I propose to take Questions Nos. 222 to 224, inclusive, together.
The National Review Panel (NRP) for the investigation of serious incidents, including the deaths of children and young people in care or known to the child protection system, was set up in 2010 as part of the Implementation Plan associated with the Report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (the Ryan Report). The NRP carries out its work independently and the quality of the findings, judgements and systematic learning provided in the Panel’s reports have consistently been found to be of the highest standard.
In 2016, the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) conducted a monitoring exercise in respect of the NRP, on the basis of revised guidance produced in November 2014. HIQA shared a draft report with Tusla and my Department in June 2016, and submitted a final report in January 2017.
Overall, the HIQA report found that the reviews completed by the NRP were thorough, consistent, and of good quality. The NRP reports reviewed by HIQA were clearly written, fair and balanced, and highlighted both good practices and any deficits, if found. Key learnings were identified and recommendations were made, based on the findings of the reviews. The report found that reviews were consistent in their approach, quality assured by the NRP chair, and the final reports were structured in the same manner. In addition, the report found that the work of the NRP was carried out independently of Tulsa and operated at a national level. The range of professionals selected to each review was found to be appropriate, and it was confirmed that the NRP liaised with Tusla to ensure that learning was shared from these reviews.
However, the report found a number of issues with the NRP in relation to governance matters, with the concerns raised largely relating to matters outside of the control of the NRP, and arising from the ad-hoc nature of the Panel’s establishment in 2010.
On this point, the report acknowledged that the circumstances surrounding the genesis of the NRP were less than optimum. The NRP was established during a time of particular focus and pressure on the Health Service Executive in relation to severe criticism of its management of cases where children in State care had died. The urgent need for a solution, at a time of severe national economic challenge, impacted on planning for the body. In addition, it was originally estimated that the Panel would be dealing with approximately five cases per annum, involving an estimated two child deaths and three serious incidents. In fact, the NRP has been dealing with cases significantly in excess of this original estimate. This has on occasion contributed to delays in the publishing of reports.
In order to address concerns identified by HIQA, my officials prepared an action plan to identify the best governance solution for the NRP. These actions were to be addressed, in the main, by my officials and their colleagues in Tusla, with the assistance of the Chair of the NRP. The plan was forwarded to HIQA in October 2016.
In seeking to implement this plan, my officials continued to explore a number of options for the NRP, to address not only governance matters, but issues highlighted by the Chair of the Panel which have impacted on the efficiency of that body in concluding its work. This process was seen as a unique opportunity both to address the various challenges the NRP faces in producing its reports, and to maximise the Panel’s value. Factors identified as challenges for the NRP included (i) a perception in some quarters that the NRP was not fully independent; (ii) access to files and personnel for review purposes (outside of those in Tusla); and (iii) governance and structural issues.
Having examined several options to address these issues, Government, last November, approved my recommendation that the NRP be established as an independent statutory body in its own right. Appointments to the Panel will be conducted by the Public Appointments Service.
This course of action will address the governance issues noted by HIQA in its monitoring exercise of 2016. Furthermore, it is intended that the Panel will have the power to seek cooperation from relevant parties. This will facilitate access to all pertinent files and personnel across relevant agencies. The final construct and interventions available to the NRP will of course be refined during the drafting of the relevant provisions and will be subject to legal advice and the advice of Parliamentary Counsel.
My officials have begun the preliminary work to draft the necessary legislation. It is not possible to provide a timeline for this legislation at present.