Fears 16 children in four families were abused by largest paedophile ring ever seen in Ireland
- Eleven people, ranging in age from their 20s up to their 70s, were arrested
- Varadkar: 'Shocking, abhorrent and truly disgusting'
SIXTEEN children in four families are alleged to have been abused and neglected by what is feared to be the largest paedophile ring the country has ever seen.
The number of children involved in the shocking case was confirmed by Children's Minister Katherine Zappone.
Eleven people, ranging in age from their 20s up to their 70s, were arrested in connection with the alleged ring in March, but no one has been charged to date.
Files are being prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions.
The minister clarified the number of children allegedly affected while responding to a parliamentary question submitted by Fianna Fáil TD Niall Collins.
He had been seeking information on when an expert review, focussing on the handling of the case by Garda and Tusla authorities, will be completed.
He was told draft terms of reference for the review, to be led by Special Rapporteur on Child Protection Dr Geoffrey Shannon, are currently being considered by the Attorney General and the Department of Justice.
The review was announced by Ms Zappone and Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan in March after the Dáil heard claims a whistleblower in the welfare sector had voiced concerns over the urgency of the response of State agencies when allegations first came to light.
Ms Zappone described the case as "complex and serious", involving the "alleged child abuse and neglect" of 16 children in four families.
"While there is no evidence of any serious mishandling of the case by either Tusla or An Garda Síochána, I considered that it would be good practice to arrange for a short, focused independent serious incident review of the actions taken in the case," Ms Zappone said.
"The primary purpose of the review is to ensure that any learning which may arise is captured and informs future work," she added.
The minister said Dr Shannon has been helping with the drafting of the terms of reference.
However, she could not say when Dr Shannon's team is likely to complete its work.
"It is not possible to give a timeframe for the delivery of the report at this stage, given the complex and unusual nature of this case, and the importance of ensuring that this non-statutory review does not risk prejudicing the on-going investigation and criminal prosecution," said Ms Zappone.
Dr Shannon will be helped in the inquiry by child welfare consultant Suzanne Phelan and retired Garda chief superintendent Pádraig Kennedy.
Ms Zappone has previously said the review will examine the management of the case, including the inter-agency activity and co-operation which primarily involved Tusla and gardaí.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has previously told the Dáil the scale of what has been alleged is "shocking and may represent a first in this country".
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has also previously expressed concern in the Dáil, saying that what was alleged was "shocking, abhorrent and truly disgusting" and that the Government would fully support Garda efforts in the fight against all forms of child sexual exploitation.
A source familiar with the investigation has told the Irish Independent it will be the biggest abuse case in the history of the State and explosive for the State agencies.
Dr Shannon previously uncovered overwhelming inadequacies in the way that information was shared between gardaí and Tusla during an examination of the exercise of Garda powers to remove children from the home under Section 12 of the Childcare Act.