HSE ‘clique’ accused of covering up foster care sex abuse

There have been cross-party calls for an investigation into the HSE’s handling of claims that up to 40 intellectually disabled children were sexually abused by a foster care family over two decades.

Members of the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee who are familiar with the case made the call during a tense meeting with senior HSE managers yesterday.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil TDs John Deasy and John McGuinness said a “commission of investigation” must be set up into the claims as it has been alleged a “clique of HSE managers” covered up the abuse.

While the HSE has rejected the allegation, saying it has conducted its own investigation and is helping gardaí with their inquiries, the TDs said the 2012 HSE report has yet to be published and was conducted by former HSE managers without any tendering process.

They maintain that an independent investigation is required.

The case alleges that up to 40 children and young adults with intellectual disabilities, including a number who were “mute”, were abused at a Waterford foster home for two decades.

When health service officials were first made aware of the allegations — which include repeated rapes and claims that children and teens were made to live in cubby holes beneath the stairs and “out-houses” — in 1992, vulnerable children had already been placed with the family for a decade.

In 1995, officials were ordered by senior social workers to stop placing anyone else with the family and to find alternatives for anyone still living with them while the issues were examined. However, despite this request, one woman who Mr McGuinness said had “suffered the most serious abuse” and is now living with multiple internal injuries, was left with the family for 13 years.

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The family at the centre of the case included a male and female couple and a younger relative, all of whom are alleged to have taken part in the abuse. The woman is the only one still alive.

While the then South Eastern Health Board believed they were the only institution placing children with them, the family were also taking placements from the Brothers of Charity and “independently” of any organisation.

Mr Deasy said the allegations are the worst he has heard “in 16 years as a public representative” and involve “rape” and “the alleged sexual abuse of mentally disabled children”.

Claiming “a clique in the HSE swept all this under the carpet” and a “cover-up”, he said some managers have since been “promoted” to other roles in the HSE and Tusla.

Mr McGuinness said it is not appropriate for ex-HSE managers to conduct inquiries, regardless of their qualifications or integrity.

HSE director general Tony O’Brien and national director of social care Pat Healy said that when the latest whistleblower claims were made in 2009, they immediately set up an investigation.

This report was finished in 2012 but gardaí have asked for it not to be published until the State’s own inquiries conclude, and strongly defended their investigators’ independence.

Gardaí in Waterford are understood to feel the HSE has provided significant information, but that the nature of the alleged victims’ conditions means it has been difficult to prosecute.

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