Publication of the Report of Conor Dignam SC into certain issues relating to a former foster home in the South East
The Minister of State with responsibility for Disabilities, Finian McGrath TD has today published the report of Conor Dignam SC.
Mr. Dignam was asked by the Minister of State’s predecessor, former Minister of State Kathleen Lynch, to look into certain matters relating, in particular, to two previous reports on foster care commissioned by the HSE and undertaken by Conal Devine & Associates and Resilience Ireland Ltd.
Mr. Dignam’s report has considered the procurement of the Devine and Resilience reports by the HSE; the appropriateness and adequacy of the approach adopted in the conduct of those reviews, including the duration of time taken; the reasons why those reports have not been published to date and whether they can now be published in full or in redacted form, and, to make any other recommendations which he considers are warranted to address public concerns.
Welcoming publication of the Dignam Report, Minister McGrath said “I am forever mindful that at the heart of this matter is the care of a number of vulnerable people who have relied on the State to look out for their best interests and provide services and supports which are of the quality which these vulnerable people had every right to expect. I am acting now to ensure that the Commission of Investigation can be established as quickly as possible.
Minister McGrath continued “I am anxious that as much information as possible about these matters can be put into the public domain and I am extremely grateful to Conor Dignam SC for undertaking a comprehensive and thorough examination of a number of complex issues and reporting on them in a clear and coherent fashion. I also want to thank Mr Dignam for the valuable input his report will provide to the Terms of Reference of the Commission.”
Mr. Dignam, in accordance with his terms of reference, did not examine substantive issues relating to the care of individuals who resided in this former foster home. These matters are appropriate to the planned Commission of Investigation, which will have extensive powers under the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004 to conduct investigations, compel witnesses, take testimony under oath, and order documents to be produced.
The recommendations in Mr. Dignam’ report will provide the foundations of the Terms of Reference of the Commission which are currently being finalised, having regard to the requirements of the Commissions of Investigation Act. The Minister intends to bring proposals to Government on the establishment and chairmanship of the Commission in a matter of weeks. Both Houses of the Oireachtas will then have the opportunity to debate the Terms of Reference and vote on the establishment of the Commission.
In addition to his recommendations on the Terms of Reference, Mr. Dignam has made a number of recommendations concerning procurement, good practice in the commissioning and conduct of inquiries and issues regarding publication of such reports in the future. The report is being published today and the Minister is mindful that the HSE has not had an opportunity to see these recommendations. With this in mind Minister McGrath has asked the HSE to respond to him within two weeks in regard to the actions they have taken or will take to implement these recommendations without delay.
The Minister emphasises that the HSE has put in place a number of changes in this area, many of which take account of the service and management deficiencies which came to light as a result of the reviews into the former foster home. These include:
- the publication, in December 2014, of its national policy – Safeguarding Vulnerable Persons at Risk of Abuse – National Policy and Procedures;
- the planned establishment of a National Independent Review Panel with an independent chair and review team for disability services;
- the appointment of an independent person, Ms. Leigh Gath, by the HSE as a Confidential Recipient, to receive concerns of abuse, negligence, mistreatment or poor care practices in the HSE or HSE funded services from patients, service users, families or other concerned individuals and staff.
There has also been significant expansion and strengthening of legislation and child protection services in recent years, including the establishment of Tusla, the Child & Family Agency.
“I remind the HSE of the statement made by Tony O’Brien, Director General, to all HSE staff members in December 2014, calling on each and every one of them without fear or favour, to blow the whistle on any instance of misconduct, disrespect, or abuse towards residents, clients, patients or any service user should they ever witness it. I would like to repeat this message” said the Minister “and to stress in the strongest possible terms that it remains the duty of each and every person who is entrusted with the care of their fellow citizens, often when they are at their most vulnerable.
The Minister concluded:
In light of the competing considerations set out in Mr. Dignam’s report, I have asked the HSE to weigh up again the case for and against publication of the Devine and Resilience Ireland reports and if necessary to initiate appropriate further discussions with An Garda Síochána in order to reach an early decision on the matter.”
Review of Certain Matters Relating to a Disability Service in the South East
Notes for Editors
In September 2015, Conor Dignam SC was asked to undertake a review into certain matters relating in particular to two unpublished reports commissioned by the HSE and relating to a disability service in a former foster home in the South East of the country. The HSE had not published the reports, undertaken by Conal Devine and Associates and Resilience Ireland Ltd., owing to concerns around ongoing investigations by An Garda Síochána into related matters.
Mr. Dignam was asked to undertake a review of the procedures and processes undertaken by the HSE in procuring both Conal Devine and Associates and Resilience Ireland; the appropriateness and adequacy of the approach adopted to these reviews and of the duration of time taken to complete them; why the reports have not yet been published and whether they can now be published, and, to make recommendations about any other actions which are warranted to address public concerns.
Following a decision by Government in February 2016 that a statutory Commission of Investigation should be established into the substantive issues around care of individuals in the former foster home and the role of relevant public bodies in this, Mr. Devine was further asked to make recommendations concerning issues which should be considered for inclusion in the Terms of Reference for the Commission.
The Dignam report was received by Minister of State Finian McGrath on 29 August 2016. Mr. Dignam set out two legal procedural and administrative matters which had to be addressed before the report could be published. The second of these matters was finalised within the past week and Minister McGrath made immediate arrangements to inform his colleagues at the next Cabinet meeting of his intention to publish the Dignam report.
Structure of the report
There are four chapters in the report.
- Chapter 1 – sets out the Introduction and Methodolody for Mr. Dignam’s review, including setting out the full terms of reference for his review.
- Chapter 2 – deals with matters relating to the review by Conal Devine and Associates, under the headings of Procurement; Duration of Time; Adequacy and Appropriateness of the Approach Adopted, and, Publication
- Chapter 3 – deals with matters relating to the review by Resilience Ireland Ltd. under the headings of Procurement; Duration of Time; Adequacy and Appropriateness of the Approach Adopted, and, Publication
- Chapter 4 – sets out Mr. Dignam’s recommendations.
In Chapter 4, Mr. Dignam has set out eight recommendations relating specifically to the HSE, which have now been referred to the HSE for a response within two weeks on how they are being or will be addressed.
In addition, Mr. Dignam has made detailed recommendations, contained in pages 300 through 308 of his report, in relation to matters to be included in the Terms of Reference for the planned Commission of Investigation.
Commission of Investigation
In February 2016, the former Government decided that a statutory Commission of Investigation into this matter should be established. The Commission will be established in accordance with the provisions of the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004. Under the Act, the establishment of the Commission requires the approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas. The Department of Health is working to finalise framing the Terms of Reference for the Commission in accordance with legal advice and in line with the provisions of the Act, taking account of Mr. Dignam’s recommendations.
It is intended to bring the Terms of Reference for the Commission to Government within the coming weeks. At that point the matter will be brought to both Houses of the Oireachtas for their approval.