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Saturday 21 April 2018

Inquiry into authorities' handling of 'largest paedophile ring the country has ever seen'

Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone. Photo: Frank McGrath
Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone. Photo: Frank McGrath
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

An inquiry is being ordered into the handling by Tusla and An Garda Síochána of what is feared to be the largest paedophile ring the country has ever seen.

Minister for Children Katherine Zappone intends to commission an independent review of the management of the case, led by the Government's special rapporteur on child protection, Dr Geoffrey Shannon.

The move comes 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.

TDs were told that up to 20 children have been identified as alleged victims.

Eleven people were arrested in connection with the alleged paedophile ring earlier this month but were later released. Files are being prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Ms Zappone said that in agreement with Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan she was commissioning an independent review of what she described as "a complex and unusual case of severe neglect and alleged child sexual abuse".

Dr Shannon will be assisted in the inquiry by child welfare consultant Suzanne Phelan and retired Garda chief superintendent Pádraig Kennedy.

Ms Zappone said gardaí and Tusla had been "closely involved" in the case, while some other State bodies had also been involved "to some extent".

"We have agreed that while there is no evidence of any serious mishandling of the case by either Tusla or An Garda Síochána, due to the complexity of the current case it would be good practice to arrange for a short, focused independent serious incident review of the actions to date," said Ms Zappone.

The minister said the review would examine the management of the case, including the inter-agency activity and co-operation which primarily involved Tusla and gardaí.

"The primary purpose of the review is to ensure that any learning which may arise is captured at the earliest possible opportunity and informs future work," she added.

"I am assured that all the children identified as victims of this abuse have been taken into care. No specific details of the case can be discussed, and I am conscious that it is illegal under the Child Care Act 1991 to publish information that could lead to the identification of a child in care."

Dr Shannon will assist in the drafting of the terms of reference for the review and advice will be sought from the Attorney General so that it does not prejudice the Garda inquiry.

The minister said it was intended the review would be completed as soon as possible and publication of its findings considered, subject to legal advice.

Tusla has declined to comment on how matters were handled, stating that it cannot discuss individual cases.

It is understood that Ms Zappone has been informed by Tusla that it managed the case as best it could, but the agency accepted its handling of the matter was not perfect and there were issues which needed to be examined.

Earlier this month, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said the scale of what has been alleged was "shocking and may represent a first in this country".

Separately, a senior figure familiar with the investigation told the Irish Independent: "It will be the biggest abuse case in the history of the State and explosive for the State agencies."

Both Ms Zappone and Mr Flanagan were briefed about the situation around the time the arrests were made.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has also expressed concern.

Mr Varadkar told the Dáil the crimes alleged were "shocking, abhorrent and truly disgusting" and that the Government would fully support gardaí in the fight against all forms of child sexual exploitation.

Irish Independent

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