Tusla chief vows no repeat of Maurice McCabe scenario

Fred McBride and Katherine Zappone.
Fred McBride and Katherine Zappone.

Tusla chief executive Fred McBride has said measures have been taken to ensure there can be no repeat of the issues in the Maurice McCabe case.

However, he admitted the Child and Family Agency is still dealing with “legacy issues”, as it seeks to improve its services.

Mr McBride led a Tusla delegation before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Children and Youth Affairs and reiterated his apology in relation to Sgt McCabe, while also confirming that the commission of inquiry into those matters had contacted Tusla this week.

Mr McBride could not refer directly to the case, but said steps had been taken to avoid a repeat of such a scenario and he said the commission of inquiry “can’t come soon enough”.

He stressed he had no information or evidence that anyone in Tusla acted out of malice in the McCabe case. He added that the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner had been in contact since the recent controversy and that Tusla would work to respond to any queries. Since the recent revelations, Tusla staff have been instructed to be extra-vigilant regarding data matters, the committee heard.

Mr McBride said of historic allegations of abuse: “It’s especially challenging, because the legal framework around this, in our view, is not specific enough.”

He referred to the proposed overhaul of legislation, dating back to 1991, in this regard and of the need in Tusla to develop skills to conduct “forensic-type interviews” with alleged perpetrators in those cases.

Regarding historical cases, he said the priority afforded to them depended on the circumstances, with those in which there was a likely immediate risk to children given high priority. He admitted some older cases might be made a lower priority “unless there was very specific information that a child or children are at current or immediate risk”.

As for the process, he said: “What we do is we would initially open an intake record, a record of the referral being made to us. Not all become ongoing cases or are turned into ‘files’, but we do have to keep a record of all information that is passed to us and, where appropriate, if a possible criminal offence has been committed, we would share that with the guards.”

Mr McBride said Tusla had dedicated teams that deal with the initial referrals, the vast majority of which are screened to make an initial determination of the level of risk, with a team leader deciding whether to move towards an initial assessment. He said all cases were reviewed on a regular basis, with contact made with families and schools.

He said if someone deliberately made a false allegation, it would be “difficult to discover immediately... until we had a reason to doubt it”.

As for any false allegations within Tusla, he said he believed systems and processes were in place to deal with it, “but it would probably come at the point where we had taken the referral to the next stage of assessment”. Mr McBride said Tusla had dedicated contact points with team leaders to deal with referrals that come in, rather than multiple contact points which had been “a legacy issue that we have tried to resolve”.

The committee heard that any incorrect information placed on a referral template was taken down and corrected. In cases where a false allegation is made, it can be erased, but a note is made of the deleted file.

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