Commission is deemed only way to deal with allegations of cover-up
Published 08/09/2016 | 02:30
Questions have been mounting for years about the handling by the HSE and its predecessor, the South Eastern Health Board, of abuse claims in a former foster and respite home.
The row has been rumbling since 2009 when social workers made protected disclosures. In the intervening seven years, there have been two HSE-commissioned reviews, but these remain unpublished.
A senior barrister, Conor Dignam, who looked into how the reviews were conducted, has now criticised the HSE's response.
He found the initial probe commissioned by the HSE was too narrow in focus.
As a result, there remain many unanswered questions about what occurred at the foster home. Allegations of a HSE cover-up, which the health service denies, have also not been probed.
Mr Dignam has recommended a commission of investigation examines this and other allegations.
The Government is now committed to launching the commission this autumn.
Much of the focus of the controversy has been on a non-verbal woman with severe intellectual disabilities, known as Grace, who is believed to have been subjected to horrific sexual and physical abuse at the home.
But there were 46 other young people in the foster home at various times and it is feared at least some of these were abused as well.
Although other children were removed from the home in 1996, four years after the health board initially became aware of abuse concerns, Grace was allowed to remain there until 2009.
During that time there were a number of opportunities to remove her, but the foster family resisted and, for reasons which are not fully clear, she remained there. Indeed, Grace appears to have been all but forgotten about until 2007 when her mother, who lives abroad, called to ask about her well-being.
But it would be a further two years before she was removed. This only occurred after her mother was made aware of injuries Grace suffered in the home.
The HSE apologised to Grace "for the significant failings of the service in meeting the service user's needs" over an extended period. It will not contest a legal case being taken on Grace's behalf. But the full extent of the HSE's failings remains unclear and no staff members have been disciplined.