Gardaí are investigating a pre-existing allegation of assault on a girl at one of the chain of creches where an undercover investigation revealed a pattern of disturbing behaviour and practices, including manhandling of children.
An investigation was carried out by RTÉ Investigates into Hyde & Seek, a multimillion euro company that runs four creches in Dublin with a fifth opening shortly.
A documentary revealing the findings was broadcast on Wednesday.
In response to queries in relation to the creches from The Irish Times on Thursday, a Garda spokesman confirmed an investigation was underway in relation to an assault that occurred earlier this month.
“Gardaí at Mountjoy in Dublin are investigating an allegation of assault on a minor (female) which allegedly took place earlier this month (July 2019),” it said. “Investigations are continuing.”
The complaint was made around two weeks ago and predates the RTÉ broadcast.
Following the complaint, detectives held a case conference with Tusla, the child and family agency, as per normal procedure. No one has been questioned or arrested in relation to this investigation. It’s understood the alleged assault was at the lower end of the scale and that the child suffered no serious injuries.
Gardaí investigating the alleged assault visited the creche last Monday. They requested and were given all the CCTV footage from the day in question.
A Hyde and Seek spokesman said: “We don’t know what this refers to. We have given the Gardaí all CCTV footage from a particular day as requested and we hope their investigation is completed quickly.”
In a message to parents on Thursday evening, the creche also said while it did not know of such an incident, it believed the concern was raised due to reports from the then upcoming documentary. It said it was cooperating fully and hoped it was resolved soon. It also said it would be meeting parents in the coming weeks and would be encouraging parents to voice their concerns.
Separately, it is understood gardaí have received no complaints from a parent or guardian in relation to what was uncovered in the RTÉ investigation, and that no formal Garda investigation has begun.
However, Garda Headquarters is urging anyone who has concerns or a complaint to make in relation to the creches to contact either Pearse St Garda station on 01-666900 or Mountjoy Garda station on 01-666 8600.
A spokeswoman for Tusla said it had received footage from RTÉ on Thursday which was “of serious concern” and which “will lead to enhanced regulatory enforcement proceedings and social work intervention, which will involve the Garda”.
Footage taken by undercover researchers over the past several weeks included fire-safety breaches with cots packed into rooms leaving it difficult to access babies in the event of an emergency.
Rough handling of children was also uncovered, while babies were restrained in high chairs for lengthy periods, causing them to become distressed.
In one instance a child was placed alone in a room with the door closed for misbehaving.
In a statement, Hyde & Seek said the programme “raised some real issues for us” which it would “deal with quickly”. It added it had already “taken some steps to deal with urgent issues”.
“The overall picture [the documentary] painted does not reflect who we are, but there are specific issues we need to address and are addressing quickly,” it said. “We will shortly retain an expert external consultant to review our management structure and our service. We began seeking to identify such a consultant this week.”
It said the issues raised in relation to the layout of the cot rooms in two of its creches had been resolved, “and fire safety inspections in the past week have confirmed that to us”.
“We will work as always with Dublin Fire Brigade to address any other issue that they identify,” it added.