THE two eldest children in the Roscommon abuse case are to launch a legal action against the HSE for vicarious liability, the Irish Examiner understands.
Given the full and unequivocal nature of the HSE’s apology this week for a series of failings over 15 years, during which the local health board repeatedly failed to remove the children from the care of their parents, it is thought likely that the case would be settled outside court.
The Irish Examiner understand that the two eldest children in the family, both of whom are no longer in state care, have instructed solicitors regarding the civil action.
One of the children took the witness stand earlier this year during his father’s trial, after which the man was sentenced to 14 years in prison.
News of the likely legal action emerged amid the continuing fall-out from the publication of the report into the abuse endured by the six children in the family.
Government-appointed Child Rapporteur Geoffrey Shannon led calls for accountability within the HSE over the series of failures that led the six children to spend years in harrowing conditions in the family home in Roscommon.
Later, Minister for Children Barry Andrews said health service staff who failed in their duties “will face the consequences”, adding there would be “a quick turnaround” in the disciplinary process, with any sanctions to be delivered shortly.
Mr Shannon said supervision orders were under-utilised at present and that a referendum on children’s rights was important in guaranteeing greater protection for vulnerable children.
However, speaking in Brussels, Taoiseach Brian Cowen denied weak legislation had been to blame in the Roscommon case.
He said: “What has been made clear by those that are expert in this area is that there is no constitutional hindrance to these children being taken into care so there was not a constitutional problem here.
“Obviously there is the problem about what and when the decisions were taken and whether they were justified and whether various parts of the services joined up, collaborated sufficiently to come to a different conclusion to what they came to.”
Meanwhile, the Irish Association of Social Workers (IASW) said a planned HSE audit of chronic neglect cases in HSE West, followed by a similar audit in two other areas, was likely to prove ineffective, but the HSE denied this and said a recent audit on foster care in some parts of the country had informed practice on the ground and national policy.
The independent consultant carrying out the audit, Lynne Peyton, yesterday said she could not comment about the audit process.
The audit of neglect cases in Co Roscommon has begun in the past two months and the HSE said it was possible audits in other areas could happen concurrently.
However, the terms of reference must be agreed, including how far back in years it will go when deciding which cases to review.
In the Dáil, Mr Andrews insisted that the HSE was “fit for purpose” when it came to handling childcare issues.
But Fine Gael Children’s spokesman Charlie Flanagan said the buck had to stop with Health Minister Mary Harney, while at a meeting in Dublin the Saving Childhood group, including the Children’s Rights Alliance and Barnardos, said further cuts to funding for public and voluntary services would impact on child welfare.
Elsewhere, Alcohol Action Ireland said urgent measures were needed to ensure other households in which parents have an alcohol problem needed to be targeted so children would not have to endure the kind of problems suffered by those in the Roscommon case, where both parents were heavy drinkers.
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