The HSE has been dragged kicking and screaming, in many respects and on many occasions, to give us information.
Public Accounts Committee
Meeting in Special Session
February 2, 2016
HSE officials including Tony O'Brien, Director General, Pat Healy, National Director of Social Care, Aileen Colley, chief officer for community health organisation CHO 5 (Wexford, Waterford, Kilkenny and South Tipperary), called and examined; also Frances Spillane & Grainne Duffy from the Department of Health.
Deputy John Deasy: The hallmark of this entire issue with Mr. O'Brien's organisation has been when anyone asks a question, in here or at ministerial level, they are given just enough information to suffice with regard to kicking the matter down the road.
The hallmark of this matter is that full information has not been given by Mr. O'Brien's organisation at times. The HSE, as the Chairman has said, has been dragged kicking and screaming, in many respects and on many occasions, to give us that information.
That is the hallmark of this entire issue and that has been our experience in this committee. I am afraid that is a big problem for me.
We now have a commission of investigation. It has been announced. Why has it come to this?
Ms Frances Spillane: There has been huge concern voiced by Ministers, and, obviously, within the Department as well, about everything that has gone on here and that was reflected in the decision by the Minister to appoint Mr. Conor Dignam SC to do the review of everything that happened in the south east.
John Deasy: The Minister of State stated last night that the reason they are going ahead with a commission of investigation is that they were not sure of the information that they were being given any longer, there was counter information and gaps in the information that the Department had been given.
The Chairman was on radio last week and somebody in RTE asked whether the committee has a remit here. The Chairman replied that we did given that we looked at the value-for-money issues surrounding the commissioning of reports, but it was probably a fair question.
In reality, when it comes right down to it, the Committee of Public Accounts probably should not be dealing with this; the Department should be. Ms Spillane should have dealt with this. We should not be dealing with this today.
There is a theory that if it had been dealt with better in the Department of Health, a commission of investigation probably would not have been announced. That is a reasonable point. The reason Mr. Conor Dignam SC was commissioned to conduct a desktop review was because we raised this in this committee.
When it comes to constituents who came to me, I had to fight for the most basic care for some of those who were involved and who were subjected to the most horrendous rape. We did that through what we do on a daily basis within this committee....
The Department of Health is absolutely pivotal in this with regard to its oversight of an organisation that has failed, and failed miserably... Ultimately, it has led to a commission of investigation because the Department of Health did not deal with this matter.
PAC Meeting, Nov 5 2015
Department of Justice called and examined
Deputy John Deasy: The Chairman has asked me to finish. The last thing I have to ask concerns the issue of the foster home that we have dealt with in this committee over the past year. There are policy issues arising from that. It is currently being looked at by a senior counsel. The terms of reference are too narrow. The senior counsel will come back with his report shortly.
The third aspect of this is the release of reports by Resilience Ireland and Conal Devine on these matters. Since the last time this was brought up in this committee, the reasons given by the HSE and others have been that the Department of Justice and Equality and the Garda Síochána have expressed concerns that the investigations into these matters are ongoing. Since this was brought up in the last committee hearing, I have gotten a sense of what those investigations are.
They are serious and are being dealt with seriously by the Garda. I know the tenor and substance of them. It has gone on too long. Whatever the Garda is investigating, and I think I know what it is investigating at this point, it needs to expedite this.
The Departments of Justice and Equality and Health and Children need to express the view that any current investigations or lingering investigations into this matter need to be dealt with quickly. That is all I will say.
Mr. Noel Waters [Secretary General]: We have no knowledge of the contents of the reports in question and it is something that we have not been directly involved in. We accept that it is desirable for the information contained in those reports to be put into the public domain as quickly as possible. It is a matter of great public interest and we are strongly supportive of that.
Our understanding is that there may be difficulties around publication because of the possible implications for any Garda investigations that might be going on. We have no role in the Department in criminal prosecutions. It is a matter for the Garda and the Director of Public Prosecutions. I will convey the Deputy's concerns to the Commissioner after the meeting that the matter is brought to finality as quickly as possible.
JOHN DEASY: 'Some people give out about the Committee of Public Accounts. On occasion, however, I think we can make a difference when it comes to public policy... Sometimes this place can be the cradle of parliamentary hyperbole. Words like "disgrace" and "outrage" flutter in the air like confetti. I think we can make a difference, and if we were able to do so in this area, I would be very pleased. The work we have put in has been worthwhile...'
PAC Meeting | Oct 8, 2015
Health Service Executive
Secretary General, Mr Jim Breslin called and examined
Deputy John Deasy: This is something you [chairman, John McGuinness] have brought up as well. I imagine you know what I am going to bring up. It relates to the foster home we have dealt with and the HSE's involvement. I thank Mr. Breslin for coming in and he is welcome.
Mr. Conal Devine was commissioned to undertake a report on everything surrounding the foster home located in the south east of the country where some serious allegations have been made. We are getting conflicting views with regard to the position of a Garda investigation in this regard. The Chairman was formally notified that there would not be any prosecutions in this case. That much has been repeated to several people.
As far as the Department is aware, what is the status of a Garda investigation? I am asking because those responsible in the HSE are using the excuse of an ongoing Garda investigation. They maintain it precludes them from releasing the report, even in redacted form. What is Mr. Breslin's understanding of it? Frankly, we are getting two stories.
Mr. Jim Breslin: My understanding is that when we have checked, it seems the process of determination on the part of the Garda has not concluded. The Chairman may have been informed differently. Obviously, we do not try to intervene in the process, but we have sought to check where the process is at. We have been told it has not concluded and this may relate to a number of lines of inquiry. That rings true with the line the HSE has given us, which is that the executive is precluded from publishing until it gets word from the Garda on the matter. That is the current situation, as we understand it.
Deputy John Deasy: Since we are at that juncture, I have another question. People have contacted the Garda and have directly asked the Garda whether there is an issue with publishing this report and the Garda have said "No." Some people are making the point to us that they do not believe there is an issue with the publication of this report. Can Mr. Breslin shine any light on that?
Jim Breslin: It is our intention to do so. I have written to the committee on the subject. The Minister has requested that we organise a senior counsel, Mr. Conor Dignam, to look into the matter. One particular aspect that the senior counsel has been asked to look into relates to the reasons the reports have not been published and whether these reasons are well grounded. An interim report is due back shortly from Mr. Dignam. We hope that will assist the Deputy in the question he is asking.
John Deasy: Mr. Breslin is getting to the kernel of what we have discussed in the committee. This report was commissioned using public money. The Department of Health funds the HSE budget. I have to ask a particular question but no one seems to know the answer. What is the natural course when it comes to a report like this? Public money has been used and spent to commission it. It has been lying somewhere for years now. What role does the Department have? Do we need to ask counsel every time to examine why a report has not been published? Does Mr. Breslin get to see this report once it is finished? Does the Minister get to see this report? Does the HSE keep it locked up? I am beginning to suspect that HSE is not releasing some of these reports because they would damage the organisation and some individuals and because the HSE is potentially protecting some individuals by not publishing.
Jim Breslin: If the issue of An Garda Síochána did not arise as a matter of routine, then it would as a matter of our request. Obviously, in such an instance, we would request and get these reports - I am confident of that. In the absence of that, with the-----
John Deasy: Mr. Breslin needs to request them. Is it correct?
Jim Breslin: Yes.
John Deasy: They do not arrive on Mr. Breslin's desk as a matter of course once they are finalised. Is that the case?
Jim Breslin: No, but in the vast majority of cases these matters are not only of concern to the HSE but also to the Minister or the Department. We get many reports in these scenarios. Situations could arise which are more local and are less obviously matters of public concern, but the HSE may take the view that they are worth looking into in any event. We would not necessarily get all of those. However, in such instances where we do not have An Garda Síochána's involvement, we would request the report. In this situation where we have done so, we have not been content to wait. We have agreed with the HSE that a senior counsel will review the reports. The Ministers have been at a disadvantage in the debate on the matter because they have not seen the reports - nor have I. However, they will have the benefit of a senior counsel having reviewed the report as well as a clear position from the senior counsel.
John Deasy: Did Mr. Breslin say he has not seen the report?
Jim Breslin: No, I have not seen the report.
John Deasy: Why not?
Jim Breslin: Because of the investigations of An Garda Síochána.
John Deasy: Even Mr. Breslin has not seen the report because of the Garda. Mr. Breslin has characterised this as the routine way of doing business. Is that the case?
Jim Breslin: The routine way of business is that we would see them. It is unusual to have a Garda investigation as in this case.
John Deasy: Mr. Breslin is saying that he has contacted the Garda and he is satisfied that there are valid reasons for the report not being published at this stage and that those responsible for making that case are in the Garda. Is that correct?
Jim Breslin: We have contacted the gardaí. We have contacted the Department of Justice and Equality and the Department clarified that matters still needed to be concluded by the gardaí; they were not at an end point.
John Deasy: Until that occurs, do I take it that Mr. Breslin is not privy to that report?
Jim Breslin: Other than we have agreed with the HSE, and the HSE has facilitated access by the senior counsel to these reports. That will establish two very important things for us - one, whether the reasons for not publishing them to date well grounded; and, two, whether they are in a format that can be published.
John Deasy: I have a bit of a problem with this whole system. It comes back to public expenditure, even when one gets into redaction. If a report such as that comes back to Mr. Breslin, is it redacted? If Mr. Breslin finally gets that, does he get to see the unblemished report or does he get a redacted version? Does Mr. Breslin know?
Jim Breslin: It depends on the nature of the issues that are preventing its publication.
John Deasy: I have a bit of a problem with this now. This system really needs to change a little bit.
Jim Breslin: I agree.
John Deasy: A second set of eyes on the unredacted report is necessary when it comes to Mr. Breslin's office and the Minister.
Jim Breslin: That is why we put the senior counsel into this very situation.
John Deasy: I understand, but Mr. Breslin is telling me that even if the Department gets the report and wants to publish it, and Mr. Breslin is making it clear that his intent is to do that,-----
Jim Breslin: Yes.
John Deasy: -----Mr. Breslin might only get a redacted version of it.
Jim Breslin: I do not know, and not having seen the report, I do not know the issues of concern that might arise, but there potentially could be a situation where that might arise, or potentially not, and I do not want to prejudge that until the senior counsel reports.
John Deasy: I do not know Mr. Breslin very well but I will tell him why I have a problem with this. Social workers and people who have been around this for the past ten years have seen fragments of this report. They know that it is hard-hitting. They know it is a good report, and that is how they have characterised it to me. Mr. Breslin does not know; they do. A lot of people who are working in this area know exactly what has been written in that report and are very keen that it be made public, and they are very clear about their opinions as to why it is being held back.
I take everything Mr. Breslin said at face value. He stated that the Department of Justice and Equality and the Garda have made it clear that there are still issues that need to be dealt with. I am beginning to get worried, though, that the HSE sits on such reports and then redacts them, and it is in the public interest for that to change. A second set of eyes needs to be brought into this to make a decision on whether it is good public policy to continue that system.
As for some of the issues, I have never dealt with anything like it. I have been in politics since 1999 and I have never dealt with anything as serious and as disturbing as these allegations. I think Mr. Breslin gets my drift. I note the Chairman has been involved in this and we are on the same page when it comes to this.
Jim Breslin: I think it might be of interest to Deputy Deasy - it does not directly answer the concern he raises - that one of the other concerns of the committee in these discussions has been the selection of people to undertake the work and how a report gets commissioned. The Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, has written to the HSE suggesting that there are already processes in place in acute care to ensure that nominations of people to undertake reviews are not done by the HSE; they are done by an external party.
John Deasy: Unfortunately, the external parties in some cases are people who were former HSE employees.
Jim Breslin: This is the point I am coming to. Deputy Lynch has written to the HSE to say that the selection process around that could benefit from it being more independent. In particular, the HSE's attention has been drawn to a practice that has developed, and one that I am very aware of, in the child welfare area where an external party to the HSE, somebody of objective standing who stands apart from the HSE - a professor in a university, not an employee of the HSE - selects from a panel of people who might undertake the review.
There is the occasion where members of that panel have worked in the HSE because that is by far the biggest provider of health services but a studied eye is given to the composition of the panel, to ensure that it has clear independent status to it. We think this is an area, and the HSE is working with us and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs to try to develop a methodology that in the future would not lead to the kind of the concerns that members at the committee here have expressed, and we will have that.
John Deasy: Mr. Breslin is making me feel a bit better now. We have been dealing with this for the past year. We have been dealing with the methodology, the panels and the independence of these reports and reviews.
That is news. That is something we have not heard previously. We put a lot of work into this with regard to the independence of these reviews. Mr. Breslin states that the Minister in question, the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, has written to the HSE stressing that the reports should be more independent. Is it a bit more concrete than that? Does she have a proposal that she sent to the HSE or is it merely a request?
Jim Breslin: She sent a proposal to them and the Department has followed up with a series of meetings with the HSE, who can see the merit in this because it does not do anybody any good, and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. Indeed, she has met with people involved in the panel in the children area to try to get the methodologies right as we implement something similar in this space.
John Deasy: The families involved in the foster home and those who have been in contact with us will take something from that. If the system is changed because of this issue, the raising of it and our continual contact with the HSE and the Minister in question, that is useful.
I am glad I asked Mr. Breslin the question and thank him for the response. I would like it if the clerk to the committee, without saying anything, could correspond or communicate with Mr. Breslin's office so that we could get a copy of those proposals so that we can take a look at them. We made some definite recommendations in this area but if Mr. Breslin can give us that information, we would like to take a look at that.
Jim Breslin: No problem. In my correspondence with the clerk to the committee, I undertook to keep the committee informed on progress on the work of the senior counsel, and I will do that. I will not wait for a request from the committee on that. I will do that as we get developments.
John Deasy: I thank Mr. Breslin.
Chairman: We can welcome what might happen in the future on the lines of what Mr. Breslin described, some of which comes out of recommendations made by this committee. I am happy with that.
What I am deeply concerned about is the fact that the health boards, dating back to their time, and therefore the Department of Health, failed a high number of vulnerable young adults in this State, and probably continues to do that in this case. Within the organisation of the health services, someone knows what happened in relation to this. It did not go unnoticed. A senior social worker and an independent organisation felt strongly enough about it to make a protected disclosure on a number of different occasions, and felt so strong about it that they raised it at a restricted public meeting of employees with the HSE.
It also was raised here. Deputy Deasy and I raised it, and I made a disclosure to Pearse St. Garda station. This is what annoys me about it. Some employees of the health board at that time must have known about this and that was said by the whistleblower in greater detail. I have not heard from the HSE or from the Department of Health to say they have identified the various persons who engaged with this issue at that time.
I want to put this on record because of what Mr. Breslin said. I was asked to attend a meeting in the Garda station some months ago where I was told that the evidence had been presented to the DDP and that no action would be taken. Mr. Breslin states that he is waiting on the Garda report or the Garda is dealing with it, and I have been told that the Garda has dealt with it. They either have or they have not dealt with it. In my opinion, someone is covering up or playing games, and we need to come clean on all of this issue, not only in the interest of accountability, transparency and all of those words that are used nowadays, but in the interest of the families concerned.
Some of those young adults may have continued through their lives being affected by what happened. I have read some of the reports and, quite frankly, in my time in the public arena I have never read anything so horrifying. Both the reports and the verbal explanations given to me by the social workers are horrifying. That is what disturbed me most about this. We had an exchange here with the HSE on this matter and I must say that its arrogance and stonewalling on the occasion in question was breathtaking. A bit of truth and a bit of effort would really change things around here and would also the circumstances of the people affected. In light of what I have been told and in view of the fact that the Department of Health, at some stage in its history, employed people who were directly responsible in this area, there is an onus on the Department to conduct some sort of investigation into both itself and the individuals concerned. It should not be held back by the report or the information to the effect that there is a Garda report. The witness can say that I told him there were no prosecutions to happen. That is what I was told. I will leave it at that but I could not leave it at the exchange with Deputy Deasy because so much has happened since.
Jim Breslin: I am happy to do this. I do not want this to be an ongoing issue. The purpose of commissioning the senior counsel is to get us to a point where we can put whatever we can into the public domain. One of the key issues the senior counsel is to examine is whether this concept of not publishing the report is well grounded. That finding will answer at least part of the question that the Chairman has posed. Officials at the Department and Ministers have met some of the people who have concern and local knowledge of this issue and everybody's concern is shared here. This is not something where we lack concern on this issue.
Chairman: Did Mr. Breslin meet the officials within the health system who, at that time, were to the fore of the care of vulnerable young adults?
Jim Breslin: In this instance?
Jim Breslin: We have met certain people who have made themselves available to us. The process of commissioning the senior counsel is to look at the two reviews that were conducted to see whether they were adequate in who they met and how they went about their job but we have not met everybody who was working on this.
Chairman: Given Mr. Breslin's exchange here this morning and how upfront he has been on some of the questions that we have asked, which is a little bit different than what we usually get here, I think he should ask them. I think he should seek the names of the individuals who were at the forefront of this at that time and determine whether they have all been questioned or made a contribution to the investigation. Quite frankly, it does Mr. Breslin, the committee, and the Garda no good to say that such a serious issue has not been brought to a conclusion one way or the other...
John Deasy: Can we stay on this point for one second? I want to reiterate one thing. Mr. Breslin has made it clear that the process involving the choosing of the individuals who do these reports will now change which will end potential conflicts of interest that have arisen in the past. Very clearly, that is what we have seen and that is good and the people involved in this will be pleased with that.
I have to return to the reports that are commissioned using public money and the way they are treated once they are completed. I think Mr. Breslin's office, on the basis of good public policy, needs to take a look at redaction and the circulation of those reports and, in my opinion, the continual suppression of these reports within the HSE. I could make a good argument that, for the public good, that system can no longer continue. I think Mr. Breslin needs to provide a second set of eyes or a different system or proposal to the HSE. I think, as a matter of good public policy, that needs to be considered at this point.
Jim Breslin: I will say two things on that. I speak with some knowledge of the children's area because that was my former posting. The approach that is taken there is that the reports are published. The important thing in the terms of reference when something is set up is that the person who is doing the inquiry is told that the report will be published. If they go off and do the report and then one decides whether to publish it or not, one gets into redaction terrain, so it is important that we set up a process that is for the publication of reports.
John Deasy: Okay.
Jim Breslin: We can look at taking on board the concerns that the Deputy has expressed on that in as many cases as we can.
John Deasy: Perhaps I am repeating myself but some people give out about the Committee of Public Accounts. On occasion, however, I think we can make a difference when it comes to public policy. I will take at face value what has been said about reports and changing that system. I am pleased that we are coming to a conclusion on a couple of these issues. Sometimes this place can be the cradle of parliamentary hyperbole. Words like "disgrace" and "outrage" flutter in the air like confetti. I think we can make a difference, and if we were able to do so in this area, I would be very pleased. The work we have put in has been worthwhile, so I will follow up on this.
PAC Meeting | June 11, 2015
Chairman [John McGuinness TD]: Item 3A.4 is correspondence, dated 5 June 2015, from Mr. Jim Breslin, Secretary General of the Department of Heath, regarding an investigation into abuse of people with disabilities in a foster home in the south east.
It is to be noted and published . . . There are HSE issues regarding the foster home that was being investigated. I express my absolute dismay that the gardaí who have come back to me directly have said that there may not be prosecutions owing to insufficient evidence and so on. I find it absolutely appalling and it needs to be discussed again by the committee.
In the course of the replies from the HSE there are issues about those who were employed to investigate and the committee needs to revisit the matter. The correspondence mentions that the HSE spends €40 million on legal fees and we need to investigate that.
Deputy John Deasy: The committee has dealt with the foster home issue. We need to remember that the Garda investigated all this in the early 1990s and no prosecutions resulted. The fear I and other committee members had was that it would be repeated.
For that reason there was an imperative on Government to take the review or investigation process very seriously. That was what the committee was asking the Government to do. I believe the Government is about to make a definitive decision not only on the course of action the Department will take, but also on the policy issues that arise from the contents of the report we will submit to it.
Perhaps we should hold off for a week or so. I always had the fear, which I expressed, as, I believe, did the Chairman, that it was going to be very difficult for the Garda because of the timeline involved and because most of the individuals who were affected were non-verbal. Some of the people involved have died since these issues arose. However, we need to wait a little longer because those decisions are being made right now.
Chairman: That is why I am saying we will revisit this batch of correspondence, which covers a considerable amount of ground.
PAC Meeting | May 28, 2015
Chairman [John McGuinness TD]: Item 3A.5 is correspondence, dated 25 May 2015, from the HSE and is a follow-up to our meeting on 23 April 2015, which is to be noted and published. This issue relates to the procurement of investigators and the use of former staff of the health services. We are due to consider a report on this shortly. Has that report been circulated?
Clerk to the Committee: It has, yes.
Chairman: Can we determine that it is the final draft?
Deputy John Deasy: It is a short report but it is very strong. The work the clerk has put into this is excellent. The kernel of it boils down to chapter two and the recommendations at the end. What we have discovered is that when it comes to individuals it is not possible to put a specific ban on former employees of the HSE.
However, the step that needs to be taken is that authority to appoint investigators should be taken away from the HSE. That should be put to one side. That is effectively where we have gone with this.
Therefore, even though one cannot ban former employees specifically on a personal basis, taking these investigations away from the HSE, particularly the ones that are extremely sensitive and actually involve potential conflict of interest, is probably the appropriate step. I think that is what the Minister should consider.
I have spoken to the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch. She is looking at this entire area, including the idea of putting panels together. The work of her office is working in tandem with the report that we have put together. There is an understanding that this area needs to be dealt with once and for all.
Chairman: In line with that report, I wish to raise an issue that was brought to my attention by way of correspondence, although I do not have it with me. An investigation took place concerning Kilkenny.
When the report arising from that investigation was sought, it was not released and neither were the details of the procurement process. Before finalising the report, we might ask that question of the HSE and determine the details surrounding it.
Deputy John Deasy: What is the next step with regard to that report? Will we issue the report on a certain date?
Chairman: We can do the final report in the week after next when we are back. We will publish it then.
PAC Meeting: April 23, 2015
Re: Procurement by the Health Service Executive
Those called and examined included Mr. Tony O'Brien (Secretary General), and Mr. Pat Healy (national director of social care), HSE.
Deputy John Deasy: I will start with Mr. O'Brien's opening statement and the section dealing with procurement practice in establishing inquiries. He said "inquiries are often urgent and the time periods for open tendering do not permit the conduct of a tender process in circumstances where the establishment of an inquiry is urgent."
The issue with which we are dealing concerns the alleged sexual abuse of mentally disabled children. It has been alleged that there were dozens of children involved. The allegations date back about 24 years.
I have looked at this issue inside out and there was no urgency in dealing with it. In fact, it was the exact opposite. There was resistance to dealing with it, from start to finish, within Mr. O'Brien's organisation. To actually characterise any of it as being "urgent" in any respect within the organisation is false.
On the tender process, Mr. O'Brien said inquiries were related to sensitive issues which it would not be appropriate or even permissible in some cases to discuss or publish for the purposes of an open tender process. I wish to delve into that specific point initially with the staff from the Office of Government Procurement at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform who are present. It might also be worthwhile seeking the opinion of the Comptroller and Auditor General on what Mr. O'Brien said about the reasons this was not put out to tender.
A couple of things really strike me. Mr. O'Brien has said the necessary expertise was not available in Ireland, but how does he know that if it was not put out to tender? Tenders are not just about cost, they are also about getting the appropriate person with the appropriate skills set, but there was no attempt to do this.
When it comes to the rules on contracts, the relevant regulation is No.32 of the EC (Pubic Authorities Contracts) Regulations which permit awarding authorities to engage in a negotiated procedure without a call for competition in exceptional circumstances.
Was there a negotiated procedure when it came to Resilience Ireland and Mr. Conal Devine? Was the Office of Government Procurement involved in the negotiated procedure with the HSE in this regard? I ask Mr. Ryan and Mr. Bresnan to indicate whether that was the case.
Mr. Karl Ryan (Office of Government Procurement): We were not actually involved in that process. The Office of Government Procurement was not involved in the tendering process which was handled by the contracting authority. The general position is that our guidelines require a competitive process. That should be the norm when purchasing or awarding contracts, except in duly justifiable cases.
Deputy John Deasy: Therefore, there was no negotiated procedure. Is that correct?
Mr. Karl Ryan: Correct.
Deputy John Deasy: The other thing that really struck me about his opening statement was that Mr. O'Brien said the expertise required was not readily available in Ireland, but the HSE ignored the expertise available within the organisation. That is why we are in this position. The in-house experts were continually ignored.
Senior social care officers were continually ignored, which is the reason we have ended up in this position. Frankly, the last line of the statement is insulting, where Mr. O'Brien refers to the two whistleblowers who had made protected disclosures and says, "neither has ever held management responsibility for service delivery-----
Mr. Tony O'Brien: I am sorry, but I must interrupt the Deputy. I am not referring to the whistleblowers but to the two people procured through Resilience Ireland. I hope the Deputy will forgive my interruption.
Deputy John Deasy: Fair enough, but I put it to Mr. O'Brien that this has come about because the two individuals who blew the whistle were not in management...
I will go back to the issue of urgency. The two whistleblowers who made protected disclosures contacted their senior managers in September or October 2009, but they were ignored. They were then forced to go to the Department to make protected disclosures. A report was commissioned in March 2010, approximately four or five months after the protected disclosures had been made. It took two years to finalise the report, but at the time of its initiation, it was announced that it would take eight weeks. There was no urgency - absolutely none. We must remember that the allegations date back to 1992.
Regarding investigations, persons involved in the health care system and the health boards then in place reported what they felt were improper practices in the foster home mentioned by Mr. O'Brien. When he uses the word "urgency", I do not take him seriously because there is absolutely no evidence that urgency was shown in any of this. The report was then sent to An Garda Síochána. When was it officially sent to the Garda? When did it first get sight of the report finalised by Mr. Conal Devine?
Mr. Tony O'Brien: I will ask my colleague, Mr. Healy, to answer that question.
Mr. Pat Healy: I am not sure of the exact date, but a redacted version of the report was provided for An Garda Síochána. It has been fully advised-----
Deputy John Deasy: I asked when the report was given to An Garda Síochána.
Mr. Pat Healy: I do not have the exact date.
Deputy John Deasy: Come on - do not start the "I don't know" business. Mr. Healy is the one in charge.
Mr. Pat Healy: I do not have the exact date.
Deputy John Deasy: This is very serious stuff.
Mr. Pat Healy: Absolutely.
Deputy John Deasy: In the past couple of weeks Mr. Healy was well able to tell An Garda Síochána that the report would be published "soon" and asking for its comments. This issue has been hanging around for years and when Mr. Healy knew he was coming here and that this issue was going to come up, he was well able to contact An Garda Síochána.
Mr. Pat Healy: Let me clarify a few points.
Deputy John Deasy: Can Mr. Healy tell me in what year An Garda Síochána was given the report?
Mr. Pat Healy: The report was concluded in March 2012.
Deputy John Deasy: I said that.
Mr. Pat Healy: There was engagement between the chairman, Mr. Conal Devine, and the Garda on the issue of whether the report could be completed. The reason there is confusion is that during the undertaking of the investigation, the Garda Síochána asked that there be a pause on it because of the work it was undertaking.
There was ongoing engagement between the chair of the investigation team and the Garda Síochána and, subsequently, he was able to continue his review. He sought and received clearance to complete the review and publish the report.
Subsequently, in light of additional information that became available to the Garda Síochána, an investigation was opened and continues today. In that context, there has been movement over time about whether there was clearance to publish the report. In relation to the current position, we have-----
Deputy John Deasy: Can I stop Mr. Healy there? This is a question for both witnesses. I am going back to the opening statement.
Mr. Pat Healy: Can I just clarify the situation with regard to the Garda Síochána?
Deputy John Deasy: Hang on now. I want to get to the bottom of this as far as I can. I will encapsulate it. The process began in September 2009. Two weeks ago, the HSE contacted the Garda Síochána to ask for its comment before publication.
It is now April 2015, almost six years on. Where is the urgency with regard to the protected disclosure that was made? Why has it taken so long to get to where we are now? How can Mr. Healy possibly characterise this, in any sense, as urgency?
Mr. Tony O'Brien: My comments about urgency in the opening statement are clearly addressed to the issue of procurement at the time of the investigator and the exemption from procurement requirements that attached to it. My comments relating to urgency do not extend back to 1992 or forward from the point of view of the procurement time. My comment about urgency is very specific.
Deputy John Deasy: When did Mr. Healy find out about these allegations?
Mr. Pat Healy: I found out about them in late 2009 and early 2010.
Deputy John Deasy: What position was Mr. Healy in at that time?
Mr. Pat Healy: At the time, I had just been appointed as regional director for the south, and my previous post was as assistant national director for community services in the south. Someone had been appointed to that role on an interim basis.
Deputy John Deasy: Mr. Healy did not know anything about this when he was in that position and was not aware of these allegations dating back to the 1990s?
Mr. Pat Healy: I was not aware of the allegations. They became known at corporate level. There were protected disclosures in late 2009, but there were three disclosures over a period from late 2009 to early 2010 and they were notified to our authorised officer who deals with this.
Immediately after it happened, engagement took place with those who had made protected disclosures and the work in establishing an investigation commenced immediately. In the note submitted to the committee, I mentioned that the preparation to undertake an investigation commenced immediately. The discussions with Mr. Conal Devine were undertaken by the authorised officer.
Deputy John Deasy: They were not started immediately. The people who brought this up were ignored for months before anything was done. They had to go and make a protected disclosure because the HSE ignored them and stonewalled them.
Mr. Pat Healy: The point I am making-----
Deputy John Deasy: No. This started with a particular senior social care worker who was employed in 2007 and started looking at the cold cases. He started going back to old files and found certain issues that concerned him gravely. He brought up these issues and the HSE management ignored him.
Then he felt compelled to make a protected disclosure, and he was not the only one. Six years later, here we are, and the report has not been published. I will keep going with the people contacted to do these reports, one of whom is a former HSE employee. Mr. Ger Crowley certainly is. Does Mr. Healy know Mr. Crowley?
Mr. Pat Healy: I did not contract anyone on this.
Deputy John Deasy: At a workshop held by Mr. Crowley in September 2014, he said that Mr. Healy had phoned him directly in May 2014 and asked him to write the policy.
Mr. Pat Healy: That is a different issue and concerns safeguarding policy. With regard to this review-----
Deputy John Deasy: That is what I am talking about-----
Mr. Pat Healy: The Conal Devine report was initiated by the authorised officer nationally-----
Deputy John Deasy: Does Mr. Healy know Mr. Crowley professionally and has he known him for years?
Mr. Pat Healy: He was a colleague at one point.
Deputy John Deasy: Is it appropriate to ask a colleague to deal with something as sensitive as this - someone who has worked in HSE apparatus?
Mr. Pat Healy: The report by Resilience, which he works for now, was commissioned locally in the south-east area.
Deputy John Deasy: Is it appropriate that the HSE commissioned someone who was a former employee to deal with something like this?
Mr. Pat Healy: It is important that the procurement rules and rules about former employees are followed, and they were in this case. The individual in question works for a company that was contracted to undertake the work and is in full compliance with the rules.
Deputy John Deasy: That is a real bureaucratic answer if ever I heard one. I will start with taxpayer. How does the taxpayer get value for money when someone contracts individuals he is familiar with to do the work?
I will repeat that we are dealing with allegations of the rape of mentally disabled children in a foster home. The allegations centre around not one but potentially dozens of people. How does HSE continue to contract people who had worked in the organisation for years, knew the people who were in management in the south east region and had had contact with them over years? Who in their right mind would consider that independent?
I have nothing against Mr. Conal Devine but I have been dealing with the families who dealt with Resilience and the process was appalling. I have never come across anything like this and I have been a public representative for 16 years. The process is a sham.
Mr. Pat Healy: The limitations of what I can say today about the inquiries mean that when both reports are published-----
Deputy John Deasy: I asked Mr. Healy a question about the appropriateness of hiring people who are former HSE employees to deal with allegations that go back to the 1990s. There must be an answer for that. Mr. Healy cannot just sit there and say that they are in compliance.
Mr. Tony O'Brien: In the 1990s, Mr. Crowley was an official of the Mid-Western Health Board and had no connection with the services in the south east.
Deputy John Deasy: Stop. Mr. O'Brien must be kidding me. He worked in HSE. This is absolutely absurd and Mr. O'Brien cannot stand over it, given the gravity of the allegations made over the course of 20 years...
Mr. Tony O'Brien: Does Deputy Deasy want an answer?
Deputy John Deasy: I am not sure I am going to get one, but I ask Mr. O'Brien to go on.
Mr. Tony O'Brien: I asked the Deputy if he wants an answer.
Chairman (Deputy John McGuinness): I want one.
Mr. Tony O'Brien: I thank the Chairman. I can speak with an independent mind about what happened in 2009, because I was not in the HSE when any of this was done in 2009. Given the range of requirements, it is not appropriate to automatically suggest that someone who worked in a different part of the system for most of his career, not in HSE at all but in its predecessor bodies-----
Deputy John Deasy: That is what I thought Mr. O'Brien would say. I am talking about the appropriateness of the HSE doing it in the first place and not the individuals and their professional integrity.
I am talking about the concept of employing people and tendering contracts as sensitive as this to people who are former HSE employees. It is absurd. I do not believe Mr. O'Brien's assertion in his opening statement that the expertise does not reside in Ireland. I do not think the HSE tried.
Mr. Tony O'Brien: The statement does not say that. Clearly the expertise resided in Ireland, because this individual-----
Deputy John Deasy: The reason they were picked was because nobody else at work in the HSE had that expertise.
Mr. Tony O'Brien: I understand that the purpose of having witnesses is that they can answer questions. The Chairman wants to hear my answer. I understand that the Deputy is unhappy about the situation and I understand why, but the reality is that the particular set of skills required to carry out an investigation like this are not widely available and when-----
Deputy John Deasy: How would Mr. O'Brien know if he did not tender it?
Mr. Tony O'Brien: Would the Deputy let me answer the question?
Deputy John Deasy: I have asked Mr. O'Brien this before and he did not answer the question. How could he possibly know that the expertise did not exist if the HSE did not put it out to open tender? He would have absolutely no idea whether the expertise existed if it was not publicised.
Notwithstanding the sensitivity he just mentioned, how would he know? The reason Mr. O'Brien and the organisation did not make an attempt to do this was because there was a comfort factor in finding individuals known by the senior officials in the HSE to deal with this. This stems back to 1992. It was 17 years previous to this commissioning of the report, in terms of Mr. Conal Devine, that these issues arose.
Surely there was an urgency within the HSE to take it out of the HSE and deal with this independently. There was never an attempt to do that - it remained in the fold and the fold got stronger.
Mr. Tony O'Brien: To reiterate, I was not involved and I was not in position so, I hope, I am taking an objective view. Conal Devine was not part the HSE. His piece of work was directed specifically at the specific allegations. The secondary decision was to have a broader look back.
The skill sets that the individuals have is an appropriate skills set and I told the committee what the exemptions are under EU procurement. Clearly, the Deputy is not happy with that situation. I am simply putting forward the rationale for the decisions that were made at the time and I do not believe there is any basis to question the integrity of the individuals concerned, particularly those whose names have been mentioned today.
Deputy John Deasy: Mr. O'Brien is the one putting those words in my mouth. I am not questioning the integrity of any individuals, I am talking about HSE procedures. This is the Committee of Public Accounts.
Surely we are allowed to ask about procurement procedures and whether it is appropriate to hire people who are former HSE employees - Mr Crowley, as was said, and not Mr. Devine. Is it appropriate to do that in cases like this? It is not and Mr. O'Brien would have known that. He would have known the history of this issue going back to 1992 and, institutionally, people would have understood the allegations that had been made back in 1992 and 1993.
Chairman: Deputy Deasy, allow Mr. O'Brien to answer the specific questions that you have put to him.
Mr. Tony O'Brien: What I can tell the committee is that those who were charged with making these decisions at that time would have been aware that there was no basis upon which they could exclude persons merely because they were former employees of the health system, particularly in circumstances where they never, ever held an operational role in that part of the country.
Deputy John Deasy: In other words, Mr. O'Brien does not have an answer to the point I raise which is the inappropriateness of employing people when it came to Resilience Ireland. It was not just Mr. Crowley, but Mr. Drohan and Mr. O'Dwyer.
There were plenty of former HSE employees involved in this. This is endemic. It is just unbelievable. In terms of investigations, one name that comes up is a Mr. Tennant, who is recommended by HSE staff when it comes to section 39 bodies. It is par for the course - that is what the HSE does and has done for years. It employs former employees to deal with these issues. It was not once or twice.
I am not questioning their integrity but am talking about the HSE's unbelievably, incredible, illogical procedures when it comes to procurement and tendering these contracts when it comes to issues like this.
I remind Mr. O'Brien of a couple of things that occurred. In the case of one girl who was placed in placement, there were significant concerns of abuse back in the 1990s which led to a number of Garda inquiries. Files were submitted to the DPP. After a decision was made that it was in her best interests to be removed owing to allegations of sexual abuse, the child was left in that foster home for 13 years.
That was in the 1990s. Nobody has ever been sacked or disciplined. The decision was reversed. The senior care worker - Mr. O'Brien knows his name - arrived on the scene ten years later and went back over the files, making his disclosure in 2009. Here we are six years later. There have been news reports about this but they have been scant.
As Mr. O'Brien knows, it has been on RTE's "Prime Time Investigates". The big finger of the HSE points at people who try to air this, which is worrying when it comes to an organisation like the HSE.
There are other questions regarding the costs involved here which are directly related to the Committee of Public Accounts and the case of that girl. A fully funded residential bed, held open for two and a half years for the client in question at a cost of €120,000 per annum, was never used.
The costs with regard to Mr. Devine and Resilience Ireland came to a couple of hundred thousand euro. There were five legal firms involved, also. I believe the committee should be given the amounts involved in the costs of those legal firms.
Chairman: Has Mr. O'Brien got those costs?
Mr. Pat Healy: We have the costs involved and they can be provided to the committee. I will have them sent on.
Chairman: Can Mr. Healy give them to the committee now?
Mr. Pat Healy: I do not have the specific detailed costs here but they can be provided. Two firms were involved. From a corporate point of view, Arthur Cox was involved in more recent times. Local firms were used by the local team when involved in this.
In any investigation of this order, the investigation team itself has to be provided with legal advice separate from the HSE, so we use our own corporate lawyers, Arthur Cox. When the investigation was undertaken and the completed report was circulated for due process and fair procedure, there was correspondence from lawyers of some of those who received extracts, and that had to be engaged with.
To correct the record in respect of two names mentioned by Deputy Deasy, Mr. Tennant and Mr. Drohan. They have never been involved in this in any way. It is important to clarify that.
Chairman: Deputy Deasy was referring to general work done for the HSE.
Mr. Pat Healy: The Deputy mentioned it in relation to this particular issue.
Deputy John Deasy: They are directors of Resilience Ireland.
Mr. Pat Healy: I do not believe Mr. Tennant is a-----
Deputy John Deasy: I am not talking about Mr. Tennant, I am talking about Mr. Drohan and Mr. O'Dwyer. They are directors of Resilience Ireland. Is that correct?
Mr. Pat Healy: The Deputy mentioned Mr. Tennant's name as having been involved-----
Deputy John Deasy: Mr. Healy mentioned two people. The people I mentioned were Mr. Drohan and Mr. O'Dwyer as directors of Resilience Ireland and they are former staff of the HSE.
Mr. Tony O'Brien: The Deputy mentioned Mr. Tennant and Mr. Healy is only making a point-----
Deputy John Deasy: I am not talking about Mr. Tennant being involved in this at all. He is just hired for investigations.
Mr. Tony O'Brien: Mr. Healy was just confirming for the record that Mr. Tennant is not involved in the matter we are discussing.
Deputy John Deasy: I did not say he was, so Mr. O'Brien should not mix it up. I said Mr. Tennant was involved in investigations and he is referred by HSE staff to other investigations. The two people I mentioned in respect of Resilience Ireland are directors and are former HSE staff. Is this correct?
Mr. Pat Healy: I do not believe-----
Deputy John Deasy: Mr. Healy does not know.
Mr. Pat Healy: I do not believe Mr. Drohan is a director of Resilience Ireland.
Deputy John Deasy: Does Mr. Healy not know Mr. Crowley or Mr. Drohan?
Mr. Pat Healy: I said to the Deputy I know Mr. Crowley.
Deputy John Deasy: Mr. Healy does not know many people in the organisation of the HSE when it comes right down to it, an organisation he worked in all his life. I mean, this is-----
Mr. Tony O'Brien: I think the Deputy is being very unfair at this point.
Deputy John Deasy: I think this is unbelievable and Mr. Healy is having a laugh. I think he knows all these people. In many respects, the witnesses are the ones who actually hired these people. They knew exactly what their backgrounds were. They knew them intimately, in my opinion.
Mr. Pat Healy: If I could respond to that, Chair.
Deputy John Deasy: Mr. Healy is giving us the impression that he does not know these people. Of course he knows them.
Mr. Pat Healy: Could I respond, Chair? Is that okay?
Mr. Pat Healy: Just specifically in relation to Mr. Crowley, who was, in terms of the look-back exercise, identified by Resilience Ireland as the lead consultant, he was engaged locally by the area manager in that area and, can I say, in looking at it, I have looked at the basis-----
Deputy John Deasy: Mr. Healy was the head of HSE South when Mr. Crowley was hired and he is saying he was hired-----
Mr. Pat Healy: I was not, no. I was not the head of HSE South when he was hired.
Deputy John Deasy: Was Mr. Healy head of community care in the whole of the country or what was he?
Mr. Pat Healy: I was the national director of social care.
Deputy John Deasy: This is relevant. Is it not?
Mr. Pat Healy: But, if I could-----
Deputy John Deasy: Mr. Healy did not know that this guy had been hired at all, did he?
Mr. Pat Healy: No, I did, and I suppose-----
Deputy John Deasy: Did Mr. Healy know Mr. Crowley?
Mr. Pat Healy: It was in the-----
Deputy John Deasy: How long has Mr. Healy known Mr. Crowley?
Mr. Pat Healy: If I could answer, Chairman.
Mr. Tony O'Brien: Can Mr. Healy be allowed to answer any of the questions?
Chairman: If Mr. O'Brien allows me to chair the meeting I will arrange for that.
Deputy John Deasy: Mr. Healy really has no interest in answering these questions whatsoever.
Chairman: That is my job.
Deputy John Deasy: The connections I have are like that.
Mr. Pat Healy: I have looked at the file in relation to the decision-making around the appointment of Resilience Ireland and Mr. Crowley and it speaks, in particular, to the point in relation to section 32 of the EU regulations in relation to the expertise that was required, the expertise that was identified as necessary. It is quite a complex and difficult situation.
Deputy John Deasy: Is Mr. Healy referring to the prolonged discussions that took place with the office of procurement?
Chairman: Deputy Deasy should allow Mr. Healy to answer.
Mr. Pat Healy: I am saying that in relation to the look-back exercise, the expertise that was required was: number one, senior management experience of running inquiries and that capacity; number two, a detailed knowledge and expertise in relation to disability and child care services; number three, a knowledge of safeguarding, which has significantly changed over recent years; and number four, an actual professional expertise in relation to social work.
Now, it is the rare individual who actually has all of those capacities. In this individual, one has someone who actually led the Madonna inquiry in Ireland, which gave rise to the basis of the establishment of the social care inspectorate.
He has been involved in, and led, on behalf of the regional health boards at the time, the child care guidelines, Children First. He was a key player in implementing that. He is currently a registered social worker. He was a head social worker for the mid-west for 12 years.
Deputy John Deasy: I know this. I have gone through all of that.
Mr. Pat Healy: One of the key pieces of both this-----
Deputy John Deasy: But I-----
Mr. Pat Healy: Can I explain as to the-----
Deputy John Deasy: The funny thing is that the question I asked Mr. Healy was: does he know this man and does he know him well?
Mr. Pat Healy: Can I finish the point I was making?
Chairman: Yes, please do, Mr. Healy.
Mr. Pat Healy: The point about it is that when one takes of all of that together, that is, in one individual, the expertise required.
Deputy John Deasy: I know plenty of people with great CVs.
Mr. Pat Healy: Over 40 families had to be met-----
Deputy John Deasy: I know tonnes of people with wonderful qualifications. It is not the point I am making. It is not the question I am asking.
Mr. Pat Healy: Sorry, Chair-----
Chairman: What is the question Deputy Deasy is asking?
Deputy John Deasy: The question I am asking is: how familiar was Mr. Healy with Mr. Crowley when he was hired?
Chairman: Let us take that question then.
Mr. Pat Healy: I was not involved in hiring-----
Deputy John Deasy: I did not ask Mr. Healy-----
Mr. Pat Healy: I know him. His reputation is well-----
Deputy John Deasy: Did Mr. Healy know Mr. Crowley well when he was hired at that time?
Mr. Pat Healy: I know Mr. Crowley and his reputation. I am just outlining for the Deputy, he is well known within the health service. His reputation is very significant. The point I was trying to make was that a key piece here was that a clinical team had to go to meet very sensitively and in line with a protocol from the gardaí, in line with data protection and in line with legal requirements all of these families. He supervised, and had the professional capacity to supervise, that work.
Deputy John Deasy: The witnesses all knew these people. That is my point. They should not have been hired for that reason considering what we were dealing with here. It was inappropriate. It was wrong. I know plenty of people with good CVs and great qualifications. It was completely wrong for the HSE to hire former employees to deal with something that had existed since 1992. By the time they made their protected disclosure it was 17 years later. Surely, one would have copped on by that point that there was something wrong.
Mr. Pat Healy: I believe that the report when it is published will actually-----
Deputy John Deasy: In my opinion-----
Chairman: Is Deputy Deasy finished?
Deputy John Deasy: No, I am not. Over the course of 23 years, the HSE failed to deal with this issue. Over the course of many years in the 1990s, the HSE failed to protect these children. Mr. O'Brien may not have been in the health board but the organisation that he is head of now failed to protect these children and I think it is incredibly serious.
I think it is a dereliction such as I have never seen before. It is absolutely amazing stuff. Management that presided over this case had left by the time this inquiry had been completed; they are gone to places like Tusla, the Child and Family Agency. I think everybody who was involved in a senior management position between the early 1990s to date needs to be investigated.
I think that, considering what I know, and what I think the Chairman knows, and considering the interaction we have had with the families, the social care workers who were involved in this and the gardaí, this needs to be taken out of the HSE's hands completely. I do not think the HSE has a role in this whatsoever any longer.
I do not think the HSE can be trusted to actually look at this independently. I think the HSE has failed miserably when it comes to the review of this and the investigation of it, regardless of the reports the witnesses have commissioned by their friends.
I think there needs to be a commission of investigation conducted under the appropriate legislation and I think the Minister for Health should look at it immediately with other members of the Government, and I think it should be taken out of this completely now. The HSE has mishandled this for 23 years. It is astonishing. That is it for now.