Friday 28 July 2017

Abuse probe to focus on health board staff failings

Children raped while High Court ruling kept social workers at bay

Jason O'Brien and BRIAN McDONALD

An independent report into the horrific abuse of six children by their parents will focus on why state officials failed to fight an injunction that stopped the children being taken into care in 2000.

The repeated abuse took place between 2001 and 2004 -- the years after the mother had secured a High Court injunction restraining the Western Health Board from removing the children from the home as part of a care plan.

The family had been placed on the 'at risk' list in 1996. The six children were finally taken into emergency care in 2004 after a serious allegation was made against the father.

Inquiry

The 41-year-old mother is serving a seven-year sentence since January last year, becoming the first woman in the history of the Irish state to be convicted of incest.

Norah Gibbons, director of advocacy at Barnardos, has been heading up the inquiry into how health officials handled the family's case.

A HSE spokesman said that a handful of interviews had yet to be completed by her team. These had to await the outcome of the latest legal proceedings, which concluded yesterday.

"We would expect that it would be just a matter of weeks before the report is finalised, probably before the end of April," the spokesman added.

The circumstances surrounding the injunction will be a central focus of the inquiry's findings.

"This shocking case brought into stark reality the fact that the best interest of the children came into play far too late, and that concerned child welfare and welfare personnel were defeated by the unqualified primary rights of parents as currently enshrined in our Constitution," Ashley Balbirnie, chief executive of the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, said last night.

"The reality is that our most fundamental law upheld the right of these abusive and dysfunctional parents to retain control of their children, despite ongoing abuse and the growing knowledge of that fact by various care workers."

The incest trial heard that, since 1996, social workers had been visiting the family because of childcare issues. But the presiding judge voiced concern at the fact that it was not until 2004 that the children were eventually taken into care.

HSE officials told the court that in September 2000 an agreement was reached between the Western Health Board and the mother to have the children cared for by an uncle and an aunt.

But the mother had become involved with "a right-wing Catholic organisation" to support her going to the High Court to obtain an injunction restraining the health board from acting.

The mother had personally moved the ex-parte injunction in the High Court and later presented it in person to childcare officials at their offices.

HSE West childcare manager Paddy Gannon told the judge in the maternal incest case that the development was "like a bolt from the blue" and the court order prevented the health board from moving the children from the home as part of a care plan.

Support

The well-known right-wing campaigner Mena Bean Ui Chribin (82) contacted a childcare manager days after the 2000 injunction was secured and said the family needed support and not intrusive action by the health board.

She later denied providing financial assistance to the mother in taking her case. Ms Bean Ui Chribin declined to comment yesterday.

Fine Gael's Alan Shatter last night called on under-pressure Children's Minister Barry Andrews to state when the independent report will be finalised, and to publish it without delay.

Passing sentence earlier, Mr Justice Barry White said that the father's actions were made "all the more reprehensible" because of the position he held in the family.

"It was an appalling breach of the trust of an innocent and vulnerable child," the judge said.

The Rape Crisis Network expressed disappointment last night that the 52-year-old was not given a life sentence.

Director Fiona Neary also said that the case exposed the complexity and devastation of incest and familial abuse.

"These children are faced with almost impossible choices," she said. "The inadequacies and impotence of social services and child protection responses must be addressed."

Irish Independent

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