Tusla chief criticises Hiqa’s refusal to publish report

Report is broadly positive and McBride believes it would bring balance to public discourse

Fred McBride, chief executive of Tusla, said he is “unclear” how publication of the review could interfere with the Section 9 investigation.  Photograph: Eric Luke

Fred McBride, chief executive of Tusla, said he is “unclear” how publication of the review could interfere with the Section 9 investigation. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

The continued refusal by health watchdog Hiqa to publish a largely positive report on the Child and Family Agency, Tusla, is undermining child social workers’ faith in Hiqa’s objectivity, Tusla’s chief executive has warned.

Fred McBride, in a series of letters to Hiqa obtained by The Irish Times, describes the watchdog’s stance as unfair and contrary to the public’s interests.

An increasingly terse row comes against the backdrop of a series of largely negative reports concerning Tusla, and increased public scrutiny of its role in an alleged Garda smear campaign against Garda whistle-blower Sgt Maurice McCabe.

The unpublished report, A review of the child protection service provided by the CFA (Tusla) and the governance arrangements in place to ensure an effective timely and safe service, finds “good governance arrangement in place for Tusla child protection and welfare services”; improvements in the “quality and safety” of service in the Midlands and that “managers at all levels across Tusla child protection and welfare services are aiming for a much improved service that they can be proud of”.

Senior management within Tusla want the report published, believing it would bring some balance to public discourse on its work and improve staff morale. They do not believe Hiqa’s stance that publication would undermine a separate Hiqa investigation, into its role in the McCabe affair.

Hiqa says the “learnings” from the governance review will be incorporated into its report on the McCabe case, though Tusla believes the findings in the governance review will be watered down considerably in the latter report.

Declined

The governance review, along with correspondence between Tusla and Hiqa on it, was released by Tusla to The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act. Hiqa declined to release the the same report and correspondence.

Hiqa told The Irish Times the governance review was “ongoing”. However, the 63-page review appears complete with publication date on its cover of “XX January 2017”. It was conducted through last year and sent to Tusla, to check for factual accuracy, in February.

In April, Hiqa was formally directed by Minister for Children, Katherine Zappone, under Section 9 of the 2007 Health Act, to carry out a separate investigation into Tusla’s handling of an incorrect, serious allegation of sexual abuse against Garda whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe, which is at the centre of the ongoing Disclosures Tribunal.

Shortly after receiving the governance review for a factual check, Tusla replied making seven “relatively minor” corrections.

In a letter dated March 10th, Mary Dunnion, Hiqa chief inspector of social services, tells Mr McBride that because of the direction to conduct the Section 9 investigation,” the draft findings of the governance review will inform our assessment approach and the findings will be included in the investigation report.”

‘Distinct’

In his reply on March 22nd, Mr McBride, describes the governance review and the Section 9 investigation as “distinct”. He says it is “incumbent on Hiqa to make arrangement for [the governance review’s] immediate publication in line with your own stated intention to publish same in the last quarter of 2016 and in line with fair procedures and the public interest”.

On April 4th, however, Ms Dunnion reiterates her view that it “would not be appropriate to publish the draft governance review report until the Section 9 investigation is complete”. She adds: “It is of course open to Tusla to incorporate the learnings form the draft...review into your practices”.

On April 10th, Mr McBride replied, saying he is “unclear” how publication of the review could interfere with the Section 9 investigation.