Wednesday 21 March 2018

'The State failed to protect vulnerable people in our care'

HSE Director Tony O'Brien
HSE Director Tony O'Brien
Wayne O'Connor

Wayne O'Connor

An investigation is to be carried out by the Government into allegations of sexual abuse at a foster home in the South East.

It comes as Primary and Social Care Minister Kathleen Lynch admitted the Government had failed to protect the vulnerable people at the heart of the allegations.

The new Commission of Investigation will not be established for at least another three months as the Government waits for an independent report to be finished.

The conclusions of the report will be used as the terms of reference for the Commission of Investigation.

Ms Lynch said the investigation would not interfere with an ongoing Garda criminal inquiry into the allegations of physical and sexual abuse.

"It is clear that there have been failures in protecting vulnerable people in our care," she said.

"For a number of reasons, it has been difficult to establish the facts with certainty. This has been acknowledged and I am confident that through the Commission of Investigation we can resolve this," the minister added.

"You can have a Commission of Investigation provided that you draw up a terms of reference that says nothing in that investigation will interfere with any criminal investigation or any other investigation. While this is very much in the public interest, it is also in the interest of those vulnerable people who are directly affected and their families."

The independent report by barrister Conor Dignam will not be concluded until the end of April.

"That will give us the type of questions that need to be answered, where the gaps are and that will allow us to draw up the terms of reference for the commission," said Ms Lynch.

"That is the independent element of this. He knows what he is doing and he has done a lot of work in this area."

However, the investigation will have to get the approval of Cabinet and then it needs to be voted on in the Oireachtas before getting the final go-ahead.

Two other internal HSE reports on the alleged abuse will also be used as part of the investigation. "We want this to be very focused, we want it to be very clear and we want to make sure that we get the answers that we need," said Ms Lynch.

"Both myself and Minister (Leo) Varadkar have formally requested and, on the advice of the Attorney General's office, been told that we can have the two reports," she added.

"They will also form a part of what Conor Dignam will look at and also, if the commission decides, will form a part of that."

She said the Government's decision will not interfere with the Public Accounts Committee, which is due to meet with HSE Director General Tony O'Brien today.

The investigation is unlikely to be established before the Dáil is dissolved by Taoiseach Enda Kenny ahead of the General Election but Ms Lynch said she would be surprised if the next government did not approve it.

"I strongly believe it is in the public interest that we establish the facts surrounding vulnerable people who were placed in this foster home," she said.

"Even if we had not decided to have a Commission of Investigation now, we probably would have decided it when Conor Dignam's report is completed," she added.

"We concluded, having consulted with both the Tánaiste and the Taoiseach, that the only way forward in this whole area is to commission a statutory Commission of Investigation," Ms Lynch added.

Irish Independent

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