The Health Service Executive (HSE) has hit out at media reports that the number of children who have died in State care could be as high as 200 and insisted that its initial figure of 23 deaths was unlikely to climb significantly.
The HSE said the confusion had arisen from a Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) guidance to the HSE around its review of child deaths.
That guidance was that the deaths of all children who had had any contact of any kind with the HSE should be included in the review, and that it should not be limited to the deaths of chilren who were in the full-time care of the HSE.
National lead for alternative care services at the HSE Aidan Waterstone said the HIQA guidance " includes ordinary open child protection cases", and many other categories of cases, as well as children in full-time care.
A leading children’s charity tonight hit out at the HSE over alleged deficiencies in the recording of children’s deaths in care.
Barnardos chief Fergus Finlay branded as "shocking" suggestions that the number of deaths over the last decade may be 10 times higher than first thought.
As four people were being questioned over the murder of Daniel McAnaspie, Mr Finlay said it was a scandal that the real figure remained unknown.
He said that if the HSE were recording data “on ancient parchment with quill pens” they couldn’t be any slower than they are now.
“In a world where real-time communication takes nano seconds, it makes absolutely no sense that there is no centralised database of incidents and accidents and unexplained deaths, and it makes no sense that there hasn’t been an independent registry of such things for years now,” Mr Finlay said.
Mr Finlay said he found it hard to believe the death toll figure could be as high as 200 but said it is likely higher than the official figure of 23.
The Barnardos head called for a senior ministry dealing with children’s issues.
“I think a full ministry for family and social services is long overdue in Ireland…If we’re going to get to grips with the fundamental problems that are affecting vulnerable families in Ireland at the moment it needs that level of political will.”
Four people were today arrested by gardaí probing the death of 17-year-old Daniel McAnaspie. The teenager’s body was found dumped in a ditch on farmland in Co Meath on May 13.
Two of the men were being held under Section 30 of the Offences Against the State Act at Finglas and Blanchardstown garda stations.
The two others were being detained at Cabra and Finglas garda stations under Section 4 of the Criminal Justice Act.
Two are being held on suspicion of murder, the other two on suspicion of withholding information.
Daniel, who was in HSE care, vanished after socialising with a group of people in Blanchardstown on February 25.
The HSE acknowledged there were flaws in how it collates information, but said the figure of 200 was speculation.
Phil Garland, HSE assistant national director for children and families, said the body should have the information in a much clearer way.
Labour’s children’s spokesman Senator Alex White said the inability to clarify how many children have died is profoundly worrying.
“I appreciate that a portion of the period involved predates the establishment of the HSE,” Senator White said.
“However, in a matter of such seriousness it is simply incredible that detailed records of the deaths of these children are not available, or that at the very least, that the number of such children is not known by senior HSE officials.
“Last week, the remains of Daniel McAnaspie were discovered in a field in Co Meath. The shocking murder of Daniel at a time when he was living in the care of the HSE is but the latest in a litany of scandals to beset the organisation.
“We now must ask the question as to whether the HSE is indeed fit-for-purpose when it comes to providing and managing child-care services.”
Sinn Féin’s children’s spokesman Caoimhghin O Caolain said it was astonishing that the HSE could not say how many children had died.