Childcare lecturer worked on despite knowledge of sex assault

A childcare lecturer convicted of sexual assault charges was allowed to carry on in his post despite health chiefs, senior gardaí and the Government being made aware of the allegations against him.

An inquiry into Dr Niall McElwee, who resigned in disgrace from Athlone Institute of Technology only last year after his conviction became public, flagged up a litany of errors among several key State agencies.

The Garda, the then Midland Health Board, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) were all made aware of the attempted indecent assault claims against the lecturer that led to his conviction in 2005.

But there was no formal record of the Gardaí having contacted health chiefs as recommended under the National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children.

The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform said it sent a letter to gardaí and the DPP but did not contact the relevant health board, the Department for Health and Children or any State body for third-level education.

Dr McElwee’s employers in Athlone first learned of the allegations and subsequent conviction in July 2007.

The former childcare lecturer was on a health board-funded trip researching drug addiction in Amsterdam in June 2004 when he was arrested by Dutch police for attempting to sexually assault two young women in a hotel room.

In September, 2005, he was sentenced to a three-month prison term, suspended for two years, and fined €2,000.

But it was only when management at Athlone Institute of Technology became aware of the conviction last July that Dr McElwee resigned.

A 226-page report into the incident and child protection issues surrounding it by independent management consultant Conal Devine uncovers a muddled picture of a series of communication breakdowns between the main state agencies involved.

It also reveals that claims about who knew what within the Health Service Executive (HSE) in the Midlands remain contested and unclear.

The Health Promotion Manager of the Midland Health Board at the time, and acting co-ordinator of Midland Regional Drugs Task Force, was notified of the then allegations by a Garda Detective Sergeant who was on the trip with Dr McElwee.

Dr McElwee himself telephoned the Health Promotion Manager, unnamed in the report, about the allegations and said the girls involved were aged between 15 and 18 years.

Although the board’s Director of Public Health was advised, the inquiry found that that the senior official took no action in contacting child protection services, gardaí or Dr McElwee’s employers.

The director claims he told the Health Promotion Manager to talk with the board’s Assistant Chief Executive Officer (ACEO) and made sure child care professionals were informed.

The ACEO has denied she was contacted about the affair as has the Director of National Drug Strategy Team.

The investigation also found that Dr McElwee went on a study trip to Canada months after the incident on October 2004 with the knowledge of the Health Promotion Manager while no risk assessment was carried out.

Also, between March and Sept 2005, the Health Promotion Manager entered arrangements with Dr McElwee’s private consultancy company for a €40,000 project entitled “Youth Resilience”. There was no tendering process involved, the inquiry found.

Dr McElwee told the investigation that he told the Health Promotion Manager about his summons on the day he received it and his subsequent conviction - however this in turn has also been denied.

The HSE said the report is being referred to the its Human Resources Directorate to determine what, if any, implications there are under its policies.

A garda spokesman said the the force will examine the report with the view to identifying whether any changes to its formal procedures are required.

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