference, which, indeed, I accepted in full.

It is very relevant to note that Mr. Justice Charleton indicated that he thought the terms of reference as I brought them forward would have been sufficient to cover the matters that had arisen in the "Prime Time" programme. Let us remember he was the person who had access to all the information and all the people involved in the protected disclosures, and had an opportunity to link with them during the course of his investigation.

As I have already said, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Katherine Zappone, telephoned me on 25 January to say she was meeting Sergeant McCabe later that day. I have also said that I respected the integrity of that meeting between her and the McCabes. I know as a former Minister for Children and Youth Affairs how sensitive some of the matters in that portfolio are.

I welcome the fact that there has been a full apology by Tusla and that the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Katherine Zappone, is to establish a statutory HIQA inquiry into the terrible issues that have arisen there.

There is no question of me having misled the Dáil in any way in what I had to say last Thursday. Deputies have referred to a series of questions in the McCabe statement yesterday. In particular, there is a series of six indented questions relating to contacts between the Garda and others relating to the false rape offence allegation. My Department is not involved in Garda operational matters and would not have details like that in its records. They are, of course, matters that will be dealt with fully by any inquiry, and this gives rise to a difficulty with the suggestion it is simply a matter of asking the Garda Commissioner to ask the gardaí involved. I have not had a chance to get detailed formal advice on this from the Attorney General but there are clearly implications for the rights of the people involved. To say, on the one hand, we are going to establish an inquiry into what someone did but that, in the meantime, we want that person to provide answers which we need to give to a person who will be party to that inquiry clearly is fraught.

Of course I understand well the concerns that people have expressed about the treatment of Maurice McCabe but it would be a great pity for people here to try to rectify one injustice by causing others. Whatever anger people might feel, in this country we do not set up tribunals of inquiry simply to confirm what people already believe. We set them up to look at all the evidence, hear all sides, and establish what the truth is. We have to be careful not to rush to judgment. Above all, everyone is entitled to basic, fair procedures enshrined in our Constitution. I cannot ignore that in a rush to judgment which ignores anyone's fundamental human rights.

We have to investigate the matters fully, but it must be done fairly too. I cannot uphold the integrity of the office to which I have been honoured to have been appointed by setting at nought the rights of others, so I cannot yield on that point.

In the course of today, we should not lose sight of the fact that day in, day out An Garda Síochána is doing excellent work, and I believe that credit is due to all ranks for that. I have embarked on a programme of major reform of An Garda Síochána, including the establishment of the Policing Authority. I hope that, over time, these reforms will bed down in the force. Obviously, I am totally open to constructive suggestions on any further reforms that might be required.

In the meantime, we need to get on with addressing the issues that have arisen. Today, the Government agreed in principle to establish a public tribunal of inquiry to establish the truth for all concerned in this situation. It is incumbent on us all now to get on with that work.

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.

Anois an tAire Sláinte, an Teachta Simon Harris.

I beg the Leas-Cheann Comhairle's pardon, but before the Minister rises, could I ask the Leas-Cheann Comhairle to please intervene? My colleague and our deputy leader, Deputy McDonald, had requested copies of the respective contributions of An Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, in turn. Two separate lots have been circulated to a certain number of Members in the Chamber and the rest have been completely ignored. We have yet to receive even a single copy of the first contribution. While I am interested in listening to what is being said, I would also like to have the opportunity to peruse the detail as presented in the circulated paper. If the Leas-Cheann Comhairle could please organise that.

At least for those who are going to ask questions.

Colleagues throughout the Chamber have been completely ignored in this respect. It is simply not good enough.

The contributions of the Tánaiste and the Minister, Deputy Zappone, have been available, but not to all. They should-----

They should be. This is ridiculous.

The scripts should be available to all. I will ask the Government to ensure that happens immediately to give Members a chance to peruse them before the question and answer session. The Taoiseach's script has not been made available yet. I call the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris. In the meantime, I ask those responsible to ensure that copies of scripts are made available to all Members of the House.

I wish to state on the record of the House what I have already said in other public fora, namely, Sergeant Maurice McCabe, Mrs. Lorraine McCabe and their family deserve truth and justice. They deserve answers and indeed all of us, as citizens, require answers to fundamental questions which go to the core of our democracy, the administration of justice, the valuing and protection of whistleblowers and the integrity of the structures we have worked so hard as a country to put in place to ensure that children are protected. The establishment of a public inquiry will ensure that a light is shone on all these issues. It will ensure that there is no room for secrecy. It will also ensure transparent, forensic examination of many key issues.

For my part, I wish to inform the House of the following information. I was contacted by the director general of the HSE on Friday evening, 10 February and made aware that a HSE counselling service was involved in the Tusla file concerning Sergeant Maurice McCabe. This was the first time I was made of aware of that and I had not seen the Tusla file nor have I seen it now. I was informed that the HSE director general only became aware of the involvement of a HSE counsellor on the same Friday, 10 February when he was also contacted by Tusla. The HSE issued a statement the following morning, Saturday, 11 February, clarifying its involvement and offering a full apology to Sergeant McCabe and indicating its intention to make arrangements to formally deliver that apology to the McCabe family.

On the Saturday night, my special adviser received a text message from Sergeant McCabe outlining that he and his family rejected the HSE's apology and the HSE's statement. This contact was brought to my attention and that of the HSE on Sunday morning and attempts were made by the HSE to directly contact the McCabe family and their solicitor. I understand that yesterday the HSE, through the director general, issued a formal written apology to Sergeant McCabe and his family. Prior to 11 February, the only contact between the McCabe family and my departmental office was when Mrs. McCabe phoned that office on 17 January. The call was returned on 18 January and once the official who took the call established that the call concerned Tusla he made arrangements for the office of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to contact Mrs. McCabe. I was not made aware of the call and remained unaware of it until last Friday.

I am determined that the McCabes get answers to the questions they posed through their statement last night. Some of the questions relate to the health services. I do not have these answers today nor do I have the information in my possession to provide these answers. However, I wish to obtain the answers and I have written to the director general of the HSE to endeavour to provide the McCabe family or their solicitor with as much information as possible and as exists in HSE records. However, the HSE and indeed the Government will need to be conscious of relevant legal advices and how they interact with the tribunal process on which we are about to embark. I am also aware that the director general, in his written apology to Sergeant McCabe, has offered to meet him directly if Sergeant McCabe believes that would be helpful. It is very important that how the counselling services of the HSE have interacted with Tusla and other agencies is examined by the tribunal. I have vocalised that view to the Attorney General, the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste and I am pleased that it will, as it must, form a part of the terms of reference for the tribunal which I hope this House will establish this week.

In addition to the very important issues currently being debated and which will be examined by a tribunal, separate and distinct to that process, I have also asked that the director general would now provide me with a report which would endeavour to provide reassurance that the current policies, practices and procedures for the National Counselling Service are operating effectively and in an appropriate way. When I receive this report, I will share it with the relevant Oireachtas committees for the appropriate scrutiny.

In accordance with the order, each of the groups has four minutes. It is a matter for the groups but I suggest four minutes of questions and then four minutes of response or do they wish to ask questions of one minute duration and have a commensurate response? They might indicate to whom they wish to address the questions.

I wish to address four questions of one minute each to the Tánaiste.

I am sorry a Leas-Cheann Comhairle but we have not yet received the statement of the Taoiseach. Could the rest of us have a chance to read the statements before the questions begin? We have only received one of the statements.

Are arrangements being made to circulate the Taoiseach's speaking notes or speech?

Yes. They are on the way.

They are on the way. Could we clarify the position, for housekeeping purposes? When the Minister of State proposed the Order of Business for the rest of the evening it was expected that we would start earlier and conclude at 8.30 p.m. but in order to give everyone an opportunity I believe it is now being proposed to extend the debate until 9 p.m. to allow for further questions.