'Lies and misrepresentation' - HSE asked by PAC to explain ‘non-apology’ to woman it allowed remain in foster home despite abuse allegations

John McGuinness. Photo: Tom Burke

Shane Phelan Public Affairs Editor

THE HSE is to be called before the Dail spending watchdog to explain why an intellectually disabled woman abused as a child in foster care did not receive an apology she was promised.

HSE officials had said an apology was made to the woman following a meeting with her and a care worker in recent weeks.

However, the Dail Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has heard this has been disputed by the woman’s care worker and her family.

Its chairman John McGuinness said the episode showed how the HSE “circled the wagons” and was guilty of “lies” and “misrepresentation”.

The woman at the centre of the case was one of 47 children placed by health authorities at a foster home in the southeast over a 26-year period.

She spent 20 of those years in the home - 17 of which came after the then South Eastern Health Board was informed of abuse allegations there.

Following a meeting between HSE officials and the woman and her care worker, the HSE issued a lengthy statement to the PAC in which it was stated an apology was being made to the woman for failings in her care.

However, PAC vice-chairman John Deasy said the HSE officials who held the meeting with the woman and her care worker did not make any apology and insist they were not instructed to do so.

He said they felt “misrepresented” by statements issued by the HSE in which it was stated an apology was made.

The allegations of abuse at the home and the response to those claims by health officials is the subject of an ongoing investigation by gardai.

In a briefing document compiled for the PAC, the HSE said it was apologising to people “who received poor care when placed with the foster family”.

Some 47 children were placed at the foster home between 1983 and 1995.

In the briefing document, the HSE admitted the former Southern Health Board was aware of concerns of abuse in the home as far back as 1992.

But new referrals only ceased in 1995.

One woman with a profound intellectual disability who was placed there as a child in 1989, was not removed by the HSE until 2009.

PAC vice-chairman John Deasy told a previous hearing of the committee it was his understanding garda investigations were probably going to consider whether certain officials were guilty of “criminal negligence”.

“These children were effectively thrown into a particular foster home and forgotten about, without any oversight being given in the years afterwards,” he said.

“And when the warnings did occur, they were ignored. In one case there were written serious concerns documented and backed up, but they actually sent the girl back [to the foster home].”

Two independent reports were commissioned by the HSE into allegations regarding the foster home.

Neither has been published to date. The HSE said gardai had advised that to do so may adversely affect ongoing investigations.

However, the HSE said it intended to publish the reports when given clearance to do so.

One report, conducted by consultant Conal Devine and completed in 2012, focussed on the woman who lived there for 20 years.

A second report, by consultancy firm Resilience Ireland and completed last year, sought to track down and interview the families of all of the children who had been at the home.

According to the HSE briefing document, 35 families were interviewed by Resilience Ireland.

One family complained of sexual abuse, one of physical abuse, ten complained of overcrowding, seven regarding lack of supervision and 16 about poor admission and discharge arrangements.

However, 18 families expressed positive views about the placement.

The HSE briefing document said the Devine report had identified specific concerns in respect of duty of care and individual and collective responsibility.

Among its recommendations were that the HSE adopt a policy for the protection of vulnerable adults with a disability, and that this should also be adopted by voluntary agencies and nominated service providers.

The HSE said it had already acted on the recommendations, despite the fact the report had yet to be published.