Sunday 16 December 2018

Foster child who was raped was met by 'wall of silence' from agencies

Victims of sexual abuse push for full commission of investigation

Rachel Barry, who was raped at a foster home when she was eight, waived her anonymity. Photo: RTÉ
Rachel Barry, who was raped at a foster home when she was eight, waived her anonymity. Photo: RTÉ
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

One of the victims raped within a foster family setting was met with a wall of silence from State agencies for years, her solicitor has said.

They are now calling for a commission of investigation to be established to get the answers they are looking for.

The woman, known by the pseudonym Sarah, was one of three girls raped by Keith Burke (29) of Addergoolemore, Dunmore, Co Galway, along with Rachel Barry, who waived her anonymity so that Burke could be identified.

Another girl, known as Amy, was also repeatedly abused by Burke during her years in foster care.

Ronan Hynes, a solicitor acting for Sarah, said many unanswered questions remain about the failings of the State to protect the girls and they are now pushing strongly for a commission of investigation to be established to get the answers the victims and their families are looking for.

"Our client and her family have in the past been met by a wall of silence from the HSE and Tusla," he said.

He acknowledged the apology given "unreservedly" by the HSE but said that it "in no way diminishes" their determination to seek a full inquiry.

In the Dáil, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar pledged that recommendations from an investigation into the case will be acted upon.

He said an inquiry had been initiated in April 2016 under the National Review Panel which comprised a range of experts working in the child care sector.

And he pledged the child care agency, Tusla, will act on the review recommendations while a report, delayed by a criminal case, is expected soon.

"Sexual crimes against children are the worst form of crime: abhorrent, unspeakable and unforgivable," the Taoiseach said.

Health Minister Simon Harris told the Irish Independent the bravery of the women in coming forward had "touched everybody in the country".

Asked if anybody would be held responsible within the HSE for what had occurred, he said it was important he did not say anything prejudicial but added: "There's a clear need for answers as to who made those decisions that clearly put children at risk of the most heinous crime.

"On an absolute personal and human level, it's clear to me that there is going to be a need for further action but I think we should be guided by the work of the review panel."

However, the solicitor for Sarah rejected the National Review Panel inquiry as being insufficient.

"Sarah and her family do not believe for one second that a review by the National Review Panel, which is commissioned by Tusla, will lead to a full, independent and transparent inquiry," he said.

He added that this needed to be a watershed moment for the foster care system in Ireland - and in particular the responsible State agencies.

Catherine Bond, CEO of the Irish Foster Care Association, said the checks and balances needed to protect children in care had failed in the Dunmore situation.

She added that the fostering community was now questioning how this failure could have occurred.

Ms Bond called for more resources to be invested in the system so that social workers can spend proper "quality time" with children and build up trust.

Meanwhile, support group One in Four said it was "saddened but not surprised by the litany of failures of statutory child protection services to protect vulnerable children".

Maeve Lewis, head of the agency which helps those affected by childhood abuse, said it had seen an increase in calls by those affected by the revelations.

She acknowledged changes in Tusla but said recent "very damning" reports by Hiqa told of some children in foster care with no designated social worker, while a Garda inspectorate report warned of failures in the force's capacity to work collaboratively with Tusla.

Irish Independent

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