An exclusive creche probed during an undercover investigation into allegations of mistreatment of children has confirmed it has sacked one worker and suspended three others.
Links Childcare in Abington, in the affluent north Dublin coastal suburb of Malahide, said it took the action pending a full investigation. Management at the firm, which operates 10 creches in the capital, said it removed staff after seeing secret footage shot by RTE for an upcoming documentary on childcare standards.
Parents of children at Links were called to a meeting in the last week with Georgina Byrne, wife of Westlife star Nicky Byrne, attending with her sister, novelist Cecelia.
In a statement on Thursday night, the company said all its staff are suitably qualified, Garda-vetted and monitored while all childcare regulations are adhered to. Management said RTE was using just five minutes of footage despite the undercover reporter working at the creche for around 200 hours over five weeks.
"This does not represent a fair, balanced or proportionate representation of the professional care provided by the Abington staff," they said. "The company firmly believes that this incident is isolated to a specific staff member in the Abington creche and does not reflect the overall standard of care given to all children by its employees. Links Childcare management deeply regrets the distress caused by this incident." The company said it operates an "open door" policy at all its creches with parents welcome to visit at any time. A CCTV system is also in operation, with the signed consent of every parent, to review any suspected incidents and footage has been released to concerned parents in recent days to reassure them, it said.
Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore has said the Government is deeply concerned about the allegations, which he described as "shocking" and insisted Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald would give it her "highest priority". "These allegations tap into every parent's worst nightmare," Mr Gilmore said. "Parents need to have confidence and trust in the people who are looking after their children. As a Government we are deeply concerned."
Gardai have confirmed an investigation has been launched into allegations of mistreatment in childcare facilities in north and south Co Dublin. A separate probe is under way by the Health Service Executive (HSE), following issues raised by RTE. The Giraffe childcare centre in Belarmine near Stepaside in south Dublin confirmed a complaint was made against it after a researcher went undercover as an edu-carer and secretly filmed goings-on. The national broadcaster also informed gardai of the alleged mistreatment of children at the centre, and a complaint was filed with the HSE in late April.
The Tanaiste said the Children's Minister would follow the issue closely as it unfolds and would take "a personal interest in the investigations". The Government recently updated its Children First national guidelines, which were introduced for the protection and welfare of children. Mr Gilmore said work was being done to finalise legislation to put compliance to the guidelines on a statutory footing.
RTE confirmed its current affairs investigations unit had carried out research on a number of childcare centres for a forthcoming Prime Time programme to be aired next week. It has been in contact with parents of the children allegedly affected and is liaising with gardai. It will focus on three creches, the Links in Malahide, the Giraffe in Stepaside and Little Harvard in Rathnew, Co Wicklow. No evidence of violent or sexual abuse was found, RTE said. The broadcaster said gardai have been given footage, which will also be viewed by the HSE. Creche owners have also been given access to the material to be broadcast. "Any other parents with children in those creches who have concerns will be facilitated with a viewing of the programme before it is transmitted," RTE said.
The HSE said it received three anonymous complaints, believed to be from the RTE reporter, last month about the creches. It said the complaints are being processed and its staff "will continue to work to ensure that these childcare centres are providing a high quality of care and that any shortcomings are addressed adequately". The HSE said last year it undertook 2,644 routine inspections, 478 review inspections and 243 complaint investigations of childcare facilities. Creches are inspected on average every 18-24 months.