Tusla not fit for purpose, says solicitor, amid claims Galway foster home rapes 'not an isolated incident'

Tusla not fit for purpose, says solicitor, amid claims Galway foster home rapes 'not an isolated incident'

A solicitor for two of the three girls raped while living at a foster home in Galway between 2003 and 2007 says it is "not an isolated incident".

Ronan Hynes made the comments in the wake of a damning report which identified “systemic flaws in management” in how the cases of the abuse of three girls while in foster care were handled by the HSE and Tusla.

The report lists a catalogue of failures, which saw three children suffer “grave and heinous sexual abuse” while in the care of the State.

Mr Hynes told RTÉ's News at One that the contents of the report "call into serious question the ability of the State agencies to properly exercise their statutory functions which are, of course, to improve outcomes for children".

When asked if Tusla is fit for purpose, Mr Hynes said that anyone reading the report "would struggle to find in the affirmative". He also said that, while the standard of foster care is very high in Ireland, "this is not an isolated incident".

"I think the time has now come, and the report findings certainly warrant, that there is an independent audit and review within Tusla carried out by an independent expert to review its systems, its structures, its level of resources to ensure that that organisation is fit for purpose to carry out its statutory functions which are to protect the welfare and safety of children in this country," he said.

Speaking in Cork, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that, while he hasn't seen the unpublished report, the Government will act once it is published.

Mr Varadkar said: “We have made some very significant strides when it comes to child protection in recent years - in particular, the fact that reporting of child abuse is now mandatory, and that was only introduced in the last two years. But there is definitely more to be done."

Details of the case were first revealed by RTÉ Investigates in April 2016.

A girl placed in the foster home for monthly respite care told her biological mother that she had been sexually abused by a then-teenage son of the foster family.

She also reported that a second girl who had been living with the foster family for more than a decade had also been raped by the same son. The girl’s allegation was assessed by the HSE to be “credible”, but at the time the second girl did not disclose any abuse.

Gardaí sent a file to the DPP but no prosecution followed. The second girl and another foster child, a boy, continued to live with the family.

However, in 2011, the second girl came forward and said she too had been raped, prompting a new garda probe which identified a third victim, another female foster child, who also was regularly raped.

Last year, Keith Burke was found guilty and jailed for the rape and buggery of the three foster girls between 2003 and 2007 when all three were aged under 10.

Tusla, which was established in 2014, said it accepts the findings and recommendations of the report and is acting on them.

It acknowledged that the decisions made in 2007 and 2011 "were not robust enough to keep the children safe" but said that "this report reflects a certain point in time, prior to the establishment of Tusla which has resulted in an improvement in standards, staffing and services".

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