Leigh Gath, from Pallaskenry, Co Limerick, describes herself as an independent advocate and a person with a “significant” disability.
Ms Gath will be the confidential recipient for whistleblowers with concerns about HSE-funded services for vulnerable persons.
“I’m not easily intimidated,” Ms Gath said yesterday when asked to comment on her new appointment, which comes in the wake of the RTÉ documentary on Áras Attracta in Swinford, Co Mayo.
HSE director general Tony O’Brien said they wanted to make it easier and straightforward for people to report wrongdoings.
Mr O’Brien described Ms Gath as a noted disability rights campaigner who came to national prominence when she led a sleep-out outside the Department of the Taoiseach in September 2012.
Leigh Gath, a thalidomide survivor born without arms or legs, led a protest against cuts to personal assistance and home help services.
A mother of two, she has worked with people with all sorts of disability both in Ireland and the US.
Mr O’Brien said steps would be taken this week so anyone with concerns, be they a staff member, service user, or service user’s relative, could be assured that they could confidentially tell anything that the HSE needed to know.
Ms Gath said she needed to get a full briefing and a chance to catch her breath before making any further comment on her new role.
Mr O’Brien announced Ms Gath’s appointment at a national summit at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin attended by more than 200 people involved in managing and using residential homes for people with intellectual disabilities.
Kathleen Lynch, the minister with responsibility for mental health and disability, told the summit that a new audit office was to be established to oversee residential services.
She said the new service would be separate to the health services watchdog, the Health Information and Quality Authority, and that someone will be appointed to head the office in the next week.
“We will have an auditing team, separate from Hiqa, that will go to every single health provider and every single home where people with disability live,” Ms Lynch said, adding that the office would ensure safety, decency, respect and proper care in residential setting.
It will be part of the HSE’s National Office for Social Care and have a budget of €1.2m, with more funding provided, if necessary.
Those attending the summit at the Aviva yesterday included chief executives and other senior managers from 90 organisations, together with representatives from the voluntary sector, service user and advocate representatives, and advocate representatives, as well as officials from the HSE, Department of Health, and Hiqa.
Mr O’Brien said anyone who thought it was OK to behave in the way seen on Prime Time last Tuesday should be afraid because they were going to identify strategies that would ensure that they would be exposed and dealt with.
He said the HSE was looking for specialist advice on what measures could be taken to have a surveillance system in place in residential care systems.
Asked why the media couldn’t attend the entire day-long event yesterday, Mr O’Brien said they wanted people to have the opportunity to speak openly and freely.