I welcome the belated clarification from the HSE regarding the number of children who died while directly in their care over the past decade. Even though the figure is considerably smaller than some speculation, it is still deeply disturbing that so many children died while in the direct care of the state.
It is also clear that this death toll represents only one part of the picture. There appear to have been a significant number of deaths of children who at one stage or another had come to the attention of the HSE, or who had just recently left formal care, and this may have led to the higher figure. This broader information must now be compiled and provided without further delay.
The manner in which this affair has been handled by the government and the HSE has been quite chaotic, and damaging to public confidence in the system. The confusion over the number of deaths, the ongoing failure to provide definitive figures, the refusal of the HSE to hand over files and the failure of the government to get a grip on the situation has led people to ask ‘who exactly is in charge?’.
It is now essential that we get final figures from the HSE on the full number of deaths; that the government introduces the promised legislation to allow for the urgent transfer of files; that the Gibbons/Shannon Inquiry is allowed to get under way; that we learn the lessons from these tragic deaths; and that children who end up in the care of the state are given the level of care and protection that they need.
It is vital too that we move beyond this week’s controversy about numbers and get on with dealing with the tragic human stories behind these statistics.