Garda investigation into sexual abuse at Donegal HSE disability centre closes

No prosecution in relation to alleged assaults on 18 intellectually disabled adults – DPP

None of the victims’ families were told about the abuse at Ard Gréine Court in Stranorlar until December 2018, by which time at least one of the victims had died. Photograph: Joe Dunne

None of the victims’ families were told about the abuse at Ard Gréine Court in Stranorlar until December 2018, by which time at least one of the victims had died. Photograph: Joe Dunne

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A Garda investigation into prolonged sexual abuse at a HSE-run disability centre in Co Donegal has closed, potentially clearing the way for publication of a damning report into the case within weeks.

The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has instructed that there should be no prosecution in relation to 108 alleged sexual assaults on at least 18 intellectually disabled adults, between 2003 and 2016 at the Sean O’Hare unit at the Ard Gréine Court complex in Stranorlar, Co Donegal.

The unpublished report, from the National Independent Review Panel (NIRP), completed in August 2020, found “devastating” abuse had been perpetrated on mainly non-verbal adults by another resident, who is given the pseudonym “Brandon” in the report, with the “full knowledge of staff and management”.

These included molestation, entering residents’ beds at night, exposing himself, prolonged and loud masturbation close to residents, and possibly rape. Brandon was discharged in 2016 and died last year in a nursing home.

None of the victims’ families were told about the abuse until December 2018, by which time at least one of the victims had died.

The report notes gardaí told the review team in February 2020 an investigation was ongoing into “allegations of sexual abuse of patients” in the centre, and “also into the alleged withholding of information on the sexual abuse of patients by staff employed by the HSE”.

The HSE said last week it had been requested by gardaí, on October 14th, to delay publication of the 67-page report, while gardaí completed their investigations.

In a statement to The Irish Times this week, the Garda said it submitted an investigation file to the DPP in August 2021 “who has directed ‘no prosecution’ in this case”. The Garda said it could not comment on the draft executive summary of the contents of which it “ has not yet had the opportunity to respond to the HSE on” nor could it comment on the content of the substantive report as it had “not seen its contents”.

Case closed

A Garda spokesman said the case was closed unless further evidence warranted it being reopened. A HSE spokesman said it understood the complainant in this case had 28 days to appeal the DPP decision.

Minister of State for Disabilities, Anne Rabbitte, who was not provided with the report until July and only after referring in the Dáil to the HSE’s “repeated refusal” to let her have a copy, has reiterated her call for the full report to be published. Families of Brandon’s victims who have spoken to The Irish Times also want the full report published.

The HSE said it will publish only the 13-page executive summary. Among the components this would exclude are detailed quotes from staff and external experts through the 13-year period demanding action to protect residents.

The HSE said it had agreed with a a Garda request on October 14th not to proceed with publishing the detailed executive summary. It said it provided this document to the Garda seeking permission to publish and “and will do so immediately when such permission is forthcoming”.

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