HSE boss promises detailed answers over abuse claims

Tony O’Brien apologises for leaving vulnerable adult in inappropriate foster home

HSE director general Tony O'Brien has promised to give a comprehensive answer to the Public Accounts Committee over accusations it lied to members in relation to an abuse case in the south-east.

Senior HSE officials have been accused of lying to the committee over disputed claims it apologised to a vulnerable adult who was left in a foster home for more than 13 years after it became the subject of abuse allegations.

Mr O’Brien said he has asked the HSE’s social care division to look very carefully at the accusations so it could “get to the bottom of it” and give a comprehensive answer to the committee.

“Until I get that information, it wouldn’t be wise or prudent to say more,” he said.


Mr O’Brien said he no hesitation in reiterating the formal written apology made by the HSE in respect of placing a person in inappropriate foster care but this was a slightly different issue from the one before the committee.

“I will find out the full facts before I say anything and I expect to be able to discuss it fully with the committee next week.”

Mr O’Brien and senior HSE officials with knowledge of the case have been asked to appear before the committee next Tuesday in what is likely to be its last hearing before a general election is called.

The case at the centre of the row involves a woman who, as a child, was placed in a care home in the south east in 1989.

She was 11-years-old at the time and remained there until 2009. She was allegedly subject to severe abuse in spite of the fact that a warning about the home had come from a former resident in 1995.

Last week, in a written submission to the PAC, the HSE said it had apologised for care failings. The letter said the apology was made in December when an official met the alleged victim. The letter said a second apology was made in a telephone call with her birth mother.

Both claims were subsequently denied by her birth mother and a social worker.

At the PAC hearing on Thursday, Fine Gael's John Deasy accused the HSE of lying to the Oireachtas over the apology.

He also accused the HSE of compromising its own staff. He pointed out that staff who the HSE said had apologised has actually written to their superiors to say this was not the case as they had not been made aware that an apology was to be forthcoming. The letter was ignored.

“This highlights the fact that there is either incompetence at play or a deliberate attempt to mislead the committee,” Mr Deasy said. “My view is that it is a mixture of both.”

He said the HSE’s claim that it had issued a letter of apology when that was not the case was “deeply troubling”.

Labour's PAC member Joe Costello accused the HSE of "lying to the people concerned but also to the committee". Describing the HSE as "a law onto itself" he said it needed to put on the record the circumstances of the "so-called apology that was never given".

His concerns were echoed by Sinn Fein Deputy Leader Mary Lou MacDonald who called for the HSE to be held to account to establish who was behind the misleading statements.

The committee chairman John McGuinness accused the HSE of “circling the wagons and hiding behind all sorts of excuses and lies” He said senior executives who have to appear before it if it sits next week.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is Health Editor of The Irish Times