Mon, 21 Dec, 2020 – 20:56 Ann O’Loughlin
A social worker who made protected disclosures about the alleged abuse of a woman with intellectual disabilities in care has launched a High Court action aimed at preventing her employers from dismissing her.
The action has been brought by Claire Looney who seeks orders preventing her dismissal from her role as Head of Clinical Services with an association that works with people with intellectual disabilities in the South East.
The proceedings are against her employer Waterford Intellectual Disabilities Association (WIDA) which is funded by the HSE.
The court heard that she was dismissed in late November by her employer, following a two-year suspension, after what her lawyers say was an extremely flawed process.
She denies any wrongdoing and claims she has been subject to penalisation by the HSE as a result of the disclosures she made.
At the High Court today Frank Callanan SC for Ms Looney said that what has happened to his client had a chilling effect for anyone making disclosures regarding issues concerning the care of those with intellectual disabilities.
Ms Looney, a qualified social worker, said she made protected disclosures to the Department of Health, the HSE, and the Dáil Public Accounts Committee about the care of a woman who became known as ‘Grace,’ and others put in the same placement in 2009.
Those complaints led to the establishment of the Farrelly Commission which began work in May 2017 to investigate claims concerning the alleged physical and sexual abuse of ‘Grace’ and others.
‘Grace’ was placed with the foster family in 1989 and remained in the home until 2009, despite a 1995 decision by the South Eastern Health Board (SEHB) to cease using the family for placements and to remove other vulnerable young people.
Ms Looney says she was accused of making a complaint to Hiqa, which monitors the safety and quality of Ireland’s healthcare and social care systems, about WIDA, that resulted in an inspection of her employer.
She said she did not make any complaint to Hiqa.
Despite being exonerated of the allegation regarding Hiqa she was informed in August that she was to be dismissed from her role. That decision was upheld on an appeal last November.
Counsel told the court the terms of reference in relation to the investigation into the allegation against his client changed, and resulted in new allegations being made against her.
This, he said, rendered the entire process “totally flawed”.
Counsel said his client’s employer had initially supported her when she attended the Farrelly Commission, but then WIDA informed her it would not pay her salary while she attended the hearings.
Arising out of her dismissal she seeks various orders from the court.
These include an injunction preventing the termination of her employment and that her salary be continued to be paid.
The matter came before Ms Justice Leonie Reynolds who, following an ex-parte application, granted permission to serve short notice of the action on the woman’s employers.
The judge adjourned the matter to a date in mid-January, but directed that the defendant produces a replying sworn statement in reply to Ms Looney’s claims.