O'Reilly attacks HSE on child deaths


The failure of the Health Service Executive (HSE) to produce records in relation to children who died in State care was “bizarre” Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly has said.

Her work, and the work of Ombudsman for Children Emily Logan, had been hampered by the “excess of legalism” in the HSE, Ms O’Reilly said.

“I share the bewilderment of a lot of people, including the Cabinet, that certain records are not being released to the enquiry team for legal reasons," she said.

The ombudsman said it was essential that the HSE spelled out what the legal issues were. “If there is a strong legal impediment to handing over these records I would like to see the rationale for that.”

Ms O'Reilly was speaking at the publication of Amnesty International’s 2010 report which strongly criticised Ireland for the failure to protect children.

In its annual report, the human rights organisation expresses particular concern at vulnerable children being placed in adult mental care facilities. It noted that the Inspector of Mental Health Services had described the 247 admissions of children to adult units in 2008 “inexcusable, counter-therapeutic and almost purely custodial”.

The organisation has also highlighted the disappearance of 419 unaccompanied children in care in Ireland between 2002 and 2009.

Amnesty International Ireland executive director Colm O’Gorman said that figure had since risen to 444. The lack of outcry on this issue and the large numbers involved showed that the State did not treat all children equally, he claimed.

“These are 444 children who were in State care and who the State still does not know where they are." It was a reality that many of these children will have become victims of trafficking, he said.

“They deserve extra care, not lesser care. The failure to provide this is a damning indictment of the State.”

He said claims by HSE chief executive Prof Brendan Drum that the number of children who had died in care was 23, and not 200, ignored the fact that children in foster care were in the care of the State.

“We have ratified the International Convention on the Rights of the Child. Yet hundreds of children have disappeared, others are placed in unsuitable mental health units and, despite all-party agreement, there is no date for a children's rights referendum,” he said.

The report was also critical of changes to the criminal justice laws which allowed adverse inferences to be drawn from a person’s silence during police questioning, which it said undermined the right not to be compelled to testify against oneself.

It highlighted the conditions in Irish prisons which it said sometimes amounted to “inhuman and degrading” treatment.

It criticised the delay by the Government in enacting several pieces of legislation, and particularly highlighted a lack of progress on legislation to introduce a single procedure for determining refugee status and the failure to publish legislative proposals in relation to inspection of suspected rendition flights.