North West Correspondent
The Health Service Executive said it has been asked by gardaí to delay the publication of a report while investigations continue into allegations of sexual abuse by a former resident at a Donegal care home.
The allegations, first reported in The Irish Times, are of sexual assault on a number of residents at St Joseph’s Community Hospital in Stranorlar carried out by a former resident, who was given the pseudonym Brandon in the report and who is now deceased.
In a statement today, the HSE said that every day the health service and its staff seek to provide safe, high-quality health and social care with compassion to many thousands of people in communities around the country.
Commenting on the unpublished report, the HSE said that what happened in this case fell far short of the high standards it seeks to achieve and “we apologise sincerely for that”.
The report by the HSE’s National Independent Review Panel is known as the Brandon Report.
‘Brandon’ is the pseudonym given to the person who allegedly sexually abused approximately 18 residents at The Sean O’Hare Unit at St Joseph’s Community Hospital and the nearby Ard Gréine Court complex.
Following meetings in Donegal with a number of families, Minister of State Anne Rabbitte confirmed that there were 108 alleged incidents against 18 residents.
She said there has to be full publication of the report and not just an executive summary.
The minister said she was “at cross-swords” with the HSE on the issue. She also said the families were all very appreciative of the frontline staff.
Whistleblower raised allegations in 2016
The allegations were raised by a whistleblower in the HSE in 2016 when he contacted local Independent TD Thomas Pringle.
Mr Pringle said he was horrified at the allegations and contacted HSE management.
He has called for the publication of the report and said the HSE must “come clean” in relation to what they did in relation to the case.
“We have to make sure that this doesn’t happen again, and I think that is what the families are very concerned about, we have to be confident this won’t happen in any other facility and learnings will be made from this case and worked on and that everyone will be safe,” Mr Pringle said.
The HSE, in a statement issued this afternoon, said that it received the initial report in August 2020 by which time ‘Brandon’ was no longer residing in the service.
On receipt of the report, it said, it “acted immediately to seek assurance as to the current safety of the residents within the relevant service. The HSE’s primary concern is the current safety of residents.
“Regular safeguarding meetings take place within the service, which has undergone significant reforms in advancing the Community Healthcare Organisation’s strategy for disability services generally, and specifically in response to the report findings, building on ongoing improvements in that specific service prior to the report.”
The HSE said that An Garda Síochána have asked them to delay publication at this point while their investigations continue and a statement from the gardaí said that a file has been forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions “in respect of this matter”.
In a statement the Health Information and Quality Authority said: “Since March 2016, HIQA has inspected this service on 25 occasions and has ensured that all safeguarding concerns were referred to the appropriate agency.”
Ms Rabbitte, who is Minister of State at the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth and at the Department of Health, met some families of those affected today.
She said she wanted them to know of her support for them and their loved ones, and to provide a direct engagement with her.
Minister Rabbitte said she was acutely aware of the sensitive nature of the subject matter of the report and the possible varying views of families regarding privacy and space at this time.
Minister Rabbitte said that the safety and protection of vulnerable people in the care of the State is paramount and her first concern is to ensure the needs of current service users are being prioritised and addressed.
“In the medium to long term, it is imperative that lessons are learned, and timely improvements made where needed in the system,” the minister said.
She said that the HSE has assured her that there is no ongoing risk to service users and that national governance and accountability structures to oversee implementation of the recommendations arising from the report are in place.
The Taoiseach said it would be unforgivable for anyone in an institution to be abused over several years.
Speaking in Cork, Micheál Martin said there could be no excuse for that happening.
Mr Martin said he would be working with Minister Rabbitte to “accelerate” publication of the report.