Ireland’s child protection watchdog can give no “cast iron guarantee” the RTÉ creche scandal is not being repeated in other services after it emerged 37 other creches are on a high-risk safety register.
Authorities faced calls to introduce mandatory CCTV creche footage and to open ongoing inspection files to parents amid widespread fears about hidden problems in the sector.
During an emergency Oireachtas children’s committee meeting launched after last week’s RTÉ Investigates creche expose, Tusla and Department of Children officials tried to assure parents their children are not at risk.
However, while stressing strict inspection services exist, officials admitted they could not say the Hyde and Seek creche scandal is not being repeated elsewhere.
Responding to Fianna Fáil’s children’s spokesperson Anne Rabbitte and the committee’s Fine Gael chair Alan Farrell, Tusla’s quality assurance director Brian Lee said there are 37 full-day creche services on “what we consider to be a national registration panel” after several Tusla inspections.
Mr Lee, interim Tusla chief executive Pat Smyth, and the Department of Children’s assistant secretary general Bernie McNally told the committee all 4,435 creche services have been inspected, including 2,513 inspections last year alone, and stressed the RTÉ exposé was an “horrific exception”.
Despite emphasising that “the vast majority of creches are safe”, both officials admitted they cannot be 100% certain the problems are not being mirrored elsewhere, with Mr Smyth warning: “In sectors like this, you can never give a cast iron guarantee that it will never happen again.”
The admission came during a meeting in which Tusla and the Department of Children faced demands for strict new rules to be introduced to ensure the safety of children.
Fine Gael senator Catherine Noone said CCTV systems should be introduced to prevent a repeat of “every parents’ worst nightmare”.
However, while Tusla’s quality assurance director Mr Lee backed the plan Ms McNally and Mr Smyth cautioned against the unintended risks of videoing young children.
Officials also confirmed they are considering plans to give parents greater access to inspection files, with Sinn Féin’s Denise Mitchell saying “they have a right to know what’s going on”.
However, Labour’s Sean Sherlock warned “I’m not sure I’ve heard anything here today that would give me confidence”, while Sinn Féin’s Kathleen Funchion said she was disgusted by the evidence heard.
“I honestly have to ask if you’re, if Tusla, is fit for purpose. What if we were here today because of the death of children because of a fire?”
It has emerged a family whose child was being cared for by the Hyde and Seek creche raised concerns about the facility with politicians and child protection services more than a year ago.
The case, which was raised by Ms Rabbitte during yesterday’s Oireachtas committee meeting, involved a family who removed their child from the facility due to what Ms Rabbitte said was a “gut” concern.
In June 2018 the family contacted all TDs in their Dublin Central constituency — Paschal Donohoe, Mary Lou McDonald, and Maureen O’Sullivan.
Ms O’Sullivan later formally asking the Department of Children to clarify if there were any issues at the facility.