Remarks by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Barry Andrews, T.D. on the publication of the Redacted Report of the Monageer Inquiry

Good afternoon. The publication of any report into a tragic death rekindles sorrow and anguish for family and friends. When children are involved that sense of grief and loss is all the more powerful. The Dunne and O’Brien families marked the second anniversary of the deaths of Adrian, Ciara, Lean and Shania Dunne only three weeks ago. Our sympathies and thoughts go out to them at this difficult time.

The purpose of publishing the redacted report of the Inquiry into the tragic deaths of the Dunne family in Monageer, Co. Wexford is not to sate public curiosity into the circumstances that led to this tragedy. The main purpose in publishing this report is to make public the findings of the inquiry as to whether the deaths of this entire family could have been prevented at that time. The secondary purpose is to share the learning that is to be gained from the report by professionals working with children and families. This tragedy would appear to be another example of the recently recognised phenomenon of extended suicide or familicide.

I stated at an early stage that the Government was fully committed to publishing this report. A delicate balance had to be found between protecting individual rights and the sharing of knowledge with both health professionals and the public. If the publication of this report facilitates greater awareness of the needs of families such as the Dunnes and improves the response of service providers, then this report will serve a very useful purpose.

I would like to acknowledge the work of the Inquiry Team, chaired by Kate Brosnan BL and members Jim McHugh, Leonie Lunny. I would like to thank them for their commitment to that task and their work in relation to this difficult and complex issue.

The report gives a poignant account of the circumstances surrounding the lives and deaths of the Dunne Family. The Dunne family accessed a number of HSE delivered services from hospitals, general practioners, public health nurses, early intervention teams and other social work services. Some of the issues raised in the inquiry report relate to coordination and integration of theses services and the identification of a family with particular needs.

For this reason, I am pleased to acknowledge the new proposals unveiled by the HSE last week to support a more integrated health and social care system. The plan is to put in place a post under a National Director for Service Integration to address the service needs of children and families across the HSE. This is the first time that such an appointment has been made in respect of health and social services for children. Coordinating these services in order to provide an integrated multidisciplinary solution with good communication and clarity of roles and responsibilities goes to the heart of the recommendations of the Monageer Inquiry Report.

Much attention will focus on the absence of an “out of hours” social work service in Wexford on the weekend of April 21st – 22nd 2007. Whilst I acknowledge the need to provide out of hours services across the country, a key finding of the Inquiry reads:
“that even if the Gardai or Social Services had called to the Dunne family home during the course of the weekend, it is likely that the tragedy would not have been averted”

The HSE submitted a report in 2008, which contained proposals for an out of hours social work service costing approximately €15m per year. This proposal was given serious consideration by the Department and the HSE and it was decided that, given the breadth of issues involved in cases, which tend to arise outside normal working hours, this would not be the best use of funding. It was decided that a broader based multidisciplinary approach would be preferable. Therefore, the HSE is now putting in place the building blocks for a broadly based out of hours response. This is starting with a place of safety service for children to enable Gardai to place children in a safe environment when they have to remove children from a situation of extreme risk. The HSE has informed me that these arrangements will operate from early June.

In addition, the HSE is developing a more integrated approach to out of hours services building on existing GP, acute hospital and mental health services. The aim is to ensure that people seeking services outside normal working hours can be provided with appropriate advice, information and support and in emergency situations access to specialist staff such as professionals working in the areas of mental health and suicide prevention.

The Inquiry recommendations indicate that action is required to deal with issues related to public health nursing services and early intervention teams and the HSE is taking actions to address these areas.

The HSE is commencing a comprehensive review of nursing services in the community, which will cover public health nursing services as part of the Health Service Executive Transformation Programme and development of Primary Care Teams.

In March 2009, the HSE initiated a process, to prepare a framework for the delivery of Early Intervention Services across the HSE covering both statutory and non statutory providers. The aim is to ensure that there is a standard and consistent approach to the delivery of Early Intervention Services.

In addition, following discussions with me about the delivery of social work services, the HSE established a Task Force in February to standardise policies and procedures for Child Protection and Welfare Services across the country. This taskforce has involved very detailed, in-depth consultation with the social work staff and management in the HSE around the country and will set national standards across the HSE. The work of the Task Force is due to be completed by the end of this month with implementation starting in June. The publication of the Monageer Report at this time will allow the Task Force to take account of the recommendations in the report in relation to Child Care Services.

I am pleased to learn that the Garda Commissioner, Fachtna Murphy, has stated that he accepts the findings of the Monageer Inquiry and is committed to ensuring that the safety and protection of children is a key priority for An Garda Siochana. I am told by the Commissioner that the findings of this report will be incorporated into Garda practices and procedures to complement the ‘Children First’ guidelines, which provide a framework for An Garda Siochana and the Health Service Executive to deal with the sensitive area of child welfare and protection.

The report acts as a timely reminder of the important role that individual members of society can play in recognising emerging problems and bringing them to the attention of relevant public services. I am particularly struck by the initiatives taken by at least two members of the local community in Wexford, who sought to highlight concerns around the Dunne family. Individual families live within local communities and the supports of the community can play a vital role in alerting public services to emerging risks.

To further our understanding of the complexities of this occurrence, the HSE last year established a group headed by Geoff Day, Director of the National Office of Suicide Prevention. The work of the group is focusing on identifying risk and protective factors and the measures that can be taken to minimise such risks.

In conclusion, I would once again like to express my deepest sympathies to the Dunne and O’Brien families. I hope that the publication of this report will lead to the improvement of services and reduce the possibility of such tragedies occuring in the future.