Taoiseach criticises ‘enormous shortcomings’ in Tusla

McDonald described the Child and Family Agency’s handling of McCabe allegations as ‘catastrophic’

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said improvements were being made in Tusla. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

The report into the Child and Family Agency "catalogues failures and enormous shortcomings in Tusla and in child protection", according to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

He accepted they were “problems that we have known about for some time. It is a major job and effort to do the transformation that has occurred in recent years.”

But he insisted in the Dáil that “many of the actions needed to implement the report’s findings were already under way at the time the investigation started” and exchequer funding for the agency had risen by €40 million to €753 million.

He said both the Government and Tusla accepted the report “which will be implemented in full”.


Minister for Children Katherine Zappone commissioned the report a year ago following false allegations of child abuse made against Garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe, and the mishandling of those allegations by Tusla.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, who raised the issue, described Tusla’s handling of those allegations as “catastrophic” and described the report as “damning”.

She warned that the Child and Family Agency “is not adequately protecting children at ongoing risk. This means that children are knowingly being left in danger.”

Ms McDonald said the report “outlines dysfunction and deficiencies within Tusla in the areas of staffing, system, reporting and governance”.

And it highlighted, she said, the “alarming reality that Tusla has serious difficulties in recruiting and retaining specialist staff and in particular social workers”.

She added that “despite hiring 250 new staff, the net gain was only 18 due to the high numbers of staff leaving the agency”.

The Taoiseach said a new chief social worker was appointed “so there is someone now very much in charge of social work”.

Mr Varadkar said the Minister was prioritising a major initiative to reform the way Tusla and An Garda Síochána deal with historical allegations of child sexual abuse.

She was also prioritising support for the child and family agency’s workforce needs by “creating formal career path mechanisms for students and graduates”.

Mr Varadkar said “the problems that exist around child protection are well known but they are being dealt with over time and we will continue to deal with them”.

The Taoiseach said improvements were being made including the commencement of mandatory reporting at the end of last year and the introduction last July a new national ICT recording system for children protection and welfare.

And he said “the report finds that good governance arrangements are now in place at corporate and executive levels”.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times