Ombudsman halts abuse audit

 

The Ombudsman for Children, Emily Logan, has announced today she has suspended her office's investigation into the handling of the Child Protection Audit of the Catholic Church Dioceses by the HSE and the Department of Health.

Ms Logan said she had taken this action due to the failure by the HSE to "genuinely cooperate" with this process.

In a statement the Ombudsman office said: "Since the investigation commenced four months ago, the HSE has failed to provide any of the documentation requested by the Ombudsman for Children. Despite a public statement and private assurances of its cooperation, the HSE has not engaged with the investigation by the Ombudsman for Children’s Office."

The Ombudsman said the HSE "has also sought to bring the investigation into the legal arena by requesting that the Ombudsman for Children appoint a senior counsel to discuss the investigation with it’s own Senior Counsel".

"As a non-judicial body the Ombudsman for Children refused to take this course of action and instead contacted the HSE seeking a meeting to resolve whatever difficulties the HSE may have."

According to the Ombudsman, the health body did not respond to this request for a meeting and later sent a letter stating the HSE had decided to supply documents that were not subject to legal privilege.

"The documentation that arrived at the Ombudsman for Children’s Office from the HSE’s solicitors was a photocopy of the document, published in full on  January 7th, 2009 by the Minister for Children, that triggered the Ombudsman for Children’s investigation," the Ombudsman said.

The Ombudsman for Children deemed the HSE’s actions as non-cooperation and has written to the HSE and the Department of Health informing them of her decision to suspend the investigation.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Irelandtoday, Ms Logan said the HSE proposal to have senior counsel conduct discussions, "costing thousands a day", was against the principle of an ombudsman's office, adding that she already had the power "in theory and in practice" to obtain the information that her office was seeking.

The HSE says it has been fully co-operating with the Ombudsman. HSE’s assistant national director of primary, community and continuing care Hugh Kane later told the same programme he was “frankly surprised” at Ms Logan’s stance.

He said the full file has been shared with the Ombudsman and the Department of Health and Children, with the exception of one document, which is privileged legal advice to the HSE.  “We had information relating to third parties and it was really important that we protected their legal rights,” he said. These parties were members of the Catholic Church, he confirmed.

Mr Kane said where complex legal issues were concerned, “sometimes the useful route is to have senior counsel on both sides discuss the matter so that we can transfer the information in a safe way”.

In January, Ms Logan said her office would investigate if there has been any maladministration by the HSE and Department of Health when it carried out an audit on child protection issues in dioceses across the country, including Cork’s scandal-hit Diocese of Cloyne.

The Child Protection Audit of the Catholic Church Dioceses was designed to benchmark the policies of dioceses around the country against guidelines set out in the Government’s Ferns Report in 2005, which uncovered paedophile priests in Co Wexford.

But when bishops were issued with questionnaires in 2006, they insisted they could not respond to section five of the audit, which requested detailed information on complaints and allegations of child sexual abuse against members of the clergy.

The questionnaire also asked the senior clerics to provide information on whether the gardaí and health workers were alerted to any such claims.

Additional reporting PA