Sinn Féin spokesperson on Education Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD has called for an urgent independent investigation into revelations that the Department of Health has been compiling highly sensitive information relating to the families of children with special educational needs.
The revelations were broadcast in an RTÉ Investigations report tonight.
Teachta Ó Laoghaire said:
“What has been reported by RTÉ Investigates tonight is truly shocking, and highlights an attitude of suspicion and contempt towards these families that is unjustifiable.
“These families have had to fight tooth and nail to get access to services and support for their children with special educational needs.
“Instead of assisting families, the Department of Health – aided it would seem by the Department of Education – have been playing private investigator; simply because these families of vulnerable children stood up to the State by contemplating legal action to vindicate their child’s right to access services.
“It is absolutely alarming that personal information which parents gave in confidence to their child’s doctors when in times of crisis would be collected by the State to be used against these families as a tactic in litigation to prevent families getting the additional supports they were seeking.
“It is a disgrace, it is dishonest and it is totally unethical.
“We are also extremely concerned about the legality of this practice.
“The information that was gathered was clearly very sensitive, and very often seems to have been unrelated to possible legal action.
“It represents a systemic abuse of trust and undermines the relationship these parents have with their children’s clinicians and with their schools.
“There are many questions that need to be answered. When did this practice begin? Are the current Ministers for Health and Education aware of it? Were former Ministers aware of it? What did they do about it?
“My colleague, Teachta Pearse Doherty, put these questions to the Tánaiste on the floor of the Dáil earlier today. Whilst the Tánaiste did not answer these questions, he agreed that it was ‘a very serious matter’ and that he would reserve judgement until the RTÉ report was broadcast.
“It is clear from what we have seen tonight that families of children with special educational needs deserve far, far better from their government.
“We need full clarity and transparency on this disgraceful practice and we need to see an immediate end to it. The families concerned need to be made aware that they are impacted.
“And nothing short of a full, independent non-statutory inquiry – similar in scope and duration to the Scally Inquiry into the CervicalCheck Screening Programme – is now required to establish the facts in relation to these revelations. There must be a proper investigation.
“Lastly, I want to pay tribute to Shane Corr; the whistleblower who has blown the lid on these revelations. He has acted in the public interest by bringing these matters into the public domain and deserves to be commended.”