Mother rejects claims controversial autism dossiers relate only to ‘dormant’ court cases

Margaret Cronin says she has been fighting for her son Jeremiah’s rights for 21 years

A woman whose disabled son's sensitive health records were being used as part of controversial dossiers for the Department of Health has rejected claims that the files relate only to children involved in dormant court cases.

Margaret Cronin, mother of Jeremiah Cronin (21), who is profoundly intellectually disabled, said she was shocked to learn in recent days that his records were being used by the department without her consent.

She said her family’s 21-year fight to ensure Jeremiah is provided with all necessary services and adequate educational placements is ongoing and not dormant.

“Our numerous requests for help from the various agencies of the State were falling on deaf ears and ultimately we were left with no other option but to engage solicitors who issued proceedings on our behalf for Jerry in 2003,” she said.


“We regret to say that these legal proceedings remain alive to this date and this is despite numerous attempts by our legal representatives on our behalf to seek mediation/resolution of these proceedings.”

Last month claims emerged on an RTÉ Prime Time programme that the Department of Health had maintained dossiers of sensitive information on children with autism involved in long-dormant court cases.

The department subsequently told parents last month that it “never unlawfully held sensitive medical and educational information of children involved in dormant court cases”. It said it was normal practice for defendants to litigation to gather and maintain “appropriate information” in order to obtain legal advice or defend the proceedings.

‘Not appropriate to comment’

When asked whether it categorised Mr Cronin’s case as dormant, the department said it would “not be appropriate to comment on the substance of an individual case”.

Ms Cronin said her solicitors informed her on April 12th last that they had received a letter “out of the blue” from the department’s secretary general confirming that Jeremiah’s case was one of those referred to in the RTÉ Prime Time programme broadcast last month.

“This was a complete shock to me,” she said.

The programme contained an interview with Shane Corr, a whistleblower who stated that treating doctors had been contacted by the department and asked to provide records on patients without informing the patient or their guardians or solicitors.

“I am shocked to think that the Department of Health was engaging in such conduct behind not only my back but also unbeknownst to my solicitors. This letter has caused great distress to myself and my family,” Ms Cronin said.

She said the letter states that the department “never gathered sensitive medical and educational information on children involved in court cases in the manner portrayed in recent media reports”.

“I find it extremely difficult to accept this as it flies in the face of what the whistleblower had to say . . . At this point in time, I do not know whom to believe. All I do know is that my son and our family are now caught up in the middle of this saga which the department says in their letter to me of April 12th that they have been aware of . . . since last year – yet we have only been informed now,” she said.

Ms Cronin said the department told her to contact an “independent liaison officer” whose address is associated with the department.

“This of course begs the question as to how independent can this liaison officer be,” she said.

“I will not be contacting the liaison officer as I have instructed my solicitors to write to the Department of Health seeking a copy of the dossier that they have maintained in respect of my son Jeremiah.”

Independent officer

In a statement, the department said it had appointed an independent support liaison officer to engage directly with the families involved in the allegations in the RTÉ programme regarding the collection of data for litigation purposes.

“The department is providing necessary logistical support, including email facilities, to the support liaison officer, to ensure that he can engage with families in as timely and supportive a manner as possible. His engagement with families is independent of the department,” it said.

It said it acknowledged with regret the distress that headlines arising from the RTÉ programme generated.

“The department has never gathered sensitive medical and educational information on children involved in court cases in the manner portrayed in recent media reports. There is no evidence that the Department of Health was secretly compiling dossiers on children with autism involved in special educational needs litigation as alleged.”

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent