Ombudsman Emily Logan announced her decision to suspend the audit four months after it began, after claiming her office had not been provided with the relevant documentation it requested from the HSE.
Ms Logan said she could not rule out other options open to her if the row cannot be resolved, including bringing a special report on the matter before the Oireachtas or launching legal action compelling the HSE to release the documents.
The HSE reacted with surprise to the announcement, with its assistant national director of primary community and continuing care Hugh Kane saying he had not spoken to the Ombudsman about the issue and had been unaware of her concerns. The HSE has in the past said it was co-operating fully with the Ombudsman’s inquiry.
However, Ms Logan said yesterday the problem had persisted ever since the HSE failed to provide documentation within the initial 21-day period set by her office when the audit was launched four months ago.
“The problem here is that this was launched on January 9 and normally I would give 21 days [to provide the documents].
“We gave the HSE two further extensions and two weeks ago we asked again if they would co-operate.”
She said the only document she had received from the HSE as part of the probe was a copy of the HSE’s Audit into Catholic Church Dioceses, published in January and available on the HSE website.
Ms Logan said she had the power to compel the HSE to provide any requested documentation, which is understood to include correspondence between the HSE and Catholic Church, after a section of the audit questionnaire requesting detailed information on complaints and allegations was not completed.
The HSE had contacted Ms Logan’s office to instruct her to bring in a senior counsel who could then speak with the HSE’s senior counsel, but she said she had been given no reason why the documents were not forthcoming.
Describing the situation as “unprecedented”, she said her office was accountable to the Oireachtas and the public and that she was not exceeding her remit by asking for the documents.
A parallel probe by the Ombudsman into the implementation of the Children First guidelines by the HSE and government departments is ongoing, with the Ombudsman having contacted 32 regional child protection offices, which were “co-operating fully”.
The HSE said it would try and resolve the Ombudsman’s concerns as quickly as possible.
“The HSE has assured the Ombudsman today that we have been committed to this process from the outset, we remain committed to it, and that there is no issue of non-co-operation on the part of the HSE,” a statement read.