Tuesday 25 October 2016

Gardaí probe five health staff in foster home case

Commission of Investigation also proposed by minister

Published 02/02/2016 | 02:30

John Twomey: examining case. Photo: Frank McGrath
John Twomey: examining case. Photo: Frank McGrath

As many as five health service workers are facing a garda investigation into their handling of sexual and physical abuse concerns at a foster home.

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The Irish Independent has learned that a whistleblower has given gardaí a detailed statement in relation to the alleged failings of these individuals.

The health staff have been implicated for allegedly failing to ensure the safety of vulnerable children and adults, some of whom have intellectual disabilities, despite being aware of abuse concerns.

The revelation came as Junior Health Minister Kathleen Lynch announced that she was recommending the setting-up of a commission of investigation into the matter.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny confirmed that the Cabinet will discuss the proposed inquiry today.

The commission of investigation will run in tandem with a garda probe, which has been ongoing in the south-east since late last year.

At least 47 children were placed at the foster home at the centre of the controversy between 1983 and 1995. Referrals continued after staff at the former South Eastern Health Board had been informed of abuse allegations.

One seriously intellectually disabled woman who cannot speak, known variously by the pseudonyms 'Grace' and 'Rachel', was issued a formal apology by the HSE last week after officials had failed to intervene to remove her from the home until 2009.

There is evidence that she endured neglect, as well as physical, sexual and financial abuse.

A previous garda investigation into claims of abuse at the foster home concluded last summer when the Director of Public Prosecutions decided that no one should be charged.

However, gardaí began examining the matter again in October, this time focusing on the response of the HSE, after a whistleblower with access to case files came forward with new information.

The information provided to gardaí is understood to relate to alleged "actions or omissions" on the part of named HSE personnel.

In addition to the ongoing probe by local gardaí, the matter is also set to be examined by Garda Deputy Commissioner John Twomey. His involvement was confirmed in a letter to the Dáil Public Accounts Committee (PAC) from Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan.

The foster home at the centre of the claims has already been the subject of two independent investigations commissioned by the HSE.

However, HSE director general Tony O'Brien confirmed at the weekend that no one had been disciplined because of ongoing garda investigations.

Neither of the reports has been published in full.

Mr O'Brien also confirmed that another resident was left in the home after 'Grace', only being removed in October 2013.

The HSE said gardaí had requested that publication be delayed until after criminal inquiries have been completed.

Mr O'Brien is due before the PAC today to explain the botched handling of an apology to Grace.

The HSE had claimed an apology was made to her last December. However, those present confirmed that no apology was made. Mr O'Brien later said a "regrettable misunderstanding" had occurred.

A formal written apology was finally issued last week.

PAC chairman John McGuinness, whose committee has been examining the handling of the abuse claims, accused the HSE of "lies, misrepresentation and giving misleading statements".

PAC vice-chairman John Deasy said he was hopeful that the proposed commission of investigation would result in "the better safeguarding of children within our health system into the future".

He said: "I believe it will create a heightened sense of oversight, particularly for children in foster care."

A HSE spokesman said Mr O'Brien welcomed the proposals for a commission of investigation, adding that it would help to provide "absolute clarity" around events.

Irish Independent

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