Zappone orders statutory investigation into Tusla

Children's Minister says she wanted no part "in putting any false allegations into the public domain"

Zappone orders statutory investigation into Tusla

Katherine Zappone. Image: RollingNews.ie

Children's Minister Katherine Zappone has ordered an independent statutory investigation into how Tusla manages allegations of child abuse.

It emerged last week that that the child and family agency mistakenly created a file containing the false allegations about Garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe as a result of a “clerical error.”

The statutory investigation will be carried out by the Health Information Quality Authority (HIQA).

Minister Zappone said: "I intend to seek advice from the Attorney General, to ensure that its work does not interfere with the work of the Commission of Inquiry."

She added that she intends to make the terms of reference public as soon as possible, and for the investigation to be concluded as quickly as possible.

Cabinet confusion

Minister Zappone also defended her handling of the ongoing controversy over the matter, including not detailing the matter to Cabinet.

"I discerned that the Tusla case and issues related to that would be incorporated in the context of the terms of reference of the commission," she said.

"I did have what I considered to be highly sensitive, confidential information [that] was not in the public domain yet," she said.

"Extraordinary and vile allegations against Sgt McCabe... not wanting to have any part to play in putting any false allegations into the public domain [...] It was sufficient that I kept that to myself at that time in light of my absolute desire to ensure that the McCabes would be protected and not be harmed any further," she added.

Contradicting the Taoiseach

Minister Zappone revealed she spoke to the Taoiseach about the issue before last Tuesday's Cabinet meeting, though she did not reveal the nature of what she knew.

And she has also declared that she did not tell the Taoiseach in advance of her meeting with the McCabe's, but did inform an advisor.

At the weekend Mr Kenny said that he knew the Minister was going to meet the McCabe's and that he told her to keep a record of it.

Timely investigation

The Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC) has welcomed Minster Zappone’s statutory investigation announcement.

ISPCC Chief Executive Grainia Long said Tusla “does indeed have many questions to answer” and urged the government to confirm that the findings of the investigation will be made public in a “timely manner.”

“An effective child protection system is entirely dependent on trust,” she said.

“My immediate reaction to revelations such as these is always focused on the potential impacts for children.

“Young people don't live in a vacuum far away from the world of media headlines. They soak up scandal and inquiry just like everyone else. Their intuition may calculate that the system is somehow not fit for purpose. If they do, then the system really is in crisis.”

She said the only people who stand to gain when children lose faith in the organisations set up to protect them are those who, “really do set out to exploit and abuse.”

“The revelations arising from ongoing media coverage of the case of Sergeant Maurice McCabe have brought Ireland’s child protection system into sharp focus,” she said.

“As someone who works alongside hundreds of dedicated child protection professionals, I hope that this investigation will go a long way to ensure the confidence of children across Ireland who need it for their protection and well being.”

Crisis of confidence

Human rights watchdog, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) said politics must not distract from what has become a “crisis of confidence” in Irish statutory institutions.

ICCL Executive Director Mr Liam Herrick said the revelations over recent days constitute “one of the greatest crises of confidence in our State institutions in recent memory.”

“While we understand that much of the focus in this case is shifting to questions of political responsibility, there is an urgent need for a comprehensive response to the egregious violations of the rights and civil liberties of the McCabe family,” he said. “This must remain the primary focus of our response.”

He said there can be no question of delaying urgent reforms within Tusla and An Garda Síochána while a Commission of Investigation is held into the crisis.

“Without an immediate response to the very disturbing treatment of a public servant in the course of his duty, confidence in the State’s institutions will continue to slide,” he said.

He called for GSOC, the Policing Authority, the Garda Inspectorate and the Data Protection Commissioner to begin taking steps to restore public confidence in state institutions.

Welcome first step

The Children’s Rights Alliance (CRA) also welcomed the HIQA investigation adding that public confidence in Tusla’s ability to keep children safe and respect the rights of families has been knocked.

Tanya Ward, CRA chief executive said: “Just like the Gardaí, Tusla has sweeping legal powers that empower them to intervene to keep children safe from abuse, neglect and harm.”

“Tusla has made great strides in reforming children and family services in Ireland,” she said. “However, this recent case shows that there are still serious issues within our child protection system in terms of quality and effectiveness in certain parts of the country.”

“HIQA’s inquiry must provide answers as to how so many mistakes were made in this case.”

She said the inquiry can provide a “welcome first step” in re-building public confidence in our child protection system.”