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Commission of investigation into foster home abuse allegations

Published 01/02/2016

Health Minister Leo Varadkar supports the statutory commission of investigation into the foster home
Health Minister Leo Varadkar supports the statutory commission of investigation into the foster home

A commission of investigation is to be set up into allegations of abuse and cover-up at a foster home in the south east.

The scandal involves a woman with intellectual disabilities being kept in the home until 2009 - 13 years after other foster children were removed amid concerns over risk.

The Health Service Executive (HSE) further compounded the controversy after it emerged the agency did not apologise to the woman and her family even though it told a parliamentary committee it had.

The Public Accounts Committee claimed it had been misled and lied to over the affair after whistleblowers wrote to TDs and exposed the inaction by the HSE and allegations of horrific abuse.

Junior minister in the Department of Health Kathleen Lynch has support from Health Minister Leo Varadkar for the statutory commission of investigation.

"We need to be precise and focused on the questions that remain unanswered. I strongly believe it is in the public interest that we establish the facts surrounding vulnerable people who were placed in this foster home," she said.

Barrister Conor Dignam SC was already tasked with reviewing standards in the foster home when the allegations of abuse and cover-up reignited almost a year after they were first reported.

His report is expected by the end of April.

The ministers have sought copies of two other reports on allegations about abuse at the care home.

"We believe that direct access by us to these reports - using these legislative powers - will greatly assist us in understanding the facts surrounding the disturbing allegations about events in a foster home in the south east of the country which have been the subject of much attention recently," Ms Lynch said.

The ministers met HSE chiefs over the affair for two hours today.

Ms Lynch said: "It is clear that there have been failures in protecting vulnerable people in our care.

"For a number of reasons, it has been difficult to establish the facts with certainty. This has been acknowledged and I am confident that through the commission of investigation we can resolve this.

"While this is very much in the public interest, it is also in the interest of those vulnerable people who are directly affected and their families."

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tanaiste Joan Burton met to discuss the plans for the statutory inquiry and for the two ministers to brief the rest of cabinet on the issue.

HSE director general Tony O'Brien is due before the Public Accounts Committee tomorrow over the handling of the abuse allegations and questions over claims apologies were made to affected families.

The case centres around a foster home in the south east where 47 adults and children with intellectual disabilities were placed by the health services between 1983 and 2013.

The vast majority of the foster children were removed by 1996 after allegations of abuse emerged.

At least one woman remained in the home until 2009 and is alleged to have suffered sexual abuse despite authorities having been warned by social workers over the risks.

It is understood a number of others were placed in the home privately after concerns were first raised.

The HSE said a statutory commission of investigation would assist the former residents and families who are most affected to get information.

"This is particularly important as the HSE has not been in a position to publish its two completed reports... due to an ongoing An Garda investigation," the agency said.

"A statutory commission such as this would also serve to provide absolute clarity to many of the conflicting accounts concerning certain matters that have been reported by different media outlets over the past number of months."

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