WHEN Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, comes before the relevant Oireachtas committee tomorrow, it will be stepping into the eye of an inferno. Central to its appearance is the suspicion that Tusla was somehow involved in collusion in the framing of Sgt Maurice McCabe, by dint of a totally erroneous cut-and-paste report alleging sexual criminality. The more benign view — if one could call it that — is that the incident represents yet another example of the Olympic level of incompetence with which this hapless State agency has long been associated.
Criticism is never far away from Tusla, and few agencies have endured such public opprobrium in its brief existence. That the ceaseless complaints come from so many diverse sources — judges and lawyers, gardaí and parents, pastoral workers and childrens’ advocates — has, many say, led to a bunker mentality in Tusla which puts the continual need to be on the defensive ahead of all other considerations. More impartial observers would point to an agency which is so seriously underfunded as to be unable to deliver on its remit, and that its ineptitude is the inevitable offshoot.
The disclosure that 800 case files lay undealt with at a Tusla office in Portlaoise is something which the battle-weary agency is well used to by now. The milestones of complaint are endless. Last July, at Ennis Court, Judge Patrick Durcan, a man not given to extremes of commentary, castigated Tusla for spending €4,500 a week to house a troubled teenager in the care of a private operator who provided no other service. Judge Durcan was moved to comment that: “There is a level of daftness that the country has got used to, and this is part of it.”
Two months earlier, the President of the District Court, Rosemary Horgan, berated Tusla for the handling of a case involving two siblings in care who were being looked after by their sixth successive social worker. An independent report in 2015 found that 18 social workers, together with three student social workers, had been involved over a six year period with one particular family. In north Dublin, the Gardaí went to HIQA to complain about the inadequacy of the Tusla child care services, and the agency’s standard policy of advising families to call on the guards whenever a crisis arose. The ISPCC has described as a national scandal the inability of Tusla to provide a 24-hour national service, pointing out that crisis intervention cannot be confined to office hours.
But most troubling of all have been the comments of Fr Tony O’ Riordan who, after six years as priest in Moyross, has left for Aleppo. Praising the people of that blighted, neglected area of Limerick for their fortitude and humanity, he said that his abiding memory was how its people had been let down by Tusla, the Child and Family Agency.
“What has been the real confirmation of my six years in Moyross is to see how the agency does not have the capacity or the willingness to respond,” he said.
“There is a culture within Tusla that I think is a culture that leads to failure.”
And, in a chilling finale which should cause all of us, politicians and public, to sit bolt upright, he concluded: “If you are a vulnerable child in Ireland, it is a scandal to have to rely on the service that Tusla provides.”
Perhaps, tomorrow, when the Oireachtas committee has finished its examination of how Maurice McCabe was so shamefully maligned by a State agency, it should turn its attention to why such an essential service as Tusla should be so underfunded as to render it a liability rather than an asset.