Tuesday 17 September 2019

Zappone was warned of crèche fears a year before scandal broke

Katherine Zappone: The Children's Minister said it would be inappropriate for her to intervene in a Tusla probe. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Katherine Zappone: The Children's Minister said it would be inappropriate for her to intervene in a Tusla probe. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Fears about the standard of care received by infants at the Hyde and Seek crèches were raised with Children's Minister Katherine Zappone more than a year ago, documents show.

Both Ms Zappone and Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe were alerted to problems at the Glasnevin centre.

The owner of the chain, Anne Davy, stepped down in July on foot of an 'RTÉ Investigates' documentary which showed overcrowded rooms and children being held down to sleep.

The crèche also operated for a substantial period without being registered with the child and family agency, Tusla.

It has now emerged two cabinet ministers were aware of concerns last August after a parent contacted Mr Donohoe.

Correspondence obtained by Fianna Fáil's Anne Rabbitte shows the parent sent Mr Donohoe a copy of a complaint they filed with Tusla.

It cited concerns about child/staff ratios "which I felt were unsuitable in that often my child was in a room with upwards of 15 children and there would be only one staff member there".

The parent claimed some workers spoke only "very rudimentary English" and raised other safety concerns.

However, they added that "stupidly" they had overlooked these issues amid concerns that complaining might result in their child been punished.

Mr Donohoe passed on information to the Children's Minister who acknowledged it was not registered with Tusla.

She said the Early Years Inspectorate, which is part of Tusla, was "aware of the service" but as Tusla was an independent legal entity it would be "inappropriate for me to interfere in any ongoing investigations".

Ms Rabbitte, Fianna Fáil's spokesperson on children, told the Irish Independent the result was not sufficient.

"For 14 months, this facility was allowed to provide care to children and pretend to parents that it was a properly registered, regulated service when it was in fact operating in the absence of any permission," the Galway TD said.

She questioned whether anything would have been done by the State authorities if it wasn't for a "diligent member of the public who repeatedly raised the flagrant breach of regulations".

"The minister should account for this long delay in bringing a service into line," Ms Rabbitte said.

A spokesperson for the Department of Children said Tusla was aware that Hyde and Seek had no licence from early 2018 and "made a series of attempts to prevent the service operation".

Legal proceedings were launched in August 2018 and continued until March of this year. "During this period, it was not possible for Tusla or the Department of Children and Youth Affairs to provide any further details in relation to the case, given the risk of prejudicing the outcome of those legal proceedings," they said.

The department said Tusla acted "robustly and used its power to the full extent".

However, it added that the issues faced by Tusla when trying to close an unregistered service are under consideration.

Ms Zappone had indicated it is examining whether legislation is needed to increase Tusla's powers so that it can close a facility with immediate effect.

Irish Independent

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