Junior Health Minister Kathleen Lynch and the HSE are under fire for the botched apology to the intellectually disabled victim of “savage” sexual abuse in a south-east foster home.
Despite knowing about the allegations of abuse since April 2014, and the HSE knowing about them since 2009, Ms Lynch has, for the first time, hinted that a commission of investigation into the case could take place.
Ms Lynch yesterday claimed she “never ruled out” an independent inquiry. A letter from the Department of Health secretary general appears to contradict that.
Last April, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) called on Ms Lynch to instigate an investigation, but the request was not taken up.
Jim Breslin, on behalf of Ms Lynch and Health Minister Leo Varadkar, replied in June to say that since they had not seen the content of two HSE-sponsored reports into the abuse allegations, they were not able to accede to the PAC request.
“In the absence of reading the reports in question, it is very difficult for the ministers to assess the need for the establishment of a commission of investigation,” states the letter.
There were calls yesterday for those responsible for the debacle in the HSE to quit.
The news comes with at least two further instances of sexual or physical abuse in the foster home known to authorities and under investigation by gardaí, the Irish Examiner can reveal. The allegations relate to other children who stayed in the home between 1983 and 1995, and details were included in an unpublished, HSE- commissioned 2015 report.
On Thursday, the PAC accused the HSE of lying to it in correspondence last December when it said a meeting had been arranged at which the alleged victim of over a decade of abuse in the foster home was to receive an apology.
The woman’s social worker, the whistleblower who brought the case to the PAC’s attention, told the Irish Examiner no such apology was made and expressed grave disappointment at the Department of Health. “I’m disappointed with the lack of a response from the Department of Health as it can only be taken as a lack of interest,” she said.
Ms Lynch said the complete lack of clarity about the issuing of an apology was very regrettable. She said serious consideration must be given to setting up a commission of inquiry, but no decision should be made before a report is completed on the review she commissioned on December 7 to look at two previous reports on the matter.
HSE director general Tony O’Brien is to be hauled before the PAC on Tuesday to discuss the controversy. He said yesterday that he had received a copy of some correspondence from the PAC and needs to understand exactly what it means, its significance, and to hear from the individuals concerned.
Last night, the HSE was not in a position to clarify if it still maintained that a verbal apology had been given to the victim, as it had claimed to the PAC. Mr O’Brien has asked the HSE’s social care division to look at what has been said “so we can get to the bottom of it”.
PAC chairman John McGuinness said:
“This is the worst case of incompetence and mismanagement within the HSE I have seen. We want full disclosure from them on Tuesday. As an organisation, it appears to be in disarray, and they simply failed to look after some of the most vulnerable children in the country.”
PAC vice-chairman John Deasy said a lot of people in Government have run away from this issue for years.
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