Some healthcare workers responsible for people with disabilities being kept in a foster home where rapes allegedly occurred are still employed by the state, it has been revealed.
The Health Service Executive said three people with authority for a woman, known as Grace, being kept in the home in the south-east 14 years after admissions stopped had since left the public service.
But director general Tony O’Brien told the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that other staff involved in her care are now working for Tusla: the Child and Family Agency, others are in the HSE, and he is powerless to discipline them while criminal investigations continue.
Five files have been sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions over the scandal but no criminal charges ordered.
“What I am not going to do is give them a get out of jail free card by putting something into the public that everyone wants to read, that I have read, that is horrendous and if I put it out there one thing is for sure, no-one will be convicted, no-one will be disciplined,” Mr O’Brien said.
“This is a terrible situation. I have no agenda of seeking to defend what went wrong but I do have an obligation of creating the conditions for justice to be done.”
A commission of investigation into the scandal has been ordered by the Government.
The committee heard some of the people who lived in the foster care home suffered sexual abuse and rape, including with implements, physical abuse which led to some ending up hospital with bruising and at least one had no belongings or finances.
One of the alleged perpetrators is dead, the committee heard.
“This involves allegations of abuse and neglect of the most egregious nature,” Mr O’Brien said.
John Deasy, PAC vice chairman, said: “It was probably some of the worst, or the worst examples of abuse that I’d ever come across.”
Forty-three families received written apologies for having a relative placed in the home while another three people connected to the home on records could not be traced.
Many of the former residents cannot speak.
Whistleblowers have revealed the woman known as Grace stayed in the facility until 2009, 14 years after other foster children under the care of the then South East Health Board were removed amid concerns over the risk of abuse.
The HSE further compounded the controversy after it emerged the agency did not apologise to Grace and her family even though it told a parliamentary committee it had.
That did not happen in December 2015 when the HSE said it did, which Mr O’Brien apologised for and said was due to miscommunication and was unintentional.
The HSE also stands accused of “despicable” treatment of the whistleblowers over the last six years when they first raised concerns about the home.
The committee heard the Brothers Of Charity stopped sending people with disabilities to the foster home in 1990 amid concerns of abuse but the HSE continued its associations up until 2013 even though admissions stopped in 1995.
A second woman, identified only as Ann, who is now 35, was first placed in the home when she was 12 and she was one of nine private placements.
The committee heard she remained there until November 2013 on a part-time basis under a private arrangement her family had with the foster mother.
The HSE did not tell her relatives about the allegations of sex abuse.
Mr O’Brien claimed gardai were responsible for explaining the dangers to the family.
Mr Deasy said: “It’s morally disgraceful. That’s the issue that is at the centre of all this.”
Mary Lou McDonald, Sinn Fein deputy leader, said: “The onus was left on the family to make the call.
“That’s a derogation of your duty. Irrespective of what the family thought, there was a responsibility on the state.”
Mr O’Brien said he had concerns about similar historical cases in other parts of the country but that the HSE did not have any live lines of inquiry about abuse in other state run care homes.
“Only a fool, a complete fool, would sit here and say to you that there can be no concerns that similar things happened in the past in other parts of the country,” he said.
The PAC sought details on how much money would have been paid to the foster mother for taking in the 47 people but the HSE did not have the figures.
John McGuinness, PAC chairman, said he had been told the foster mother in the home would have earned €70,000 in disability allowances for Grace.
He also claimed that when the woman was moved to new care in 2009 she had no belongings, no documentation and no money.
During at times heated exchanges between the politicians and HSE officials, the HSE was accused of stonewalling after Mr O’Brien repeatedly warned gardai had advised that details of two internal reports on abuse at the home – the Devine and Resilience reports – could not be revealed.
But he admitted liability on behalf of the HSE.
“Where harm has occurred... as I see it there is no conceivable defence. There’s no corporate interest in seeking to defend,” Mr O’Brien said.
In his final day in the PAC chair, Mr McGuinness called for new whistleblower laws to be made more powerful.
“I think it’s proven that it now needs to be strengthened as the whistleblower more often than not ends up in the iron mask, silenced in an office with no work and the culture that allows that to happen needs to be rooted out,” he said.
Announcing the inquiry Taoiseach Enda Kenny said words do not exist to adequately describe the revulsion felt at the alleged abuse and failure.
“Grace, because of her condition, was silent. But by her treatment and her abandonment she was silenced,” he said.
“Those who left her to her fate, pressed the mute button on her young life and appalling experience.
“Above all, they pressed that mute button on her dignity, her humanity, on her civil and human rights, on her innate worth as an innocent, precious, fragile life on this earth.”
Mr Kenny said good foster parents are heartbroken over the scandal.
“I believe there is a resonance, that the last days of this administration should concern itself with such matters,” he said.
“Because they are the very matters, of doing not what is correct, but as I said in my first day here as Taoiseach, of doing what is right.
“With this commission we will seek to do right by Grace, and all the young people and adults, who have been similarly treated.”