Updated at 8:00pm
THE MINISTER FOR Primary and Social Care, Kathleen Lynch, has said that serious consideration must be given to establishing a Commission of Inquiry into allegations of physical and sexual abuse at a state-backed foster home.
Earlier this week, the HSE confirmed it had formally apologised to a woman with an intellectual disability who was allegedly abused for two decades at the home.
She is one of 47 children and young adults placed in the home between 1983 and 2009.
Speaking on Morning Ireland earlier today, Fergus Finlay, chief executive of children’s charity Barnardos, said the lapse in action taken to protect these vulnerable young people “is perhaps the worst I have ever heard”.
“People in this case, Irish citizens, were treated in unspeakable ways – tortured and degraded in unspeakable ways, and they were the responsibility of the state … If lapses occur, accountability must follow.
“There is a massive file on this case which must be published. This is not historic, some of the victims are still very much alive.”
The Conal Devine report examined the alleged abuse of the woman at the centre of the case, who cannot speak, between 1989 and 2009 (when she was 11-31 years old). It has not been published due to a request from gardaí who are investigating many of the allegations.
The then-South Eastern Health Board ended all summer respite and longer term placements at the home by 1995, but the woman was left there until 2009.
Commenting on the controversy today, Minister Lynch questioned why the woman was left at the home until 2009.
“The critical question of why this young vulnerable person was left in the foster home until 2009 even though the most serious concerns had been raised about her remains the central issue,” she said.
She said that full consideration must be given before any decision is made about establishing a Commission of Inquiry to look at all aspects of what happened in the south east.
Finlay also said an explanation must be given as to why the decision to remove all children from the foster home was reversed.
A decision was taken, apparently that decision was reversed. The family involved made some kind of an appeal and their appeal was upheld, by whom I don’t know. We need to know … We don’t know by whom and we don’t know on what basis.
“I want the Minister for Health to investigate. It didn’t happen on his watch, it happened well before his time, but he has access to all these files.”
In recent days, the HSE was forced to deny lying about making an apology to the woman. Last week, Fine Gael TD John Deasy told the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) the organisation had not apologised as claimed.
A whistleblower, the woman’s social worker, backed up Deasy’s claim.
On Wednesday, a spokesperson for the HSE told us: “While the HSE has acted in good faith, some misunderstanding has arisen in relation to the nature of the apology offered. The HSE very much regrets any misunderstanding around the level of, or the fullness of, the apology.”
In a separate statement read out this morning Minister Lynch said she said she has asked the HSE to “urgently clarify the situation regarding the differing accounts surrounding the communication of an apology to this young woman and her birth mother”.
She called the confusion and complete lack of clarity surrounding the HSE apology “very regrettable”.
HSE chief Tony O’Brien was also not available for interview this morning as he was attending a meeting of the emergency department taskforce.
Finlay described the row over whether or not the initial apology was made as “unseemly”, adding that the families involved are due “much more”, namely an explanation.
They have a right to know. We, the public, have a right to know how these decisions were made … This was a failure to protect Irish citizens in the care of the state, and it was an egregious failure to protect them.
Also on Morning Ireland, PAC chief John McGuinness said:
Why is it that officials within the health board at the time who had known about this did not do enough about it and did not do enough to protect the young woman who was there for 20 years?
“I have to say I have never come across such descriptions in all of my time in politics.
“It is extremely disturbing, and what disturbs me even more is the fact that the political response to this, the government response to this – in terms of the HSE, the minister, down through the years, not just now … has left the 47 families in a state of trauma and shock.”
With reporting from Cormac Fitzgerald