Prolonged sexual abuse at a HSE-run disability centre in Donegal "could and should have been prevented" with a "properly empowered" independent inspection system, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties warns.
The council says the alleged abuse of upwards of 18 intellectually disabled residents, over at least 13 years at the Sean O'Hare unit in St Joseph's hospital and the Ard Gréine Court complex at Stranorlar, should have been uncovered, and prevented from continuing, by an independent body, focussed on the human rights of residents.
This would have been possible had a national preventative mechanism (NPM) been established, as repeatedly demanded of Ireland by the United Nations.
The Health Information and Quality Authority has inspected Ard Gréine Court. It was not legally empowered to, however, until 2013 by which time, according to an unpublished report from the National Independent Review Panel (NIRP) recorded incidents of abuse had stopped.
An NPM would have the power to visit anywhere that deprives people of their liberty. It would be legally empowered to conduct inspections with a focus on residents’ human right not to be subjected to torture or other “cruel or degrading treatment”.
Establishment of an NPM is an obligation under the optional protocol of the UN Convention Against Torture (UNCAT). Though Ireland ratified UNCAT in April 2002, and signed the optional protocol in 2007, it has yet to ratify the latter.
In its observations about Ireland’s compliance with the UNCAT the UN committee against torture said in July 2017 it should: “Immediately ratify the Optional Protocol and establish a national preventive mechanism, ensuring that this body has access to all places of deprivation of liberty in all settings”.
The ICCL was responding to the findings of the unpublished NIRP report that found a resident of Ard Gréine Court , given the pseudonym “Brandon”, had subjected other residents to “devastating” sexual abuse with the knowledge of staff and management over a period of at least 13 years, until 2016.
“Brandon” was moved to a nursing home elsewhere in the county in May 2016 and died in 2020.
The NIRP found despite the pleas of staff and recommendations from external experts that action be taken to protect victims, the “common strategy” was to move “Brandon” around the wards where he found new victims. It found victims’ families were not told until December 2018.
Doireann Ansbro, head of legal policy with the ICCL said it was crucial that an NPM be established without delay.
“”There may be other victims out there. An NPM would mean independent inspectors would visit care homes with a focus on the human rights of the residents. They would speak to all residents and where they discovered sexual abuse on this scale, they would be able to take real preventative action.
“They would also be able to visit private nursing homes such as the home the abuser in this case was moved to in 2016. We have serious questions about the safety of residents in that home after his arrival.”
She said there were “many places” where people were deprived of their liberty “where adequate inspections are still not taking place”.
For example, she said, direct provision centres were inspected “only from a health and safety perspective” adding there were “serious concerns as to whether nursing homes and care homes are adequately inspected”.