I welcome the Minister to the House. I invite her to give her opening address and advise her that her time is unlimited, and following her contribution, I will proceed to call Senators who will have five minutes each to make their contributions.
Clarification on Statements made by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs: Statements
Like many colleagues, I have heard first-hand the pain, anguish and horror that has been inflicted on the McCabe family. This has been the result of the actions of the State, its agencies and its employees — those who should protect and serve our citizens, not persecute them. Since meeting Maurice and Lorraine McCabe on 25 January my primary concern has been to ensure that I do not take actions, inadvertently or otherwise, to add to their pain.
Members will be aware of my remarks in the Dáil yesterday and I will give an overview of them to put them on the record of the Seanad. However, it would be useful, in terms of informing our discussion, to start by giving some updates on a number of questions which have been raised. First, in regard to the second whistleblower, I have met with Garda Keith Harrison and Marissa Simms - I have just come from a meeting with them. They have also had meetings with other Deputies. I am examining if it is possible to include a module which would cover their case as part of the independent tribunal that is being established. If it is possible to do this in a way that will not cause a delay in reporting on Maurice McCabe’s case, then I would be in favour of doing this.
I have a lot of concerns about how Tusla is dealing with child abuse complaints. For this reason, I have initiated a statutory investigation regarding Tusla’s practices and procedures when dealing with complaints of child abuse. This investigation is being carried out by the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA. It will be separate from the matters which are under investigation by the tribunal. Since I confirmed this on Monday, senior officials from my Department have met with the chief executive office, CEO, of HIQA to progress the investigation. We want to ensure that the terms of reference are sufficiently focused to get the reassurances that I will need. I do not want a very lengthy investigation though and it is important that the HIQA inquiry provides answers as quickly as possible. The issues are simply too important for any delay.
I have been impressed by other statutory investigations carried out by HIQA and, in particular, the investigation into the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar. It has a track record of conducting sharp, thorough investigations that result in specific recommendations and learning. I note that children’s rights campaigners have welcomed the decision to ask HIQA to conduct an external independent investigation.
There has been public commentary about my meeting with Maurice and Lorraine McCabe which happened on 25 January. It was an official meeting in my office in the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. The McCabes signed into the building like all visitors do. An official attended the meeting. It was an official meeting in my capacity as the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs.
Since the events of the weekend I have made two public statements - to the media on Monday and then yesterday's statement to the Dáil. They set out the timelines and the approach that I have taken. I will now give an overview to place those remarks on the record of this great House.
I met Lorraine and Maurice McCabe on 25 January 2017. They spoke of the heavy burden of the hurt and wrongdoing that has been inflicted on them. 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 which has almost destroyed this family. I was absolutely determined that in every action I took I would try to ensure that I, as a Government Minister, did 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 McCabe. At my request, Tusla provided a chronology and outline of its case to me on Friday, 27 January. I made arrangements to give this 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 with them if they wished but I acknowledged that I would understand if they chose not to accept that offer.
I offered to facilitate in getting them further information directly from Tusla as an alternative. Tusla has apologised to the McCabes. Tusla will co-operate fully with the tribunal of inquiry.
The third request made to me from the McCabes at the meeting involved the expression of a wish to have their children's names removed from Tusla records. Tusla has deleted the information held electronically on the McCabe family, including the information on Sergeant Maurice McCabe and the four children. Only the paper file will be retained holding all information to date for the purposes 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 in which they would normally be held.
It is my view that the apology and these actions are not enough. A statutory investigation of Tusla procedures and protocols for dealing with child abuse complaints will take place. This will be done under section 9 of the Health Act 2007. This process must be swift in order that we can begin to restore public confidence in Tusla and ensure that its systems are fit for purpose to deal with these issues now and in the future.
I will set out the position on the political developments. There were three interactions with Government colleagues. My advisor met with an advisor from the Taoiseach's office on Tuesday, 24 January, the day before I was due to meet with Sergeant and Mrs. McCabe. My advisor told him about the upcoming meeting. She told him that it related to a complaint that the McCabes had about Tusla.
Before I met 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 on Monday, I also spoke with the Taoiseach prior to the Cabinet meeting last week. 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. I did not go into any of the details 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 understand that the proposed chair of the commission shared this view, that is to say, 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. If that is the case, then I can accept that. However, let us be clear: incorrect information circulating about the McCabes is at the root of the horrendous damage done to the couple and their family. Therefore, I, for one, did not want to risk spreading these false allegations any further. In conversations I have had since with the Taoiseach and other ministerial colleagues, they have accepted the reasoning behind my decision - it was an extremely difficult one.
My final remarks relate to the statement by Maurice and Lorraine McCabe issued just before statements in the Dáil yesterday. I have read the statement issued on Monday by Maurice and Lorraine McCabe. They have asked questions of current and former Ministers. They have asked if the persons who have acted as Minister with responsibility for children 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 at any time 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.
The McCabes have further identified six questions they would like answered. I believe that two of these questions relate to Tusla. First, who interviewed the alleged victim in respect of the allegation in May 2014 as claimed by her solicitor? Second, 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 received a response yesterday afternoon. We e-mailed it 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.
I thank the Minister for coming to the House. I listened to the Minister's statement with great interest. I listened yesterday to the Minister's statement to the Dáil. Both statements were clear and concise and I thank the Minister for that. They have brought much clarity to several days of mass confusion when things have been changing and moving by the hour. I thank the Minister for being so concise.
However, arising from the statements of the Minister today and yesterday as well as the events of recent days, I have several concerns and perhaps the Minister can address those concerns today.
A major concern relates to the counsellors outsourced by Tusla. A counsellor outsourced by Tusla created the copy-and-paste file, whether in error or otherwise. That employee was an employee of Rian Counselling and not Tusla. When there is a lack of direct responsibility within an organisation and a lack of cultural control within an organisation on all its employees or those acting on its behalf, mistakes and errors arise. I am rather concerned that other errors have arisen because of this lack of control.
Will the Minister explain the reason these counsellors are being outsourced? Is it because of a lack of resources to employ them directly? If that is the case, will the Minister outline how she will tackle that issue? It is of concern that the line of command is being disturbed by a lack of funding and that this, in turn, is impacting negatively on children, people involved in the care of children, other guardians and people who are the subject of vile allegations. It is in the interests of everyone that errors are not made. That is the first concern I wish to put to the Minister.
My second concern relates to a communications issue in Tusla. Will the Minister tell the House how many people are employed in Tusla in the communications department? It is a large organisation with many serious statutory obligations. What has emerged in recent days is the lack of communication or a breakdown in communication. Can the Minister confirm how many people are employed specifically to deal with communications? Will the numbers be beefed up in light of the current scenario?
I have concerns regarding the workings of Cabinet. It is clear that conversations and communications have been happening in an ad hoc manner. Issues as serious as those we are discussing should be discussed in a more formal manner, with proper notes being circulated to other Cabinet members. I take on board the comments of the Minister to the effect that she was being overly cautious, and perhaps that is something she intends to correct in future. Will the Minister explain how she intends to correct that in future? Things should be done in a more official manner. Things should not be done with a nod and a wink and a conversation here or there. Things should be done officially in order that we, as Members of this House and as citizens, can believe collective Cabinet responsibility around important decisions. I call on the Minister to address that.
The Minister made reference to the apology made to the McCabe family by Tusla. This apology was actually delivered to a neighbour. Again, I am keen to know why that apology was delivered to a neighbour and then eventually passed on to the McCabes. Given something as serious as this, one would think that another error would not be made. I call on the Minister to address that.
It has been reported that Tusla files were opened on two adult McCabe children. Why did Tusla open files on two adults?
I am not following the question. Will the Senator ask it again?
Files were opened on all the McCabe children at a time when two of them were over the age of 18. Tusla should be concerned with children under the age of 18 only. Even if this error occurred when these allegations were copied and pasted, it should have become apparent that these children were over the age of 18 and, therefore, files on them should not have been created in the first instance. The most important thing is for the tribunal of inquiry to be established as soon as possible so that we can come to some kind of resolution within both Houses of the Oireachtas. The horrors that have been inflicted on this family, and the families that are associated with other whistleblowers, need to be brought to an end. I am glad to hear the Minister is thinking about expanding the terms of reference to include other whistleblowers.
I warmly welcome the Minister. These are difficult days for her and for the Government as a whole, but they are exceptionally difficult days for the McCabe family. I do not doubt the Minister's empathy for them. We know that Tusla carried out covert and overt surveillance on Maurice and Lorraine McCabe and their children. This is totally unacceptable in any state. They were victims of rumour, innuendo and malicious falsehoods. Nobody can stand over that. Before I ask the Minister two questions about data protection issues, I want to deal with her statement. I thank for and commend her on the openness, clarity and consistency. I want to acknowledge that because it has been apparent to me as I have been following this story in recent days. I have read every newspaper and I have followed everything. I have been in the Public Gallery in the Dáil. I do not deny that other people have views on the level of clarity that has been achieved this week, but I want to acknowledge the absolute consistency and clarity in what the Minister has said in both Houses of the Oireachtas.
I would like to refer to seven key points I noted as the Minister spoke. She said she has initiated a statutory investigation into the practices and procedures of Tusla on foot of her concerns about the role of that organisation in dealing with the child abuse complaints in this case. I welcome that.
I think the Minister's confirmation in her speech that her meeting with Mr. and Mrs. McCabe "was an official meeting in my capacity as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs" is an important and profound statement. She is telling us that she met the McCabes in her official capacity as the Minister. Contrary to what we were led to believe in the other House, this was not some sort casual meeting that the Minister attended in a private capacity. Someone described it as a "private meeting", but the Minister has clarified that it was a meeting she attended in her capacity as Minister. This important line in the Minister's speech jumped off the page when I read it. I am glad the matter has been clarified.
The Minister said that "Tusla will co-operate fully with the tribunal of inquiry". Of course it should do so. I would expect that of Tusla. It should not be a surprise. Tusla will be compelled to co-operate fully, particularly in light of the travesty it has inflicted on people. The Minister also said that "Tusla has deleted the information held electronically on the McCabe family, including the information on Sergeant Maurice McCabe and the four children". Can she confirm that all of this data is retrievable? This is critically important. I understand the need for protection, but I do not like to see people deleting stuff. Was the cut-and-paste administration error reported to the HSE data protection unit as a breach of data protection rules? If the Minister cannot confirm that this evening, she might be able to come back to us on it at some future stage.
Can the Minister assure us that all data are being held, electronically or in any other form? Given that Tusla is to be investigated, in whose charge is all of that data at present? This is a very important matter. I do not know what conversations the Minister and her departmental officials have had with those who work in data protection. There are data protection issues here. All of this information must be kept in hand in a credible manner. I do not know how that can be done. There are serious concerns to be raised.
I welcome the Minister's confirmation that there is to be "a statutory investigation regarding Tusla’s practices and procedures when dealing with complaints of child abuse". She briefed us on her ongoing dialogue with the Taoiseach and the Minister for Justice and Equality. We take that as it is. I presume it will all become more apparent at a later stage.
In the final paragraph of her script, the Minister referred to the request made by Maurice and Lorraine McCabe to be told whether "the persons who have acted as Minister with responsibility for children 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 at any time since August 2013"." The Minister has not given us an answer. I do not know if she has that answer. If she is aware of the answer, will she share it with us?
Will the Senator clarify the question he is asking?
I am referring to a request made by the McCabes. As the Minister said earlier, "they have asked if the persons who have acted as Minister with responsibility for children 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 at any time since August 2013"." The Minister did not give us an answer to that question.
Does she know? If she has an answer, she might share it with us.
I thank the Minister for coming in.
I welcome the Minister and thank her for her clear statement. The crux of this matter is the achievement of justice for the McCabe family. Since this story broke, I have not encountered anyone who does not have enormous sympathy for the McCabes and the ordeal they have been subjected to. I thoroughly believe the Minister is sincere in relation to this issue. I welcome the Government’s commitment in principle to the establishment of a public tribunal of inquiry to investigate allegations. Having been involved in a couple of public inquiries as a solicitor, I have misgivings about this kind of structure because we have created monsters in the past. I hope we will be given clear guidelines about the kind of tribunal we can set up. It would not be helpful to anyone if we were to create a tribunal that will go on for years and years at enormous cost to the State. I have personal experience of this. I would be interested to know what kind of timescale is envisaged for the proposed tribunal of inquiry.
It is imperative for us to be crystal clear at all times that every citizen enjoys a presumption of innocence. This whole affair has brought to light how easy it is to throw mud - for want of a better expression - and for it to stick to someone until he or she is cleared in the way that Sergeant McCabe has thankfully been cleared. Perhaps a wider debate is needed on this aspect of the matter in the months to come. We have to remember that people are innocent until proven guilty. It is worth bearing in mind, notwithstanding the serious and real allegations that are made against individuals, that it is very easy for allegations to be made. I hope the tribunal will unearth the truth. The priority has to be full justice for the McCabe family. As politicians, we accept the he-said, she-said dynamic as part of the business of politics but it is not necessarily helpful to the McCabes - or indeed to the business of the Government - to speak in this way as if we were children in the playground. The statement the Minister has made in this House today is very clear. I do not think we need to go on about that side of things any longer.
I would like to discuss the reform of the Garda, which has inevitably been highlighted as part of this affair. The Government should be given credit for its good track record in this regard, most notably in establishing the Policing Authority. The establishment of this independent body certainly represented a sea change when it comes to policing in this country. I am encouraged by the commitment of the Minister for Justice and Equality to introduce the strongest possible protections for whistleblowers in the policing area. These measures, along with the new code of ethics that is being introduced to new recruits in Templemore, are welcome and necessary. We must put in place strong, durable and sustainable policies and procedures to prevent a recurrence of recent events. It is of the utmost importance that allegations of wrongdoing by members of the Garda are fully addressed. I put it to the Minister that we need to stress that this is not an issue of what was said to whom. We need to get on with investigating what happened with regard to Tusla and Sergeant McCabe. We should move away from the media entertainment of the past week.
I would like to ask the Minister a couple of questions about the McCabe issue and to remind the House of this Government's achievements in the area of child welfare.
It has set up the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and an agency for children has been established for the time in the history of the State. The Minister, Deputy Zappone, is a very welcome addition to that Ministry. This Government has also enshrined children’s rights in the Constitution by way of a referendum. The big question for me concerns communication links between the staff of Tusla and the Garda. As Senator Clifford-Lee has already touched on this point, I will not repeat it as I had a similar question.
I have heard of other alleged breaches, which include cases of medical notes being sent to the wrong patients, a Tusla report being attached to an information booklet and posted out by mistake, and an incident of a patient’s chart being left on a garden wall. I do not know if the Minister has heard of such incidences but I welcome the proposal to set up a statutory investigation. Hopefully that will be a speedy investigation and we will get answers sooner rather than later. As we await the tribunal's outcome, the Minister might confirm whether Tusla has made similar mistakes in respect of any other members of An Garda Síochána. The Minister may not be in a position to answer that today but I would be interested to learn whether other members of the force have been subjected to similar instances. If they have, what supports can be given to these individuals and their families? What are the immediate measures proposed by the Minister? I welcome the statutory investigation into the abuse allegations in Tusla. What kind of assurances can be given to those members of the public who have files in Tusla that their data will be protected? I thank the Minister for coming to the House expeditiously this week to address these matters.
I thank the Minister for agreeing to my request to come before the Seanad today. I appreciate it and that she is busy. I also appreciate the openness and the manner in which she has endeavoured to explain, in a very open way, exactly what has happened from her perspective. The Minister's honesty is refreshing, in the sense of all that has been happening and continues to happen over the hours.
I send my commendations to Sergeant Maurice McCabe and to the McCabe family. I thank them for the service they have done for all of us in enduring the State-sponsored torture of them over the past ten years. They certainly have done us all a favour and we owe them a lot. It is clear that there was error upon error and failure upon failure with regard to child protection and Tusla's handling of the file relating to the allegations made against Sergeant McCabe. On the HSE counsellor's involvement, the reason the counsellor was in contact with the Garda and who contacted whom is all contrary to the Children First protocol. How could a file of such seriousness be treated so casually as to allow copying and pasting? I do not believe it. I have worked in offices all my life in different situations and that does not happen. It stretches the imagination.
It certainly challenges my intelligence to tell me that a file of such seriousness was copied and pasted. Is that counsellor still engaged with Tusla? I am not apportioning blame to anybody. I am certainly not apportioning blame on the counsellor. It appears to me that calls were made, in the way other calls were made, but that will come out in the inquiry. Is the counsellor still engaged by Tusla and has any individual been suspended thus far from his or her job within Tusla? Have the phone records to and from the Tusla offices and the mobile phone records held by the counsellor been seized? It is hugely important that this be done at an early stage. Will the Tusla investigation look into the specific case in question here and the specific circumstances involved, as well as the wider systematic issues referred to in the Minister's report? Some systematic issues may have influenced actions that took place in this instance.
In addition, clearly there are aspects of the particular cases that require special and specific attention. Will Tusla disprove that the file was deliberately created without basis and if it does not do so, will it publicly acknowledge that? Tusla's credibility has been rocked. Many people believe this file was created not in error but maliciously and deliberately. Mr. Fred McBride, the chief executive officer designate of Tusla, has said he would not knowingly allow this but these events occurred before his time. The processes were so comprehensively disregarded it is difficult not to be concerned that this file was created with sinister intention. If the credibility of Tusla is to be restored, then it needs to demonstrate clearly that this did not happen. If it is the case that the file was created deliberately, then Tusla must admit this and make changes to ensure it never happens again. I have challenged the behaviour of An Garda Síochána on the Corrib gas project and in respect of other matters and this is what we, as public representatives, must do. As a citizen and as a mother, how do I know there is not a file open on me or my children in Tusla? That is what worries me and many other mothers and others in the State. How do we know? If one speaks out and says something that displeases people in authority and in power, do they have the facility to instigate such a vile investigation and allegations against another citizen?
I must remind the Senator to be conscious of time.
When the Minister spoke directly to the Taoiseach regarding the McCabe case, did she inform the Taoiseach that, inasmuch as it related to allegations of sexual abuse, it referred to an attempt to smear Sergeant Maurice McCabe?
Could the Senator clarify?
Did the Minister refer to how the intention was to smear Sergeant McCabe? When the Minister spoke to the Taoiseach about the matter did she just speak about the allegation of sexual abuse or did she speak about it as being an attempt to smear Sergeant McCabe? Having spoken directly to the Minister, to what extent did the Taoiseach assure her that Tusla would be within the terms of reference of the inquiry and that he had had the opportunity to consult with Mr. Justice Charleton on the matter before he informed the Minister that he was satisfied?
I have one final question for the Minister. As a Cabinet Minister, does she believe it appropriate that Nóirín O'Sullivan would continue on as Garda Commissioner for the duration of the inquiry?
I now invite Senators Black and Higgins. I understand they will be sharing time.
We are sharing time at two and a half minutes each.
I welcome the Minister to the Chamber. I am aware that she has had a crazy week and it has been very busy for her. We all, however, must keep in mind what Sergeant Maurice McCabe and his family have gone through. I shudder to think of the trauma for them and the children in particular, which has been horrendous. The treatment of Sergeant Maurice McCabe appears to be of great concern at present because it may lead to the collapse of the Government or the loss of office for some politicians. The real issue, however, is the effect on the lives of Maurice McCabe, an innocent man, his wife and his family. I ask the Minister if she believes there was collusion between some members of An Garda Síochána and some people in Tusla? It is very worrying that, despite no evidence of any child abuse being produced, both Sergeant Maurice McCabe and Garda Keith Harrison were referred to Tusla as being a danger to their children. The questioning of Garda Harrison's partner for eight hours and the way she was told that unless she signed a statement, she would put her children in danger, reminds me of the case of Joanne Hayes in Kerry and her shameful treatment during interrogation by gardaí. This behaviour does irreparable damage to the reputation of the Garda. It is incumbent on the Minister to ensure that the individuals responsible for these actions are held accountable. An investigation must be held into any other referrals from An Garda Síochána to Tusla about other Garda whistleblowers because there is a danger that this tactic was used in other cases. The reputational damage done to An Garda Síochána and Tusla by these revelations can only be put right if the people responsible are held fully accountable.
If we do not have transparency in the handling of these matters then two agencies of this State that are essential for the protection of children will have been compromised. I am sure that no one in the Oireachtas wants that.
I thank the Minister for coming into the House and for the clarity, sincerity and consistency of her remarks. I also thank her for her willingness to take the McCabe family seriously and to engage appropriately with them at a very early point, which is commendable. I will not, in the limited time available, dwell on the indefensible and appalling treatment of the McCabe family but I welcome the fact that the Minister has recognised that an apology - wrongly delivered or otherwise - is not enough. This is not simply about a failure of the State. We are talking here about actions of the State, which is the real concern. It is a step beyond concerns around a failure of the State; we are talking about the dangers of proactive actions of the State that do such a disservice to our citizens.
On the forthcoming tribunal of inquiry, I welcome the fact that it will be held in public, which is obviously necessary. Independent persons should be involved in that process and we must ensure that the McCabes are happy with the terms of reference of that inquiry. I welcome the Minister's announcement of a statutory investigation by the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, but would like to hear a little more about it. The Minister spoke about practices and procedures. I am hoping that the investigation will be deeper and will not just look at formal practices and procedures in terms of errors but also in terms of malpractice. We need to look to where malpractice may be occurring as well as errors. As with others in this House, I find the cut and paste argument very unconvincing. We need to look to areas not only where errors may have occurred but also where malpractice may be occurring within the system.
I welcome the extension to involve other whistleblowers. This investigation must be short and sharp but we will need a deeper examination of Tusla into the future and I hope the Minister will lead that. Finally, there has been much focus on the timelines of last week in terms of who said what on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and so forth but the timelines that we must now focus on are in April and May 2014. We must focus on whether there were attempts to introduce the Tusla forms to the O'Higgins inquiry, for example. Is that something that occurred? The full tracking of timelines is vital. On that point, I wish to add to what Senator Boyhan said earlier-----
The Senator's time is up.
This is an important point. We have had a number of Ministers for Children and Youth Affairs in the relevant period. It is important that we in this House ask those Ministers what they know, what briefings they received from An Garda Síochána or from departmental officials. The current Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, who is engaging with us on justice-----
The Senator must conclude.
-----was the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs in May 2014. As well as asking the former Minister if she was briefed on this, I ask the Minister to ask her officials and Tusla if they attempted to engage with or brief various Ministers and, if not, why not. We need to know why a succession of Ministers were not told of an issue which was very much in the public frame at that time. We need to find out what was happening, what briefings were or were not occurring and so forth.
I welcome the Minister to the House and thank her for her remarks. I also thank her for her swiftness in responding to our request that she come to this House.
The opening paragraph of the Minister's address is one upon which we should focus and reflect. I will quote from it because it is very important. The Minister said: "This has been the result of the actions of the State, its agencies and its employees — those who should protect and serve our citizens, not persecute them." That is the fundamental issue that must be addressed by the HIQA inquiry. I welcome the Minister's commitment in setting up that inquiry. Who will lead that inquiry on behalf of HIQA? What resources will be put into it? The Minister said that the inquiry will be swift. What is the timeline for the inquiry? The Minister made reference to section 9 of the Health Act 2007 and it is very important that we restore public confidence in Tusla.
I speak as the former Chairman of an Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children which interacted with Tusla on numerous occasions and I must put on record that there are many fine social workers, counsellors and staff in Tusla who do an excellent job. We should not tar all of them with the same brush but whether one has a jaundiced, cynical or even supportive eye, the copy and paste argument simply does not add up. I must stress that point. I understand, as I said earlier on the Order of Business, that we are not the judge and jury here but that just does not add up. Something, somewhere is very wrong. One can argue, in the context of electronic files, as to whether one can open one or two files at a time but that needs to be fully addressed.
The Minister almost had a hanging this week, in terms of accountability and her being a political figure. The Minister is accountable, as are the Taoiseach and the Minister for Justice and Equality. As politicians, we are accountable but nobody in the HSE or Tusla has been held to account to date. There must be accountability. I am not looking for a head and am not taking a populist approach when I say that I want accountability. This Government, the Minister and the inquiry she has set up must be on the button in terms of ensuring accountability.
The Minister made reference to the role of Tusla in her speech and it is very disappointing to see Tusla embroiled in this controversy. We all share the desire to see the McCabe family get what they deserve, namely, truth and justice. In saying that, have we learned nothing from the abuse scandals of the past? Have we learned nothing from the collusion, the obfuscation and the denial of justice to victims? I thought we had turned a corner. Following all of the reports into various incidents of abuse, I thought we had learned from the past. If the Minister does nothing else, I ask her to ensure that the organisation that is charged with minding and protecting our young and most vulnerable gets its house in order. In doing so, she will be adding to her very important legacy in public life in this country. I listened to Mr. Fred McBride, whom I know and respect, and wondered how he, as the head of Tusla, could not get an answer. Am I right in saying that he did not get an answer for 18 months? Senator Clifford-Lee is correct to point out that Tusla has statutory obligations that it must fulfil.
I commend Deputy Jim Daly, the Chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs for bringing Tusla before that committee so swiftly. The committee system in the Houses of the Oireachtas, despite the limited scope in terms of questioning, interrogating and compelling witnesses, has very strong cross-party support and it is important that the committee system stands up for itself.
At the end of her speech, the Minister referred to incorrect information about the McCabes and described it as horrendous. She is right in that. The damage it has done can never be erased and its impact can never be overestimated. The wounds are deep and will linger.
There is a big question around the links between Tusla and An Garda Síochána that must be answered. In conclusion, I ask for a timeline on the HIQA inquiry, when it is expected to report and the mechanism for reporting back.
The Minister is very welcome. I welcome the clarity of her statement, which is no less than I would have expected from somebody of the Minister's integrity.
She is well known in this country as a politician with great integrity and honesty and her stature has been reinforced this week. After the week's events, I find that hers is one of the only voices in the Government I can believe. Unfortunately, I have come to the conclusion that I cannot believe a blind word that comes from the mouth of the Taoiseach or the Tánaiste.
I was previously a primary school principal. We stored files in the school and the place where the filing cabinet held them was probably the most sacred in the entire school. Nobody had access to it; nobody went near it and nobody was allowed to take anything out of the filing cabinet without making sure it would be put straight back in again. Anybody who gained access to the room was strictly overseen by me and people working with me. That a cut-and-paste effort in the case of one child could be misplaced in a file on another is absolutely unthinkable in a small primary school with 100 children. Of all the files in all the world, it is just not credible that a cut-and-paste effort could find its way into Sergeant Maurice McCabe's file. The problem, as alluded to by Senator Rose Conway-Walsh, is that citizens now believe the State will find a way to take them down if it considers they are a threat.
I can appreciate the difficulties the Minister is having because my party and I went through this for five years in dealing with shambolic handling of justice issue after justice issue. We had to keep the show on the road because there was an economic crisis and it was not worth plunging the country into a general election because of the nature of what we were dealing with. However, we had a Minister for justice on the bloody television leaking bits of information on what he knew about how a Dáil Deputy had behaved in using his mobile phone at traffic lights. Then the Taoiseach effectively fired the Garda Commissioner without telling anybody in either party in government, including the Tánaiste. It was absolutely outrageous. We had to drag Fine Gael Members kicking and screaming into accepting any concession or change in the justice portfolio. They did not want to know about the proposal to establish a policing authority until they were shamed into accepting it.
That is ridiculous.
They had no comprehension of what equality and justice really meant. It is polling company stuff. That was our experience in government. Fundamentally, Fine Gael does not have an instinct for what is just and right until it reaches the point of disaster and no return. Now Brexit does not matter. Various reports are under consideration in the Houses today that would put Ministers under pressure at any other time. I genuinely do not want to say this, but I can no longer believe a word that comes out of the Taoiseach's mouth.
That is ridiculous.
Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin is right.
The Taoiseach's presentation of what has happened in the past few days is just not credible.
The Senator should withdraw that remark.
The media performances of other members of the Government in the past few days are just not credible. What we are dealing with is a family whose names have been destroyed. There are people wondering why anyone would bother being a whistleblower. They are asking themselves what would happen if they were to see a great injustice or a terrible wrong being done in the institution in which they are working and why they should bother to stand up. They are saying to themselves that the agencies of the State would pick them off and do them down. The very people in public life who are supposed to defend individuals in these situations cannot remember, pretend that they cannot remember or give a presentation of events which cannot be believed. I have absolute faith in the Minister before us and her presentation on what has happened in the past few days. I commend her for being willing to meet the McCabe family, signing them in at Leinster House - there was nothing private about it - and standing with them again today. I also commend her for her statements, but I know what she is dealing with.
That is a scurrilous remark.
Until senior members of the Government cop on to the fact that in this republic it is "justice be done though the heavens fall", we will return to this issue time and again.
The Minister is very welcome. This is my first time to address her since her elevation. The saying goes, "What a tangled web we weave." I cannot begin to imagine what it was like for her to step off an aeroplane on Monday afternoon and walk into a firestorm, but I must compliment her and she has been consistent ever since. I have heard grand speeches and the shouting and roaring. According to "Prime Time" and various other programmes, Members of this House knew all about the McCabe affair for years and did nothing about it; therefore, let us not grandstand. All I will say about the McCabes is that a tribunal of inquiry will be an extremely expensive affair. I sincerely hope Sergeant Maurice McCabe and his wife and children will be provided with all of the legal brains they need to protect their good name which has been hammered for long enough.
I will not slag off the Taoiseach, the Minister for Justice and Equality or anybody else. If somebody has lied, let him or her live with his or her conscience, but I hope they have not lied, as the mixed stories are certainly very hard to take.
Tusla, which comes within the Minister's direct responsibility, is a dysfunctional organisation. I know that she has not been in the Department long enough to have a decent look at it. I thank her office for contacting me first thing this morning about an issue I had raised in the House. A family in the midlands approached me to tell me about the gross physical and mental abuse of their child. The child is now 12 years old and being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder. The family went to Tusla with this problem, I think five years ago. It stated it would investigate the matter. Another family in the same part of the country went to Tusla with an identical problem and the person whom they met said it was very interesting that Mrs. and Mr. Bloggs who had visited three weeks previously had told the same story. The Tusla staff member said they did not realise another family were involved. They were sitting at home, minding their own business. They are extremely private. There was a knock on the front door and people from the village with whom they had never engaged in their lives were standing there saying they had heard they had the same problem. The mother said she did not understand what they were talking about. The people from the village said they were referring to the abuse of the mother's child. She asked them where they had heard this. They said that that day they had been in Tusla's offices where staff members had told them all about it. Confidentiality is at the core of an organisation such as Tusla. Who, in God's name, released the information? I contacted the family again today having been contacted by the Minister's office. They are prepared to meet the Minister and put before her the file they have which is quite extensive and lists seven individual social workers and two counsellors who had been assigned to the young boy. This is unbelievable on the part of an organisation that is supposed to look after the welfare of children. I know that the McCabes have a problem, but it seems anyone can contact Tusla in the morning to say there is a problem with Mr. and Mrs. Bloggs' child or that Mr. and Mrs. Bloggs are injuring their child in some way and that Tusla will commence an investigation. The family are then under the spotlight, even if they have never laid a hand on their child. The organisation is away with itself and needs to be reeled in.
I have two requests for the Minister. First, I ask her to meet the family to whom I have referred. Second, when the statutory investigation starts, she must start a root and branch reform process. We cannot have contractors working for an organisation such as Tusla who cannot keep information confidential.
This organisation needs to suspend all inquiries until such a time as it is established that it is capable of doing the job it was set up to do. Another garda has come forward who had been reported to Tusla because somebody wanted to have a go at him. At the end of the day, we really need to get a hold of Tusla and find out what is going on.
I compliment the Minister, Deputy Zappone, on what she has done since she has gone into office and I wish her well as she goes forward. She will be a Minister to be reckoned with if she finds that there is wrongdoing anywhere within the area of her portfolio and I compliment her on that.
As I said at the outset, I am not interested in slagging off the Government. I could not care less. The Government and what has happened will find its own level when the statutory or public inquiry starts but before anybody else in this House gets up and starts shouting and roaring about what this Minister or that Deputy said, let us ask ourselves how many of them knew. I heard last night on television that the allegations against the McCabes were widely known in Leinster House. Why did somebody not stand up in Dáil Éireann and say it?
Senator Craughwell will have to conclude.
I thank the Minister. While it is taking time, we are beginning to learn timelines and who said what to whom. I disagree with my colleague, Senator Noone. We need to know who said what, when and how. People need to be accountable and not hide behind the assertion that one should bury it now and get on with the inquiry.
I believe the Minister is winning the moral ground and the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste are lagging significantly behind in that. What has occurred in the past week or so is insupportable. Primarily, it has affected the McCabes but there are other whistleblowers coming out and there will be others in the future. It is insupportable for us and we are charged with upholding the democracy of this country. It will be the scandal of our time. I do not know how more scandalous it can be. If, as Senator Craughwell says, Members were aware of it, I certainly am a bit naive and was not aware of it. Perhaps that is naivety; I am not sure.
I have a few questions. I note the Minister has gone to the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, for the investigations. While that is the correct option to take, how could a file on alleged child abuse exist and not be picked up for several years? It was sitting there and was not picked up. It is clear that normal procedures were not followed and that raises the question of handling in its entirety the child protection issues that Tusla comes across on a systematic basis. People with whom my party's councillors have been involved ask whether this child abuse can really be true or real, whether it was imagined or whether Tusla was trying to get at people and now one thinks perhaps that is the case. Perhaps there is a vindictiveness or whatever there. It is political, in this sense, for Sergeant McCabe.
The copy and paste error would be laughable if it was not so serious. It is unbelievable and complete and utter balderdash and we need to find out how that occurred. How Tusla could think it could get away with that excuse is pathetic. Anybody knows copying and pasting will not cut it in these circumstances.
There are questions for HIQA. As a member of the Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs, I will have more time next week to put more pertinent questions to the authority.
I have questions for the Minister. On the timeline, when did the Minister inform the Taoiseach about the false allegations of sexual abuse by Sergeant McCabe? Was it two days before the "Prime Time" programme? I am still not clear on that. Could the Minister give an exact date? What did they discuss? Is the Minister 100% certain that the Taoiseach heard the words "false allegations of sexual abuse" from Tusla? Third, does the Minister believe that the Taoiseach is being economical with the truth, to use a euphemism? The people on the streets would say, "Redact, redact, pants on fire" - something that rhymes with "fire".
Senator Devine should ask her own leader.
Will Senator Buttimer move along? This is too important for the Senator to try and make a political point out of it.
Senator Devine should ask her own leader. The Senator just made a political charge.
Senator Buttimer has done so, day in, day out.
Perhaps the Acting Chairman should ask Senator Buttimer to "Dún do bhéal" for a minute.
I ask both Senators.
Go raibh maith agat. I apologise to the Minister for being so rudely interrupted by an ignoramus on my right. I hope the Minister can answer the questions-----
Maybe the remarks-----
-----and I wish her the best of luck.
Senator Devine has concluded. The Senator had a bit of extra time, if she had wished to use it.
I thank the Acting Chairman.
I thank the Minister for coming in to make her statement.
I speak as a Senator with a background as a social worker. The children of Ireland need and deserve supports and protections, particularly when things go wrong and especially when children need others to step in to safeguard and protect them. We need a children's safeguarding system that works, that has the competence and resources to do the work and that has the children's and our confidence. Disturbing matters have been reported that raise very serious question on the workings of Tusla and I welcome the Minister's announcement on Monday of an independent statutory investigation.
I have a few questions for the Minister. What are the terms of reference for the independent statutory investigation of Tusla by HIQA? What is the timeframe? I was encouraged that the Minister stated she wanted something quick and sharp but what is the timeframe for the independent statutory investigation? Who will be involved in the independent statutory investigation? What happens for children while the independent statutory investigation is taking place? Will any wrongdoing or wrongdoers be held to account and dismissed as a result of what emerges from the investigation? In her statement, the Minister states that she has lots of concerns about how Tusla is dealing with child abuse complaints. Does the Minister believe that the terms of reference for the independent statutory investigation are broad enough to address all the issues that are pertinent to having a high-performing child protection agency that the children of the State, particularly vulnerable children, desperately need and deserve? Finally does the Minister have confidence in Tusla? Has she full confidence that Tusla has the organisational capacity and culture to take on board the findings of the HIQA statutory investigation, that it can implement Children First and that it is capable of protecting the children of Ireland properly and adequately? I want the Minister to answer those last questions carefully because they are of utmost concern, not only because of the wrong done to the McCabe family but also because vulnerable children nationwide desperately need an agency on which they can trust and rely. It is a shocking thought that those children cannot rely on such a system here tonight and the Minister should respond to that point.
I thank the Minister for coming in for this debate. I want to make a few points and pose a few questions to the Minister.
I first came across Sergeant Maurice McCabe when I was a member of the Committee of Public Accounts at the time he sought to appear before it. Many were reluctant for him to appear. I felt strongly that it should not go to a vote and we collectively as a group would meet him. I am glad that reason prevailed and that he came in and appeared before us. That was my first engagement and contact with Sergeant McCabe.
The questions I want to pose are as follows. Had the McCabes not submitted a freedom of information request, would this information have ever come to light? It is stark that a family was exposed. That question must be posed. There must be a defined timescale on the HIQA report. Are the terms of reference set at this point and what exactly are they? One of the main issues is that one must separate corporate governance from the individuals involved in Tusla. In my experience, in all organisations, most staff are doing their best but clearly, one must question this cut and paste error.
It defies credibility. Clearly, in terms of corporate governance, there are major problems with the organisation. If Tusla is not fit for the purpose then the Minister must consider whether it should be disbanded.
As Senator Kelleher emphasised earlier, on a daily basis we deal with people. In cases where children are at risk we deal with parents who are under enormous pressure and we try to strike a balance. In most cases taking children from parents is a measure of last resort. What happens if people do not have confidence in the system? I fundamentally believe that children should be with their mother or father, or parents. If that cannot be the case then we must have a system that we can trust.
When did the Minister meet Garda Keith Harrison and Marissa Simms?
At 4 o'clock.
Will there be a follow-up in terms of the meeting? The Minister can answer but I do not wish to get involved in the issues.
The fundamental issue is that we have an investigating commission with a defined timeline. Previous commissions of inquiry were used as a means to run the clock down. It is important that we have a public hearing but it must be linked to a controlled mechanism. How long does the Minister anticipate the public inquiry will take in terms of the commission of inquiry overall? How long will it take to produce the HIQA report?
Had the McCabes not lodged a freedom of information request this matter would never have come to light. That is a scary proposition. We must have systems that are fit for purpose.
I welcome the fact that the Minister has come before the Seanad and I look forward to her contributions. First and foremost, this matter is about the McCabe family and other families. I want to know whether what we are talking about is an isolated incident. How did such a cut and paste error take place in the first place? We must ask hard questions. How did it happen? In my experience, people rarely act alone.
I welcome the Minister to the House. I shall be brief. She already has plenty of questions to answer and I shall add a few more. I have huge admiration for the work that the Minister is doing at the moment and I think I speak for a lot of people when I say so.
My first question is difficult but I must be direct. How can the Minister have confidence in a Taoiseach who, by his own admission, invented a conversation with her that never took place? It is a pretty fundamental issue. By his own admission, he invented a conversation that never happened in terms of a matter as important as this.
As the Minister will know, there is a fair degree of speculation about when the Taoiseach first heard about the false allegations against Sergeant Maurice McCabe. The Taoiseach has changed his story repeatedly. Last night, having admitted the conversation that he made up was made up he replied to my colleague, Deputy Maurice Quinlivan, that the first time he heard about the allegations was when he watched the "Prime Time" programme on Thursday night. We know that is not the case. We know that is not true. Does the Minister believe the Taoiseach when he says to her that the first time he was aware of these allegations was his conversation with her? That is what he has now implied. I ask because I do not believe what he says is credible. Many people knew about the allegations and they have swirled around here for years. I cannot believe that what the Taoiseach says is credible given the statements made by others, including Deputy John McGuinness. I would like an honest and direct answer to the following from the Minister. Does she believe the Taoiseach when he says that the first time he ever heard of these false allegations against Maurice McCabe was when he spoke to her?
The Minister has the floor whenever she is ready.
I thank the Acting Chairman. I am very appreciative of being here and for all the questions. This debate is a great example of the way this House can and does operate. The Senators have clearly contributed to us attempting to move forward from these extraordinarily difficult times, particularly for the McCabes as we have all identified, as well as the huge concerns and difficulties in terms of what happened to them, what is going on in Tusla and what other aspects relative to the wider tribunal of inquiry that will be established that the questions asked by the Senators drill down into. I shall attempt to address many of the questions as best I can, as well as the questions on democracy, the ways in which the Cabinet operates and the systems of decision making. All of those things are part of this matter. I am really appreciative of the questions raised and having the opportunity to answer as many as I can.
Before I begin, I would like to know how much time I have.
The Minister has until 7.30 p.m.
I noted the questions so I shall reply to the Senators in the order in which they asked their questions. I may run close to the time trying to identify some of the themes that came through. If I do not reach all of the questions I am happy to supply the Senators with a direct reply.
Senator Clifford-Lee mentioned a counsellor was outsourced by Tusla. It was a HSE counsellor, that this person went to, who then referred what she heard to Tusla. Just to be clear, it was not a Tusla person. There are no difficulties with Tusla in terms of the counselling aspect of this case. That person had a responsibility, in light of what she heard, in order to make the reference.
The Senator asked whether there were communication issues. Yes, there are communication issues. Tusla employs five people to work on communications within the organisation. Certainly, the focus on improving communications throughout this very large organisation is a key part of the 2017 business plan. It is something that I have discussed with the organisation. I meet the senior officials and the chair of Tusla on a quarterly basis. The Senator is right to ask questions about communications, particularly in terms of this matter.
The Senator asked about communications at Cabinet level, the ad hoc nature and ensuring proper notes are circulated ahead of time. I have raised these issues too. We have agreed, subsequent to the past couple of days, that we will have memos ahead of time. They are required in terms of the sensitivities and difficulties that are before us and will ensure that we are not put at a disadvantage, particularly the Independent members of the Cabinet.
The Senator referred to the fact that the apology was delivered to a neighbour. Yes, it is indefensible.
The Senator ask why files were opened on children who were over 18 years of age. Again, another one of the mistakes. The Senator has asked good questions. These are the kinds of things that will be looked at in terms of-----
It would be helpful if the Minister spoke directly into her microphone.
My apologies. Let me say the following by way of more generally answering a couple of the thematic questions on the HIQA investigation and tribunal of inquiry. We need to be careful that there is no overlap. It will take a little bit of time to develop the terms, particularly for HIQA. That will be done subsequent to the terms for the tribunal of inquiry.
More generally what we can say is the tribunal of inquiry will look at this specific case in terms of the McCabes, Tusla, the gardaí, etc. The HIQA investigation will consider the systems and processes in terms of the complaints made about abuse of children, which has to be done as well.
Senator Kelleher and others have raised questions highlighting the importance of this being done as quickly as possible in order for the people of Ireland to have confidence in Tusla. I completely agree with that. I earlier expressed deep concerns about Tusla. In respect of the timing of the HIQA investigation, we are trying to balance, on the one hand, the need to get it done as swiftly as possible for all the reasons the Senators have identified and on the other, the need to ensure that the focus is as right as it can be. This is to ensure that we get the answers and the reassurances that I need, as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, to be able to maintain confidence in the organisation. Those are the things that we are dealing with right now.
In terms of how long it will take, my Secretary General has been having meetings with HIQA in the last couple of days. My understanding from him is that it will probably take us until some time next week to be clear about how long the investigation will take. That is because we need to balance those things I have mentioned, as well as ensuring that it does not stray into the commission of investigation. My officials know that I want it to be as swift as possible and yet it must address all of the issues. I do not have the terms right now. My officials are working with HIQA, its CEO and its senior management team to put the best possible terms together. They will be done as soon as possible and we will have a timeline but these are complex issues.
To respond to many of the questions that have been raised in respect of Tusla, I will say that HIQA has done, and continues to do, independent investigations of all areas in which Tusla works throughout the country. They have done baseline reviews of each of these areas with regard to how systems and processes are implemented. One often hears in the news that we are getting another report from HIQA in terms of a particular area in which Tusla works. These reports are to ensure that the work carried out meets certain standards. Obviously they review it against a number of standards. In some of those areas these standards are met, in other areas it is recognised that there is still a risk for children.
Baseline reviews have been carried out and we are now into the second phase. This is about identifying particular key concerns, depending on what the area is. They try to focus a little bit more on identifying some of those concerns and then go back in and focus on those aspects in that particular area. It is not as if this is the only review. I am not sure what the technical term is, or whether they might be called investigations but they are doing independent reviews of what is going on within those different areas and presenting their reports to me and to the public, identifying things that need to be improved upon. That is going on currently and that is part of what HIQA's job is, in addition to this particular investigation which we will be establishing. In light of these reviews taking place, we can say that there is monitoring and identification of child protection and welfare issues.
I hope the Senators will excuse me if I pass on a couple of other areas. Senator Boyhan asked about the data protection issues. If I remember his exact question correctly then, yes, there are issues here and we need to examine if they can be part of the investigation. He also asked a specific question about the deletion of the data. Let me be clear about that. The McCabes requested that the data be deleted from the Tusla files on their children and on the sergeant himself. That was done at their request. It should not have been on the system, if the Senator understands what I am saying. Having said that, files were deleted electronically. The paper files are under lock and key, so that they are there and available for the tribunal of inquiry in order for it to do its examination. The Senator also asked a question, which was repeated by another Senator, on the exact questions that different Ministers were asked. I have given my answer in that regard. I did not have any briefings in relation to any of those matters. I believe the Tánaiste is on record as saying that she does not either, but I will just offer my answer to that question. The Senator is perhaps right to ask that in respect of others.
Did Tusla attempt to brief any Minister, or had it briefed any of the previous Ministers? If not, why not? That was the other part of that question.
In respect of these issues that we are discussing?
Yes. For example, did it approach the then Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, during the period in 2014 when this was happening?
I can go back to Tusla.
Will the Minister ask them?
This may go back to a later question from Senator O'Donnell in respect of the freedom of information, FOI, request but my understanding is that if they had not requested the FOI, we would have missed this altogether.
I think what we are trying to get at is, at the end of it, if I may-----
We will come back to it.
It is part of the public story that the McCabes got a letter from Tusla, and then a second letter which said that Tusla had been wrong, which led the McCabes to request the FOI.
That is extraordinary.
It is extraordinary, which is why the tribunal and the investigation are going on.
I thank Senator Conway-Walsh for asking me here. I am very pleased to be here. She spoke articulately and with such great passion, as have others, in respect of the cut and paste issue. In one sense that is probably shorthand for all of the errors. The cut and paste, the original error, came from the HSE side and was then carried through to Tusla, where there were other errors. These are extraordinary things which are very hard to believe. They created this incredibly damaging set of experiences for the McCabes after all they had gone through. That is why it is absolutely imperative that this becomes part of the tribunal of inquiry, in respect of finding out why these things ultimately happened, how they happened and who was responsible. People have asked questions about accountability and these would be all part of the context of the tribunal of inquiry. It is 7.30 p.m. Is there something-----
Is the counsellor still engaged by the HSE? I am just trying to be helpful in reminding the Minister. Is the counsellor still there? Have any of the staff been suspended?
We want to try to get the rest of the questions answered.
No staff have been suspended. We are in the midst of raising these issues, taking a look at them and determining who is ultimately responsible. All of those things, as I said, will be part both of the inquiry and of the investigation. These are still good questions the Senator has raised as to whether this is something that needs to be done immediately. I have not had the opportunity in the last couple of days to sit down with the senior management team, face to face, to address many of the other questions Senators have identified that need to be sorted out as we move forward.
To be fair to everybody, and I am not trying to be overpowering here, but we need to let the Minister finish because we are out of time. She can answer the questions these people have validly asked, but she is not going to get around to answering them if we keep butting in.
No, I will not.
We will let the Minister finish. Perhaps we will have a little time afterwards. Let the Minister finish the initial questions first, please.
I am trying to identify a couple of questions. In terms of the freedom of information request mentioned by Senator Kieran O'Donnell, I have identified the timing of the tribunal of inquiry.
Does the Minister have confidence in Tusla?
I have said that I have deep concerns, and I am also initiating an investigation. HIQA is out there identifying other areas. There is a huge improvement and reform programme going on that I am overseeing. I have deep concerns and I am acting on those. That is the respectable way forward.
Does the Minister have confidence in the Taoiseach given that he has made up conversations that never happened? It is a fair question.
More political charges.
Time is up.
I was asked if I believe what the Taoiseach says. I hear that the Senator says he does not. I do not have proof in front of me to say otherwise. In terms of the account of what did not happen regarding my own meetings with him, the Taoiseach has already rectified that, but I do not have proof otherwise. We can discuss later what proof there is, and if the evidence can be demonstrated I would accept that.
That does not sound very confident but it does sound very honest.
When is it proposed to sit again?
Ar 10.30 maidin amárach.