Statements on Reports on Department of Health Policy in RTÉ Investigates Programme

29 March 2021

Ivana Bacik

I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach. I welcome the Minister of State to the House and thank her for her attendance. I thank the Leader for organising this emergency debate, for her strong words of outrage and, indeed, for disclosing to the House the very positive news that the report of the senior counsel is to be published. I think all Members who watched the "RTÉ Investigates" programme broadcast last Thursday were utterly shocked and outraged on behalf of the families and children whose privacy and trust in the State were so grievously impaired by the actions disclosed in the programme. Commendation is due to Conor Ryan, the journalist behind the programme and, indeed, to Shane Corr, the very brave whistleblower.

The families in question have been treated with contempt and a lack of compassion by the State. They have faced enormous waiting lists and are exhausted trying to fight for the rights of their children. AsIAm expressed it succinctly, stating that the programme disclosed a grievous breach of privacy and trust of families who have already gone through so much. I am grateful to AsIAm and others for sharing with me their views in the wake of the programme. I am also grateful to Róisín Costello, who wrote such a clear article, published in today's edition of The Irish Times, setting out the legal context and the key issues, namely, the lack of knowledge and consent on behalf of the parents to the sharing of this highly confidential and sensitive information.

I know the Data Protection Commissioner is already reviewing the matter and the Minister has ordered an audit. I hope we will all see the report of the senior counsel. I join colleagues in asking the Minister of State to clarify whether publication of the report means publication more generally or just to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health. We need to see further inquiries being made. It may be the case that, ultimately, a public inquiry is warranted. Until we know more we cannot be absolutely sure, but it appears clear that there have been breaches of medical ethics in the sharing of patient information without the consent of the patients. It also appears there was sharing of sensitive and confidential educational information, namely, school reports, again without the consent of the parents or children. The Medical Council and governance bodies for schools and teachers may well have a role in investigating those breaches of professional ethics because it is clear there are issues in quite a number of settings in terms of disclosure of information without consent.

The Joint Committee on Health has asked seven key questions. Our colleague, Senator Hoey, sits on that committee on behalf of the Labour Party. We all hope the health committee will be facilitated in holding the hearings Senator Conway stated it was seeking next week. We all wish to see the seven questions it has raised answered.

The first question relates specifically to the publication of the senior counsel's report, so it may now be dealt with. It is important we know the extent to which other individuals, who according to Mr. Shane Corr were numerous, had access to this sensitive information and we need to know if there has been more disclosure of sensitive information, about which we do not know, in Department. I thank the Minister of State for coming in to us.