The person whose proposed appointment as chairwoman of the North Inner City Drugs and Alcohol Task Force two years ago effectively prompted its suspension has described a Department of Health review into the events as “a sham”.
Anna Quigley said the entire review of the events that led to the suspension of the NICDATF in 2021 was predicated on flawed presumptions and misinformation.
The report, which was completed four months ago but published on the department’s website on Monday said a number of concerns had been raised by statutory bodies regarding governance at the taskforce in advance of the decision to suspend it.
Among the issues raised were questions regarding how representative the board of taskforce was of local community groups, its ability to effectively co-ordinate services and its effectiveness across all parts of its catchment area.
A key focus of the report, however, are the circumstances in which Dr Joe Barry sought to step down as the taskforce’s chair after 10 years and proposed to have Anna Quigley succeed him.
The report suggests there was a lack of transparency in the process and that Ms Quigley, who had an extensive experience in the area, had other roles in organisations funded by the taskforce which effectively precluded her from the post as there was the potential for the perception of a conflict of interest.
Ms Quigley was the only candidate to have been the put forward as a potential replacement for Dr Barry as chair at a board meeting in early 2021. The department raised issues regarding nomination and sought to bring in a third party, PwC, to run a wider process but, the report suggests Dr Barry sought to press ahead with the appointment of Ms Quigley as he believed she was a strong candidate.
Dr Barry, who did not immediately respond to attempts to contact him on Monday evening, has previously described as “bullying” the subsequently decision to stand down the taskforce, one of a number of such local bodies intended to bring together statutory agencies, community representatives and voluntary organisations. The NICDATF, which funded various local initiative, programmes and organisations, received €2.2 million in funding itself from the HSE and Dept of Health at the time of its suspension.
Responding to the contents of the report, Ms Quigley said that “from the very beginning the entire process behind this review has been a sham”.
“The review is based on two false allegations; that there were improper processes used by the taskforce to select a new chair, and later that there was a conflict of interest in relation to the person who was selected. Both of those are false allegations.
“We sent detailed communications to the Department of Health over those couple of years setting out documentary evidence to refute those allegations but still the whole basis on which people were then spoken to for the review was that they were true.
“In my case, I was asked to be chair on the basis that I had been involved in a lot of local organisations and some of those had been funded by the taskforce but at the time I was being put forward I was not involved in anything that was receiving funding and so there was never any possibility of a conflict of interest.”
At the end of September, the Minister of State, Hildegarde Naughton announced the reconstitution of the taskforce and said the HSE was starting the process of recruiting a new independent chair.
Senator Marie Sherlock, who had previously voiced concerns regarding the controversy, said the report “is a very sad reflection of the focus of the Drugs section of the Department of Health and I have to question how any Minister would allow such a petty and self-serving report like that into the public domain.
“It appears to cast aspersions on the work of many committed activists and professionals who served on the task forced such as former chair Dr Joe Barry and Anna Quigley.
“The report is a cover up of the Department’s own failures in not addressing its 2018 concerns about the taskforce. Instead they appear to have actively gone against 25 years of supporting taskforces by setting up parallel structures.
“And what is most upsetting of all is that so much time and effort has been made by the Drugs section in the Department over a number of years in order to block an individual from becoming chair of the taskforce, when instead the real focus needs to be on the individuals and communities afflicted by addiction.”