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Incest scandal: probe team has few powers

Fears grew last night that the inquiry into the Roscommon “house of horrors” will fail to uncover the full truth of the scandal due to a lack of legal powers.

The four-person team — which, in a surprise choice, includes two senior Health Service Executive (HSE) officials — will have no powers to compel people to give evidence or demand documents.

Its terms of reference are confined to how the health service alone managed the case and will not extend to the decisions taken by teachers, doctors or even the mysterious right-wing Catholic group which allegedly funded a High Court action to prevent the six children, who suffered severe neglect and one of whom was sexually abused by the mother, being put in care.

A spokesman for the HSE insisted last night the team will be able to “access all relevant information. All the staff involved in the delivery of care in this case are HSE staff and, having already completed the preliminary review, there has been full co-operation from staff involved”. The Roscommon abuse inquiry team, chaired by Norah Gibbons, the director of advocacy at Barnardos includes Leonie Lunney, former chief executive of Comhairle, which runs citizens’ advice offices.

But in a move which has led to fresh accusations that the HSE is “investigating itself”, the other two members have been named as Paul Harrison, a national childcare specialist; and Gerry O’Neill, a national manager with specialist childcare responsibility. Both are colleagues of the people under investigation.

“It defies the use of the English language to describe it as an independent review. I would not cast any aspersions on them but it is not an independent group,” said TD Alan Shatter yesterday.

Mr Shatter said he is determined to put a motion before the Dail this week seeking an independent commission of investigation with powers to compel witnesses and secure documentation covering not just the former Western Health Board but the HSE as well as teachers, doctors and nurses.

Central to the probe will be finding out why children who were on the HSE neglect register since 1996, and who were visibly and grossly neglected, were not taken into care until 2004.

A spokesman for Children’s Minister Barry Andrews said yesterday Mr Andrews was "satisfied" that the proposed inquiry would achieve its outcomes.

But in a further blow to public confidence in the childcare system, Laverne McGuinness, the national HSE director with responsibility for the area, yesterday admitted that they were only now trying to get various health regions to apply protection and welfare guidelines uniformly.

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