Director general Tony O’Brien was speaking during an emergency Dáil Public Accounts Committee meeting in which he confirmed managers involved in what happened now hold senior child services roles.
Speaking to the cross-party group in response to the Government’s decision to set up a commission of inquiry into the disturbing allegations detailed by the Irish Examiner, Mr O Brien said the HSE has failed people in its care.
He said the failure to vet the Waterford foster care home for six years, not informing the family of one woman left there the complaints involved rape, and ignoring a whistleblower letter about the case in November 2014 are “missed opportunities” the health service is responsible for.
He admitted the alleged Waterford abuse may be repeated elsewhere.
“I would be concerned if we were to look back in time there would be cases,” he told PAC member and Fine Gael TD Gabrielle McFadden. “Only a fool, a complete fool, would say to you there were not cases in other parts of the country.”
The HSE director general confirmed ‘Grace’ — the pseudonym of the first woman left at the home until 2009, 14 years after all foster care placements were meant to end — has taken a civil action against which the HSE has “no conceivable defence”. He said 46 other people placed with the family between 1983 and 2013 may also take cases, which could cost millions of euro.
Mr O Brien said one, given the pseudonym ‘Anne’, was placed as part of a private agreement through her own relatives aged 12 in 1992, the same year as the first sex abuse claims were made.
At the weekend, the HSE was forced to admit Anne was not removed until October 2013, despite the fact all placements were meant to end in 1995 and that the HSE had been told Anne was still there in 2009.
Mr O’Brien said that, as Anne was placed directly by her family, the HSE did not have the authority to end the placement. However, under questioning he told the committee her family was never told she was receiving care from people facing serious rape, physical and financial abuse claims, and were instead only told about unstated “concerns”.
Mr O Brien also said while a whistleblower letter about the lack of action over Anne was sent to the HSE’s then national director for quality and patient safety Philip Crowley in November 2014, no response was given.
After HSE national social care director Pat Healy told Fine Gael TD John Deasy he first heard of the case “in 2009”, the TD asked Mr O’Brien if anyone responsible remains.
“There are people referenced in the reports who are currently in the health service or in Tusla [The Child and Family Agency]”, he said, explaining no one can be sacked or disciplined until the concluded Conal Devine and Resilience Ireland HSE reports are published — a move he said would “be guaranteeing no one be convicted” if it occurred now.