PAC orders HSE chief to respond to ‘bogus’ information claim

Mary Lou McDonald accuses Tony O’Brien of misleading committee over ‘Grace’ case

Director general of the HSE Tony O’Brien. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Director general of the HSE Tony O’Brien. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

 

The Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee has told HSE director general Tony O’Brien to respond within a week to allegations that he misled it about the ‘Grace’ case.

Mr O’Brien has been given seven days to explain, in writing, alleged contradictions in his evidence to the committee about the treatment of an intellectually disabled woman by social services in the southeast.

He will be called in to give further evidence on the case in two weeks’ time but there are doubts about that hearing going ahead as it may cut across the work of a Government-appointed commission of inquiry into the case.

The committee went into private session for several hours on Thursday after Galway TD Catherine Connolly suggested the terms of reference of the commission would have to be amended to take account of matters concerning Mr O’Brien.

It later emerged that the revised terms of reference provide for the investigation of any attempted suppression of information about the matter up to March 2016. They therefore cover the period Mr O’Brien’s appearance before the committee in February 2016.

Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald had earlier accused Mr O’Brien of misleading the committee by providing “bogus” information about the case when he appeared before it lon that occasion.

Abuse allegations

He told members in February 2016 that the HSE staff who in 1996 overturned an earlier decision to remove ‘Grace’ from a foster home where allegations of abuse had been made were no longer working in the public service. He also said the HSE was unable to begin disciplinary investigations against staff until gardai cleared an official report on the issue for publication.

Subsequent media reports have suggested that one senior official involved in the case is still working for the child and family agency Tusla. It also emerged there were no written contacts between the HSE and the gardaí until three years after the report was completed in 2012.

Committee chairman Seán Fleming proposed giving Mr O’Brien, who was appearing before the committee to discuss other matters, seven days to to explain the alleged contradictions in his evidence about the ‘Grace’ case.

Ms McDonald said the matters should be dealt with now. She said she was concerned Mr O’Brien had given “inaccurate or misleading” information about the report.

She was also concerned an alleged “clique” of HSE managers were protecting themselves at the expense of vulnerable children, and that records may have been tampered with.

“You were at the helm of the HSE all this time. You gave at the very least incomplete information that does nothing to build confidence in the discharge of your duties,” she said.

Mr O’Brien said he had been informed before the meeting that he would be given seven days to respond. As a result he had not had the opportunity to re-read all the transcripts and prepare himself. He said it would be prudent to provide a written explanation and come back to the committee in seven days.

When the committee resumed in public session, members agreed to give the HSE boss one week to respond on the issues raised.