A creche and preschool facility in Co Cork faces eight charges after an “unannounced” inspection by Health Service Executive officials.
One of the inspectors, an environmental health officer, told a district court yesterday she had, at one stage during the visit, “a feeling something bad was going to happen” at Tiny Tots facility in Killeagh.
The charges taken under the Child Care (Preschool Service) Regulations 2006, include alleged under-staffing, hygiene concerns and failing to ensure the well-being of babies and toddlers.
However, the owner, Hazel O’Mahony is contesting all the charges.
Her solicitor, Frank Buttimer, said staff will claim the visit of the inspectors last November was “a tense, upsetting, affair” which caused disruption to the children.
Day two of the hearing at a special sitting of Midleton District Court is due to resume this morning.
At the end of yesterday’s proceedings, Judge John O’Neill stated there appeared to be “a huge gulf” between the parties, with Mr Buttimer indicating today’s evidence by staff would have “little in common” with evidence given by HSE officials.
Solicitor Denise Kirwan, for the HSE, said the premises, opened since 2008, had undergone annual inspections but had twice-yearly visits in 2011 and 2012.
Environmental health officer Lorraine Potter said she had eight years’ experience in inspecting creches and preschools in Cork city and county.
Together with Eleanor Buckley, the HSE’s assistant director of public health nurses, they visited Tiny Tots in November. Both said it was their first visit to the purpose-built facility.
Ms Potter found a build- up of dust on radiators, an allegedly jagged laminated covering on a baby changing table, a dry-stained cot mattress, chemical cleaning agents exposed, a steel bar and a washer in a drawer, along with items that were dirt-encrusted.
She also spotted a parent giving a cheese lunch to a member of staff at 1.30pm but it remained on a window sill until 3.45pm.
Ms Potter said her fears of “something bad going to happen” had caused her chest pains.
In cross-examination, Mr Buttimer suggested Ms Potter was an inspector who gave “no leeway”, insisting the recommendations were guidelines and not legislation.
He questioned why no photographs were taken of the alleged breaches.
Both Ms Potter and Ms Buckley also testified the creche owner, Ms O’Mahony, left the facility for almost 30 minutes to collect an after-school child.
The defence said evidence would be given that Ms O’Mahony was outside the creche “for a few minutes” for a breather.
There was also evidence a boy, under two years, climbed up on a plastic chair onto a table about 60cms high.
Ms Buckley said, on arrival, the inspection team was advised there was a staff of six but, after counting five, was told one person was unwell due to a bug and had to leave.
After another parent arrived and asked the creche to “mind” a child for a short period, the numbers rose to 37, while the facility is only insured for 35.
Facing a charge that the centre had failed to be adequately insured, Mr Buttimer asked if the officials would have preferred if Ms O’Mahony asked the parent to “whisk the child away” to keep within its insured limits.
Both HSE officials emphasised they were only doing their job as laid down in the regulations.
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