Kathleen Lynch 'doesn't know' if HSE has disciplined staff for foster care abuse case

By Fiachra Ó Cionnaith, Political Reporter

Social Care Minister Kathleen Lynch has admitted she doesn't know if any HSE official has been disciplined for the horrific foster care abuse case in the south east, two decades after it happened.

The Labour Cork South Central TD confirmed the lack of information on whether any action has been taken against individuals who left a mute woman with severe intellectual disabilities in a home 13 years after allegations of extreme sexual, physical and financial abuse took place.

As previously reported by the Irish Examiner, the case involves a single foster care family in the south east of the country with whom 47 vulnerable children and teens were placed between 1983 and 2009.

After a complaint of sexual abuse by another service user in 1992, the then South Eastern Health Board launched an initial investigation and recommended that all placements ceased with immediate effect in 1995.

While all children and teens, the majority of whom were placed with the family for summer and short-term respite, were subsequently removed one woman was inadvertently left with the family until 2009 as she had turned 18 in 1996 and was no longer overseen by child and minor services.

Over these years she is alleged to have suffered extreme sexual abuse with instruments, was made to live in a cubby hole under the stairs and - when she was removed from the home - needed to be immediately taken to a dentist to have teeth extracted such was the alleged lack of care she received.

The case was only uncovered in 2007, but local HSE personnel did not inform national managers until 2009 after two whistleblowers had come forward to raise concerns.

The HSE subsequently launched the Conal Devine report in 2010, which concluded in 2012, and the Resilience Ireland report, which concluded in 2015.

However, despite the these reports costing more than €300,000 in taxpayers' money and detailing the alleged mismanagement of the case by HSE personnel who have since been promoted, only 14 significantly curtailed pages have been published after drawn out Freedom of Information Act battles.

The HSE insists it cannot publish the documents due to ongoing garda investigations, which are understood to now be focussing on claims of "reckless endangerment" by HSE personnel due to their handling of the case.

However, speaking to reporters at Labour's ard fheis this evening, Social Care Minister Kathleen Lynch admitted she does not know if anyone has been disciplined for what happened.

"No, I don't know if any disciplinary action was taken, but again it's one of the questions that we need answers to, and I again I really do feel the type of scoping exercise that Conor Duignam [a senior counsel appointed by Ms Lynch last summer to review the case] is now involved in.

"We have to wait and see exactly what he comes out with," she said.

Meanwhile, Ms Lynch has insisted she was never opposed to setting up a commission of inquiry into the case despite turning down a request by the Dáil's public accounts committee - which has repeatedly raised the matter - last summer.

The Labour TD said that "what actually has been my position from the very outset" is to allow Mr Duignam to carry out a "more in-depth review of what happened".

"It wasn't as if you could just jump in and say we need to have a public inquiry straight away. I never ruled out a public inquiry. I always felt that first of all we need to know as much as we could know what happened and who is responsible.

"That type of investigation is now happening and when we find out the results, which I hope will be as quickly as possible, it won't be years it won't be months [we can decided what course of action to take]," she said.

It is understood Mr Duignam has been given access to dozens of boxes of records relating to the case which were held by both the HSE and the Department of Children, and has been given full access to these files.

On December 7, the senior counsel's initial desktop review was extended to a full review which must be completed by the end of June. However, sources insist this is not because he has found anything specific and that the full review was always planned.

The HSE, which has been caught up in a national controversy over disputed claims it apologised to the woman at the centre of the abuse allegations, is due to appear at an emergency meeting of the Dáil's public accounts committee on Tuesday.

However, this meeting could be cancelled if the general election is called on that date.

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