Between 1983 and 1995, 46 children — many of whom had physical and mental disabilities — were placed in foster care with an abusive family in the south-east of the country.
One victim, or “service user” as they are referred to by the HSE, who had an intellectual disability, was placed in full-time foster care with the family in 1989.
This arrangement lasted until 2009 at which stage the HSE removed the victim who was placed in an “appropriate full-time residential placement”.
Health bosses have been accused of failing to fully investigate allegations of sexual and physical abuse as well as neglect of children at that foster home during that time.
Some of the allegations made known to the HSE by two whistleblowers detailed sexual abuse of a most extreme nature.
In one case, one of the children, who was unable to speak, was removed from the home and subsequently acted out some of the sexual abuse to which she was subjected.
It was also detailed how children were locked underneath the stairwell by the foster parents. She and her family were later told that her allegations could not be prosecuted as she would not make a good witness because she cannot speak.
The concerns were initially reported to the HSE in 2009 with a €100,000 internal report produced in 2012. That report, into “Service user 42” was conducted by Conal Devine but has yet to be published.
The HSE in the new documents insist it would like to publish the report but has been prevented from doing so on foot of requests from gardaí.
These claims have cut little ice with leading members of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), which has investigated aspects of this saga in recent months.
There were cross-party calls for an investigation into the HSE’s handling of claims that up to 40 intellectually disabled children were sexually abused by a foster care family over two decades.
Members of the PAC who are familiar with the case made the call and insisted that the Devine report be published. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil TDs John Deasy and John McGuinness said a commission of investigation must be set up into the claims and alleged a “clique of HSE managers” covered up the abuse.
While the HSE has rejected the allegation, saying it has conducted its own investigation and is helping gardaí with their inquiries, the TDs said the 2012 HSE report has yet to be published and was conducted by former HSE managers without any tendering process.
They maintain that an independent investigation is required.
Shortly before Christmas, on foot of a decision by the Information Commissioner, the HSE produced a report to members of the PAC in which it for the first time, accepted liability for a failure of care to those victims involved.
“The HSE has made arrangements to meet with the service user, who was the subject of the Devine report, to apologise for the significant failings of the service in meeting the service user’s needs over such an extended period of time,” the report states.
Throughout the new document, seen by the Irish Examiner, the HSE insists new protocols and safeguards have been put in place.
It insists that it “accepted the recommendations” in the unpublished Devine report and “did not wait for the report’s publication in order to improve the service and management deficiencies identified”.
Both Mr McGuinness and Mr Deasy are less than satisfied with the HSE’s response to date and the matter is set to dominate this week’s meeting of the PAC on Thursday.
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