Laws blocked Leo Varadkar disclosing foster abuse cases

Former health minister Leo Varadkar knew of widescale foster care abuses in the south east more than a year and a half ago, but did not make the issue public because of strict whistle-blower laws.

The now Social Protection Minister confirmed the situation amid fresh controversy over care standards in the region caused by a previously hidden report into the crisis obtained by RTÉ last week.

Speaking after the Prime Time programme last Thursday revealed a series of previously unknown cases of State neglect of vulnerable children and young adults allegedly abused while in foster care similar to the ‘Grace’ case, Mr Varadkar said he was made aware of the situation in late 2014.

However, while stressing actions were taken at that point to ensure no one remained at risk of abuse, the minister said he and then disabilities minister Kathleen Lynch were prevented from making the concerns public because of strict “protective disclosure” laws.

“It wasn’t January or February, it was earlier than that,” Mr Varadkar confirmed when asked at a pensions press conference yesterday when he was first informed of the cases.

“When something comes into a government department as a protective disclosure under the whistle-blowers act it has to be treated in a particular way. And, in particular what you can’t do is give out any information that might identify the person [whistle-blower] involved.

“It [the allegations] was certainly followed up on. The first thing that was done was to make sure nobody was at risk and everybody was safe-guarded.

“[Independent senior counsel] Conor Dignam is examining all of the issues in that region, and I understand that report is near completion,” he said.

A series of horrific cases were outlined in the document from a HSE worker.

They include claims some vulnerable people were not adequately checked up on for almost two decades, that officials believed sexual abuse allegations made by a child in school about a relative simply “went away” when they continued for years, and other allegations involving care standards.

The cases are similar to the ‘Grace’ case , where a woman with severe disabilities was left in an abusive foster home for decades without any follow-up care. This is the subject of an independent report by Mr Dignam due later this month, and which is expected to recommend a State inquiry.

A spokesperson for Health Minister Simon Harris last night said the minister will not express a view on whether a wider scale inquiry is needed until he receives Mr Dignam’s report.

However, in a statement after a two and a half hour meeting between Mr Harris, Disabilities Minister Finian McGrath, and HSE officials yesterday, Mr McGrath re-iterated the fact there have been “significant service and management failings” across the region which must be answered.

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