McElwee inquiry to examine child abuse images

IMAGES of abused children used as lecture material in Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) will be investigated as part of an inquiry into the controversy surrounding the disgraced lecturer, Dr Niall McElwee.

The Health Service Executive (HSE) is to examine complaints made by students to the former South Eastern health board about slides shown by Dr McElwee during social care lectures in WIT in 1998.

The images were deemed inappropriate by some members of staff who made complaints to the college authorities, and led to some students receiving counselling.

An internal investigation was carried out by the college and Dr McElwee was ordered to stop using the images. He left WIT in 2001 and took up a lecturing post in Athlone IT.

A spokesperson for the Health Service Executive said it’s hoped WIT will co-operate with the inquiry and provide any information available.

An examination of events at WIT will be part of a broader inquiry into the controversy surrounding Dr McElwee, who was convicted of attempting lewd acts on three American teenagers in a hotel room in Amsterdam in 2004.

The child-care expert continued working in Athlone IT until earlier this month, despite the health board and the garda knowing for three years of the allegations made against him.

The terms of reference for the probe, which is being conducted by independent consultant, Conal Devine, were announced yesterday.

The inquiry will establish what exact information was given to the health board by the gardaí and Athlone IT.

The HSE said it will also examine its own legal obligations regarding such information.

The inquiry is expected to be concluded in four months and the findings will be made public.

Child protection groups said the scope of the inquiry is too narrow and will leave a lot of questions unanswered.

There was particular concern raised that the terms of reference contained no explicit reference to WIT.

Norah Gibbons of the children’s charity, Barnardos, said: “We will be seeking assurances from the HSE that Waterford will be covered in the inquiry. WIT had its own inquiry into the images, what we want to know is who conducted that inquiry, why did he have those images, and where did he get them from?”

Ms Gibbons said the inquiry should also examine allegations that the then minister for health, Michéal Martin, ignored a letter sent to him by three members of WIT staff raising concern about Dr McElwee. A spokesperson for Mr Martin said he did not receive any such letter, and that Department of Education files show the letter was sent in 2000 when he was no longer in that department.

Labour deputy leader, Liz McManus said she had a number of concerns regarding the terms of reference, including the fact that there is no timetable for the completion of the inquiry.

Fine Gael Health spokesman, Brian Hayes said: “The most important outcome is that lessons are learned so that those failures can be avoided in the future. By publishing terms of reference which are not sufficiently broad the HSE is missing that imperative.”

The inquiry will establish . . .

*All information that was made available to the HSE from any source, including the gardaí and colleges.

*A description of the existing process for gathering and evaluating information of this kind.

*The legal obligations of the HSE regarding such information.

*A comparison to the systems in other countries including England, Canada and the United States.

*Recommendations for improvements to the legal and administrative context.

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