Munster child abuse case to be referred to review panel

Previous independent review into case shelved due to legal concerns

The case of several children sexually abused and neglected in Munster is to be referred to the National Review Panel (NRP), which examines serious incidents in the care of children known to child protection services.

Five family members of the children were jailed over the abuse and neglect following a lengthy trial last year.

Tusla, the State child and family agency, plans to refer the case to the NRP, an independent body chaired by Dr Helen Buckley, which reviews serious child protection cases, to identify any failings.

A proposed independent inquiry to examine the actions of State agencies in the Munster abuse case was previously shelved.

That review, announced in 2018, was to be led by child law expert Dr Geoffrey Shannon. It was halted after a number of months due to concerns raised by those conducting the work and then attorney general Séamus Woulfe, that it could prejudice the criminal investigations.

Five family members were sentenced and jailed in January over the abuse and neglect, after earlier being found guilty by a jury of a total of 77 counts against the five children following a 10-week trial last summer.

The family members were the parents, aunt and uncles of the children, and cannot be named for legal reasons.

The crimes took place in the Munster region, with the three eldest children sexually abused between 2014 and 2016. The five siblings, who ranged in age from one to nine during this period, were found to have been wilfully neglected by their parents.

The family first came to the attention of social workers in 2011, but the children were not taken into State care by Tusla until the start of 2016.

A planned second trial involving another child will not go ahead, with charges against eight relatives dropped by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) earlier this week.

Appeal

The DPP has lodged an appeal against the “undue leniency” of the sentence of the father, mother and the 49-year-old uncle in the first trial.

A Department of Children spokesman said Tusla had notified officials “of their intention to refer the case to the National Review Panel, pending assurance that such action would not impact the appeals process”.

“Following the conclusion of all proceedings, including the appeals now initiated by the DPP and those convicted, the relevant departments and agencies may then consider what further action is warranted,” the spokesman said.

A spokesman for Tusla confirmed the case would be reviewed by the NRP, “at an appropriate time, when proceedings are complete”.

“There are continuing matters which remain before the courts and in that context we would not be commenting further,” he said.

One department source did not rule out officials seeking a further independent review, after the NRP report into the case was completed.

The shelved independent review of the case was to be undertaken by Dr Shannon, former special rapporteur on child protection, child welfare consultant Suzanne Phelan, and retired Garda chief superintendent Pádraig Kennedy.

Ms Phelan, who was also previously a review panel member, told The Irish Times she felt the NRP was “the best place” to examine the handling of the case.

“The panel is comprised of qualified professionals, including retired members of An Garda Síochána. They have done similar cases, I would say that is the best place for it,” she said.