| 16.3°C Dublin

Censoring of the Monageer probe is absolute scandal

IT is unacceptable in a mature European parliamentary democracy that the report of an inquiry into the deaths of four people -- including two children murdered by one or both of their parents -- and the dealings of state agencies with the family, should be censored.

Publication on Tuesday of the Monageer inquiry report with substantial factual background obliterated by black ink at the behest of the Minister for Children is the type of scandalous government conduct and cover-up expected only in totalitarian dictatorships.

Both Minister Barry Andrews and Taoiseach Brian Cowen have claimed the report was censored because it is a non- statutory report and the Government had received legal advice from the Attorney General that, as it is not privileged, the report in its entirety could not be published.

If such advice was given to Government, it is wrong.

The same issue arose in April 1996 concerning publication of the Report of the Committee of Inquiry into the tragic death of the child Kelly Fitzgerald, as a consequence of substantial failures by the Western Health Board. The difficulty was overcome as follows:

The then Minister for Children referred the report, at my request, to the Joint Committee on the Family.

The report was formally adopted as an interim report of that committee.

It was submitted to both Houses of the Oireachtas thus facilitating its publication as a privileged parliamentary report.

Similarly, the Minister for Health and Children Mary Harney and/or the Minister for Children, Barry Andrews, could refer the full unedited, uncensored Monageer Report to the Committee for Health and Children, which could adopt a similar approach and publish the report without any legal difficulty.

State agencies and their employees should be properly accountable for the fulfilment of their statutory functions.

Ministers in Government are also accountable for their supervision of such agencies and for the extent to which resources are provided to enable them to properly carry out their statutory duties.

Such concept of democratic accountability has become so alien to the Fianna Fail dominated governments in office for 20 of the past 22 years that too many regard the censorship of the report into the Monageer tragedy as acceptable.

Notably, the inquiry team considered that the terms of reference furnished to it necessitated its examining the provision of public and other relevant services "rather than the performance of any individual person involved in the provision of such services".

Realistically, however, it stated that "services are provided by individuals or teams of them and it is inevitable that an analysis of service provision will involve consideration of its provision by individuals".

Accordingly, the inquiry team acknowledged that to do its job properly and "to make the Report comprehensible" it had to "record adverse comment in respect of certain individuals".

Where the inquiry team made adverse comment concerning individuals, it afforded them an opportunity to make submissions to it. The report states that the submissions "are appended to the report, save in the cases of those who expressed a wish not to have their submissions so appended".

However, the black ink used to censor the report renders any such "adverse comment" made by the inquiry team illegible, undermining the clarity of the report, and the Minister for Children has also failed to publish the submissions stated to be appended to it.

In addition, for the first time in the history of the State a report has had seven of the inquiry team's recommendations censored and blacked out.

Consequently, there is no way of assessing in the future the extent to which they have been implemented. These recommendations presumably prescribe action required by Government, or the Minister for Health and Children and/or the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs and/ or the HSE and/or An Garda Siochana to avoid another similar tragedy.

It is reasonable to assume that they were censored because their publication would reveal undisclosed inadequacies in existing services and their concealment protects the Government from criticism in the future for not implementing the seven recommendations.

This scandalous and disreputable conduct by the Government and the ministers concerned is intolerable.

It seems clear from the approach taken by the Government and the relevant ministers that their priority is to protect the political reputation of Government members and to protect the professional reputation of those who made mistakes.

It seems this is a greater priority than to protect the future welfare of children.

I am calling on both ministers to immediately refer the Monageer Report to the Committee for Health and Children to facilitate its publication in full and to recognise it is unacceptable and contrary to the public interest that such a report be published in a censored form with seven recommendations contained in it obliterated by black ink.

I am also calling on both ministers to give a public assurance that the report of the non-statutory inquiry being conducted into children abuse and neglected by their parents in Roscommon will not be similarly censored.

Alan Shatter TD is Fine Gael spokesperson on Children and a member of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children