Sixteen Health Service Executive staff are under investigation for managerial failures linked to a series of baby deaths at the Midlands Regional Hospital, Portlaoise.
However, the investigation into whether the staff have a case to answer for has been cast into doubt after queries were raised about the legality of the process, according to sources.
The investigation, which was announced last June, was supposed to have been completed in three months, but the HSE now says it will not be finished until later this year.
Minister for Health Leo Varadkar last night expressed concern at the length of time it was taking to complete the investigation and said his Department was in correspondence with the HSE on the matter.
Parents of children who died in the maternity unit at Portlaoise said they were being left in the dark and vowed to continue campaigning for those responsible for poor care to be held responsible.
“An acknowledgement of the preventable deaths of our children and an apology for those deaths is not accountability,” said Roisin Molloy, speaking on behalf of parents whose children died in the unit.
“We believe the HSE is not capable of policing itself, and this drawn-out process for disciplining those responsible is testament to that,” said Ms Molloy, whose son Mark junior died in the unit in January 2012.
“We won’t be finished with this process until we have accountability at all levels.”
For almost a month the HSE has stalled in relation to queries from The Irish Times about the investigations into the Portlaoise scandal which it announced last summer.
The HSE initially refused to publish the terms of reference of these investigations but later said it would release these under the Freedom of Information Act.
Last Friday the HSE said the investigations were being undertaken in accordance with detailed terms of reference.
It said “while it was intended that the process would be completed within a defined time-period, the HR and legal aspects have proven more complex than originally anticipated at the outset.
“It is anticipated the process will be completed later in 2016.”
Following further queries from The Irish Times, the HSE said: “The terms of reference are being reviewed by our legal department.”
A spokesman confirmed investigations have commenced, but added that a recent legal challenge by staff in the Aras Attracta care home in Co Mayo may have a bearing on how the Portlaoise investigation proceeded.
Last June, HSE director general Tony O’Brien announced an independent investigation led by former senior officials of the British health service into issues arising from the damning Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) report into Portlaoise.
The investigation had two elements, one looking at clinical failings and the other, examination “failures form a management perspective at all levels”.
Mr O’Brien promised both elements would be carried out “as expeditiously as possible”.
Mr Varadkar said the Hiqa report raised serious questions about some managerial actions. “When the report was published, the HSE committed to an investigation by an independent overseas expert, in accordance with its own disciplinary process.
This investigation is designed to ensure that staff are held accountable for their actions and to provide a basis for disciplinary action if necessary.”