There were two parallel political discourses happening today. The first was the reaction to the appalling tragedy in Co Wexford with the appalling gaps revealed in the HSE and Garda reaction to the incident. In Leinster House today - nothwithstanding the upcoming election - there was little talk about anything else among those I met in the corridors and cafes. But in the chamber, it was kind of by-passed in favour of other things. It shouldn't have been.
The story is an achingly sad one. Visually impaired parents. The bizarre visit to the undertakers' office on Friday. The action and inactions of the weekend. The tragedy was compounded by what seems like serious errors of omissions by the HSE and the Gardai. It is true that even with every conceivable safety net in place, sometimes agencies just can't intervene when somebody is intent on doing something. But it is clear that there are very grave questions to be answered as to whether or not these four needless deaths could have been prevented.
The interview given on Morning Ireland by the local HSE healt manager was disastrously insensitive. Richard Downes, who handled the interview really well, gently chided her for seemingly answering all questions by reading from preprepared statements. (The interview is telling; listen to it here)
The HSE came across as uncaring, more interested in absolving itself from any blame. Given that a similar tragedy occurred (in not dissimilar circumstances) in the selfsame place two years ago, you would have expected that protocols were put in place for weekend cover.
But no, there was an excuse (which was really no more than guff) that an expert group was looking into this matter and is due to report next month (yes next month!), at which time systems and protocols will be examined and looked at etc. In other words, two years after another tragedy, we had hardly moved on, and not put in the proper systems to safeguard vulnerable families and children. And when will those new systems be in place? Years and years hence. Fat lot of good this will do to the Dunne family. Meanwhile, the HSE passed the buck on the gardai.
Ah, the guards. The Garda Siochana reaction was equally flabbergasting. Rather than dealing with the tragedy, they went on an elaborate ass-saving folly saying they were not going to be scapegoated (presumably by the HSE). No explanation for delays in contacting the HSE. No explanation as to how a squad car being driven around an estate (as opposed to making a physical call to the house) makes a whit of difference to anything.
The disgrace was that in the face of such an awful human tragedy the two state agencies with responsibility were more intent on indulging in a blame-shifting exercise. The two local priest who visited the family and made major efforts to help the Dunnes are the only individuals to emerge out of this mess with any credit.
But strangely, at the highest level, it had no real resonance. Sure it was discussed at Cabinet and an enquiry is being launched. But strangely, it didn't dominate Leaders Questions. Enda Kenny and Pat Rabbitte both chose to ask questions about Governance. Fair enough, but in the day that was in it, they seemed oddly unimportant, out of kilter. Only Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin of SF brought it up as his leader's question - and asked the relevant questions that have been asked all day.