Tusla board raises concerns over investigation into protected disclosure

Child protection agency’s executive voices worries over slow progress of inquiry

Tusla has voiced concerns over the slow progress of an investigation into a protected disclosure. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Tusla has voiced concerns over the slow progress of an investigation into a protected disclosure. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

The board of child protection agency Tusla has voiced concerns over the slow progress of an investigation into a protected disclosure made to the organisation more than two years ago.

This protected disclosure, which has not been previously reported, was submitted to Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Katherine Zappone in January 2017.

However, minutes of a Tusla board meeting held in October last year show the organisation’s governing executive “expressed concern at the slow level of progress of the independent investigation [into the protected disclosure] to date”.

The minutes also reveal that a separate investigation has been approved into a second protected disclosure, which was sent anonymously to the former chairwoman and chief executive of Tusla.

“Following a preliminary investigation, internal audit recommended that the matter be the subject of a full investigation under Tusla’s protected disclosure policy and procedure,” according to the minutes, which show that the board “approved the appointment of an external investigatory (sic) and the commencement of a phased investigation”.

A spokesman for Tusla confirmed that the organisation had received two separate protected disclosures.

“A thorough examination and assessment of the full facts pertaining to the confidential information received is being progressed, as per Tusla’s protected disclosures policy and procedure, and this is ongoing. Tusla cannot comment any further at this time.”

The agency declined to answer further questions on the protected disclosures.

‘Serious concerns’

The minutes from the October meeting also show that Ms Zappone attended for a portion of the event, alongside her department’s most senior civil servant. She told the board of her “serious concerns” about the findings of the Disclosures Tribunal in relation to the child protection agency’s interactions with the tribunal.

The tribunal’s report said Tusla was “slow to respond” to a public request for co-operation the tribunal made, and that “statements made were laconic to the point of being mysterious”.

“The tribunal had to seek further information and identify witnesses who might cast light on matters, who had not yet revealed themselves,” the report said.

“This kind of holding back is bad enough from a private citizen, never mind a public body.”

According to the minutes, the board told Ms Zappone that it “shared [her] concerns about the very significant shortfall in Tusla’s performance, acknowledging the absolute failures reflected in evidence at both practice and governance levels within the agency”.

In a follow-up letter, the then Tusla chairwoman Norah Gibbons told the Minister that it had reviewed its co-operation with the tribunal and was “satisfied that all steps were taken to co-operate in full”. The agency made this claim on the basis of a review of its engagement undertaken by its own legal team for the tribunal, from Arthur Cox.

“Their finding is that Tusla fully co-operated with the tribunal at all stages and at no stage during the process was there any indication that Tusla did not co-operate,” Ms Gibbons told the Minister.