HSE examining disciplinary action in wake of abuse at Donegal care home, Reid says

Unpublished investigation finds at least 18 residents were subjected ‘to sustained sexual abuse’

Ard Gréine Court: HSE chief executive Paul Reid says the organisation has ‘been advised by the gardaí to hold in terms of publication on the basis of their own investigations [...] I have to respect that’. Photograph: Joe Dunne

Ard Gréine Court: HSE chief executive Paul Reid says the organisation has ‘been advised by the gardaí to hold in terms of publication on the basis of their own investigations [...] I have to respect that’. Photograph: Joe Dunne

 

The Health Service Executive is examining disciplinary action that may need to be taken in the wake of the abuse of 18 intellectually disabled individuals by another resident in a Co Donegal care home, the organisation’s chief executive Paul Reid has said.

The Irish Times reported on Friday that an unpublished investigation has found that at least 18 residents of the HSE-run centre were subjected “to sustained sexual abuse” during a period of about 13 years with the full knowledge of staff and management.

Upwards of 108 incidents of “devastating” abuse were perpetrated on mainly non-verbal adults by another resident, who is given the pseudonym “Brandon” in the report. These included molestation, entering residents’ beds at night, exposing himself and possibly rape. “Brandon” died last year.

The report, from the HSE’s National Independent Review Panel (NIRP), a copy of which has been obtained by The Irish Times, finds the Ard Gréine Court complex and Seán O’Hare unit in St Joseph’s Hospital in Stranorlar had been run with a “disregard for residents’ rights”, allowing sexual abuse to continue “unabated”.

None of the victims’ families were told until December 2018 – more than a decade after the abuse in some cases – despite repeated advice that this could be “interpreted as collusion or complicity”.

Ongoing investigation

Local HSE management did not report the assaults or alleged rapes to gardaí until last year, despite being urged to by the HSE’s local safeguarding team. A file on the case has been sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

The HSE has said that the report cannot be published due to an ongoing investigation by the gardaí.

Mr Reid said on Sunday that he has read the report and it is “extremely distressing”. He told RTÉ Radio’s This Week that he wants to ensure “full transparency” but also make sure this is done in “the proper manner” and in line with the advice of gardaí.

“We have been advised by the gardaí to hold in terms of publication on the basis of their own investigations and their engagement with the DPP and I have to respect that.”

He said the HSE is engaging with the gardaí on the soonest possible time frame for publication.

When asked if individuals should be held accountable for what happened there, he replied that “the reality of it is this shouldn’t have happened”. He added that the HSE wants people living in disability settings treated in a humane way with their rights respected and “this obviously hasn’t happened in this case”.

“So I have to assess – and our own HR director is assessing at this point of time – to what extent in terms of disciplinary process may need to be engaged.”

He said this will be done in parallel with strengthening the trust in care across the HSE’s disability settings and “really moving forward to decongregation because this is not the way in which people should live their lives, and people should be treated”.

Accountability

Minister of State for Disability Anne Rabbitte told the same programme that she expected the HSE to hold staff responsible for any failings.

Asked if there should be consequences for individuals involved, she said that after the publication of the report “it will become very, very clear about accountability”.

“I will think it’s unfair for me to actually talk about that level of it without having it published because at the same time there is a Garda investigation going on here and I don’t know the content of the Garda investigation.”

Ms Rabbitte met the families of residents who were abused and she said they want to see the report published. She said there needs to be clarity from the Garda on its reasons for advising that the report not be published at this time.

“It has been completely and utterly anonymised, and it has been completely and utterly redacted so heavily, except for the information about the system failures within the setting, and it talks mainly about the medical versus the social model,” she said.