More than 10 abusers identified at Donegal HSE centre

At least 40 intellectually-disabled residents subjected to ongoing sexual assaults over 11-year period, review of files finds

At least 40 intellectually-disabled residents of a Health Service Executive-run centre in Co Donegal were subjected to ongoing sexual assaults by more than 10 perpetrators over an 11-year period, a review of files has found.

The assaults, dating back to 1991, occurred in the same centre where a separate review completed last year by the National Independent Review Panel (NIRP) found upwards of 18 intellectually-disabled residents had been subjected to at least 108 incidents of “sustained” abuse by a resident, given the pseudonym Brandon, between 2003 and 2016.

This latest review, conducted by the HSE and referred to as a “validation report”, examines the period from when Brandon entered the now-closed Sean O’Hare unit in St Joseph’s Hospital, Stranorlar in 1991, to 2002.

The NIRP report, known as the Brandon report, covers 2003 to 2016 when Brandon was moved to a private nursing home. He died there in 2020.

In 2008 most residents of the three-ward Sean O’Hare unit were moved to shared bungalows in the nearby Ard Greíne Court complex, where Brandon continued his abuse.

A senior source told The Irish Times the more than 40 victims, whose abuse had been recorded in HSE files, had suffered serious sexual assaults “which should have been reported to gardaí”.

Though the word “rape” is not used in the validation report, at least one nurse reported to the NIRP an alleged rape by Brandon they said they had witnessed in 1992. The panel noted the HSE had agreed to review Brandon’s files before 2003 “and found one reference to sexual intercourse in 1992 between Brandon and [a resident] ... it was unclear whether this was consensual or not”.

The senior source said many of the 40 victims of 11 perpetrators, most of whom are in addition to those identified in the Brandon report, are now deceased. It is unclear whether all the new victims’ families nor the Garda have yet been told about the sexual assaults, the source added.

Minister of State for disabilities Anne Rabbitte, who received the report this week, is seeking an urgent meeting with the HSE and a presentation on it as she feels it “lacks clarity” in parts.

Its findings will likely cause enormous anguish among families who had loved ones in the Sean O’Hare unit between 1991 and 2002.

Local TD Thomas Pringle, who first brought Brandon’s abuse to light after being approached by a whistleblower in 2016, has already been contacted by families concerned their loved ones may have been impacted.

He said questions now had to be asked about whether Brandon was abusing before 1991. From 1988 he had been living in community homes in Letterkenny and Dungloe, and from the 1960s in St Conal’s psychiatric hospital in Letterkenny.

The HSE said on Friday: “The HSE continues to implement the recommendations of the NIRP report which has resulted in considerable service improvements.

“The HSE received the final validation report this week and is in the process of implementing its recommendations. The HSE is prioritising the engagement with individuals who are impacted by this report. In the interests of the anyone impacted, the HSE will ensure they are informed first and as such is not in a position to make any further statement on the report.”

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times