Dáil committee claims HSE trying to cover up sex abuse allegations against foster care family

By Fiachra Ó Cionnaith, Political Reporter

Serious allegations that vulnerable people with intellectual disabilities suffered decades of severe sexual abuse at the hands of a foster care family will be forwarded to the garda commissioner over claims the issue is being covered up.

A powerful Dáil committee agreed to take the action today after hitting out at the ongoing delays in examining and resolving the situation.

As revealed by the Irish Examiner earlier this week, over Christmas the Dáil public accounts committee received a significantly curtailed, 24-page version of a 200-page report into serious allegations of sexual abuse in the south east.

The report is based on claims a single foster care family in the south east, with whom more than 40 vulnerable children and teens with severe intellectual disabilities were placed between 1983 and 2009, abused a number of the individuals in their care.

The then South Eastern Health Board became aware of concerns in 1992, before social workers were told to remove all children in 1995.

However, due to a serious error that continues to have ramifications today, one woman who was mute was accidentally left with the family until 2009, allegedly suffering severe sexual, physical and financial abuse during the period.

When the mistake was uncovered in 2009 the HSE removed the woman from the placement and opened the first of a series of investigations into what happened, which managers were responsible and what disciplinary measures were needed.

However, despite these reports costing hundreds of thousands of euro and having been concluded a number of years ago, none have been published - with the 24 pages obtained by the PAC only provided after a 16-month Freedom of Information Act battle between the HSE and a whistle-blower social worker who has repeatedly pushed for all records to be released.

Hitting out at the ongoing delays at today's PAC meeting, committee chair and Fianna Fáil TD John McGuinness and committee vice-chair and Fine Gael TD John Deasy lashed the HSE for what they have claimed is an attempt to cover up what happened.

File photo of John McGuinness.
File photo of John McGuinness.

After discussion among the cross-party committee, it was agreed to forward all files to garda commissioner Noirin O Sullivan and the Department of the Taoiseach in a bid to ensure action is taken.

The HSE's position throughout the affair has been that it cannot legally publish the reports into what happened until a long-standing garda investigation concludes.

However, Mr Deasy said this is a smoke-screen to prevent information from being released, and that officers are now examining whether they can take a "criminal negligence" case against HSE managers responsible for what happened.

While the HSE has claimed it apologised directly to the birth mother of the woman who was allegedly victimised in the home, Mr Deasy said he has spoken to individuals close to the process and that no apology was ever made.

Update (2.05pm): "We agreed this morning to forward all the paperwork relative to this case to the Taoiseach's office, because it goes to the heart of Government in terms of the reform that's necessary in the HSE, and indeed the change of culture that's needed in the context of how the State treats its citizens," PAC chairman John McGuinness has said.

"In this particular case, it has treated vulnerable, mentally challenged individuals in the most appalling way."

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