The Department of Health has suspended the activities of the north inner city drug and alcohol task force and is putting in place its own process to appoint a chairperson and broaden its membership. The Department of Health is basing this decision on an accusation of governance shortcomings in the north inner city drug and alcohol task force. I have been talking to the task force members and the task force absolutely and totally rejects this accusation. It views the actions of the Department as completely unjustified and is intent on defending the honesty, integrity and professionalism of the chairperson, directors, members and staff of the task force.
In the 25 years since the north inner city drugs and alcohol task force was established, there have been no governance shortcomings raised with the task force and the Department has made this allegation without presenting a shred of evidence. The only governance shortcoming the Department of Health refers to is a recent task force process for the appointment of a new chairperson. Contrary to what the Department is saying, the task force has complied with all the requirements set out in the drugs and alcohol task force handbook.
The task force states without reservation that the process put in place for the appointment of the chair has been collectively agreed and implemented with complete transparency by all the task force members across community, voluntary and statutory sectors. The outgoing chair has carried out his duty in this matter with honesty and integrity and through consensus. The person selected by the task force as the next chair fully complies with the requirements as outlined in the handbook, including not being connected to any of the projects funded by the task force.
Despite all of this, the Department has intervened in a process to block the task force from going ahead with the appointment of a new chair.
The Department representative intervened first as a member of the north inner city programme implementation board, then changed to an intervention directly on behalf of the Department looking for a three-person interview panel to be put in place with a Department representative, a HSE representative and a drugs and alcohol task force representative. It is unprecedented in 25 years of the drugs and alcohol task force for the Department of Health or any parent Department to intervene in this way in the selection of a chair. The task force did not agree with this proposal as it is not in compliance with the handbook or company law. The action of the Department is suspending the drugs and alcohol task force for governance shortcomings has been taken in the complete absence of any procedures based on natural justice or a right to reply. It has tainted the personal and professional reputations of the directors, members and staff of the task force by presenting them as unfit and untrustworthy to carry out the work of the north inner city drugs and alcohol task force. The Department is also proposing to remove every shred of independence from the task force by taking over the appointment of the chair and members.
I am calling on the Department to withdraw its decision to suspend the task force, reinstate it immediately and set up a forum for natural justice. If the Department feels there is a problem, its representatives should talk it out with the task force members in an open and transparent way. I appeal to the Minister of State to do that. This has been the tradition of the task forces since they were set up 25 years ago to respond to the drug issues facing communities across the country. They should be respected for that.