Thursday 22 February 2018

Gardai investigate 'cover-up' of sex abuse at HSE-funded home

Gardai. File picture
Gardai. File picture
Daniel McConnell

Daniel McConnell

Gardai are investigating allegations that the Health Service Executive (HSE) "covered up" claims of abuse, including sexual abuse, against 40 children with intellectual disabilities over a 20-year period.

Two whistleblowers have this month come forward to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) with an extensive dossier of allegations about alleged abuse against children and adults who stayed at a foster home in the South East.

The dossier has been formally accepted by PAC, whose chairman John McGuinness formally reported the matter to Gardai at Pearse Street station in Dublin last Thursday.

In the dossier - seen by the Sunday Independent - health bosses have been accused of failing to fully probe the allegations of sexual and physical abuse, which were formally disclosed to the HSE in 2009.

Six years after the claims were made to the HSE and gardai, the horrific details of what happened by a long-term foster family are only emerging.

The Sunday Independent has learned of allegations of how the children with intellectual disabilities were emotionally, physically, sexually and financially abused over many years.

The allegations of ghastly abuse date back to the 1990s and cover a 20-year period, which could involve up to 40 young people with disabilities.

"The HSE's mishandling of suspected abuse of adults and children with intellectual disabilities, we are concerned the HSE mishandled this situation and were failing to address concerns I had raised in order to cover up their failures," the dossier states.

The whistleblowers said this failure has caused people with intellectual disabilities to be "placed at risk of the most horrendous abuse for 20 years".

The dossier states that one person was "eventually removed" from the home due to concerns "about abuse, including sexual abuse which the South East Health Board had been aware of since 1995".

One source, familiar with the case, told the Sunday Independent: "This is the most horrendous level of abuse with young children being locked under the stairs by their carers. One of the children, who is unable to verbalise what happened, was removed from the home after acting out sexual acts and positions to carers outside of the home."

The Sunday Independent has learned these allegations were initially reported to the HSE in 2009 by the whistleblowers. An internal report was compiled in 2012, but the investigation has still not seen the light of day, despite costing in excess of €100,000.

In the Dail last Tuesday, Mr McGuinness said the abuse allegations were reported to the HSE, but "no action was taken". He said under privilege that taxpayers' money has been used to pay for the report "in breach" of procurement practices and to "assist in the cover-up of sexual abuse".

It is understood that, because of a "complex series of litigation", the HSE's investigations have been slowed down.

The HSE this weekend confirmed it is currently performing a "sweep" of those who would have stayed at the foster home and it is close to concluding its investigations.

"Since the HSE became aware of this case, involving one foster family in 2010, it has taken the matter very seriously," a spokesman told the Sunday Independent.

"The HSE has been, and remains, in contact with an Garda Siochana in relation to this matter and has provided all relevant information to that authority. Given the Garda involvement, the HSE is limited in what information can be put into the public domain at this time," he added.

A spokesman for Junior Health Minister Kathleen Lynch said her focus was now on ensuring the issue is "properly investigated".

Sunday Independent

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