Wednesday 23 August 2017

They never listened

'House of Horror' children tell of anguish as HSE admits failures

Dearbhail McDonald Legal Editor

THE children at the centre of the Roscommon 'House of Horrors' case have spoken of their anguish after their desperate pleas for help continuously fell on deaf ears.

Health chiefs last night apologised to the six children who suffered years of horrific abuse at the hands of their parents.

The Health Service Executive (HSE) admitted authorities failed to protect the young siblings who lived in harrowing conditions in a squalid three-bedroom bungalow, strewn with rubbish and dead rodents.

Social workers failed to spot giveaway signs of neglect as the hungry children were left to fend for themselves.

The HSE apologised after the High Court ordered a damning inquiry into the shocking case be published.

Yesterday, it emerged the six children, four of whom are still in care as they are minors, met informally with a High Court judge, Mr Justice John MacMenamin.

During the meeting, the children said all they wanted "was that their voices be heard" and asked why their pleas for help were not taken seriously.

One of the abused children, who cannot be named for legal reasons, asked: "Why are they listening to us now and they didn't before?"

Social services first became aware of the family as far back as 1989, but it was not until 1996 that they became actively involved in the case.

But an inquiry team, headed by children's campaigner Norah Gibbons, found the voices of the six youngsters went unheard for years until they were taken into care in 2004.

Their mother, an alcoholic, was last year sentenced to seven years in prison after pleading guilty to incest, sexual abuse, neglect and wilful ill-treatment.

Her husband was later jailed for 12-and-a-half years for rape and sexual assault against one of his sons.

Ms Gibbons said the children were denied their most basic needs for security, food, warmth, clothing and the loving care of their parents.

"They were abused by their parents in their home when they had every right to feel safe," she said.

A litany of failures has been highlighted by the HSE and Western Health Board, including missing social work files.

In a statement, the HSE said it fully accepted the findings and recommendations of the report into the failures of the then Western Health Board, later absorbed into the HSE.

"Our apology is unreserved and unequivocal," a spokeswoman said. "The report finds that, regardless of the good intentions of the health and social service providers, important child protection concerns were not addressed adequately over the years. This failure meant that the harm and neglect of the children and young adults in this family continued."

The Government's expert on child protection said the failure of the HSE to act had "devastating and catastrophic consequences" for the children.

Neglect

"The HSE failures cannot be attributed alone to a lack of resources," Geoffrey Shannon told the Irish Independent.

"There were clear risk indicators of neglect over a decade that were not acted upon."

Both parents welcomed the publication of the report through their lawyers who represented them at the High Court yesterday.

In a statement last night, relatives of the family said the publication of the report "shines light on our hellish reality". Welcoming its publication, the statement said it had been a "painful journey" for them.

"We see this report as fully addressing the problems in the HSE and the incompetent decisions made over a 15-year period which utterly failed to protect and listen to the children."

They expressed concern that four of the children are still in the care of the HSE West and said they believed the individuals who failed to act in the case should be held accountable.

"We want a promise to our family that a children's constitutional referendum will happen in the next six months. Children can no longer be ignored."

Children's charity Barnardos, the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, abuse charity One in Four as well as Fine Gael and Labour all backed calls for a referendum.

The Rape Crisis Network said the report revealed "systemic flaws" in the State's handling of child protection.

Children's Minister Barry Andrews last night offered apologies to the six children.

Irish Independent

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