As a local TD I am deeply concerned by this case and appalled that the abuse could have continued for so long without appropriate action by the authorities.
But this is first and foremost a tragedy, and our thoughts and prayers must be with the children who lost the opportunity to grow up in a loving home. We must ensure that all of the resources of the State are made available to help these six children to come to terms, and cope, with their terrible experiences.
The old adage that children should be seen and not heard should have been filed away neatly in a different era. It belongs to a time when children were not as important as adults and therefore had to speak when spoken to in the company of adults, under the knowledge they would be punished if spoke out of turn.
In today’s world everybody should be equal and children should be able speak up for themselves without the threat of punishment. But sadly this was not the reality here and this case highlights that fact.
To quote from Mr Justice John MacMenamin:
‘One thing that has haunted the children is why they are being listened to now when they were ignored for so long? They asked why they hadn’t been taken seriously.’
The failure to listen – not only to the children but also to those around them such as neighbours and relatives – facilitated this appalling case of abuse. “Barbaric cruelty” is far too tame a phrase to describe what these children had to survive. But survive they did. Not only are they to be commended for speaking up and for giving evidence against their parents, which for them brought back all of kinds of terrible memories, but most importantly they are to be commended for allowing this report to be published in an attempt to prevent this happening to any other family.
The reason that I want to acknowledge their agreement to the publication of the report is because these six children have had to relive the terrible isolation of their early upbringing in the family home during two court cases.
Not only was there the coverage of the cases, and the natural discussion that took place on foot of that, but there were also media vultures encamped outside the homes of the children, who tried to exploit the story and who had no qualms about putting these children through a further period of abuse.
Have these children, their family and their community not been through enough? Should they have to be exploited again for profit?
I want to commend Mr Justice MacMenamin for his reporting restrictions which I hope will be respected in principle and in practice.
After the completion of a preliminary review to establish the facts of the case and the ordering of this inquiry Ms. Laverne McGuinness, HSE National Director, Primary, Continuing and Community Care, said: ‘There is no doubt that these children have been let down badly by society.’
At the time of sentencing, counsel for the mother asked Judge Reynolds to take into consideration that the wider community must have known of the abuse that was going on.
The fact is that they did know, and they did report it to the appropriate authorities, but their complaints were not acted upon.
These included reports from a concerned neighbour, serious concerns expressed by relatives, and also by members of the public and the school, as well as a Garda. The report details at least 19 complaints to professionals over an 11 year period.
Not only must each of these individuals be issued with an apology by the HSE but also the community which has had to live under a cloud since this case first came to public attention.
Each and every member of the community has been tarnished by the inaction of the health professionals who failed to act when confronted with serious concerns regarding these children. This has been fuelled by ill-considered comments by those who wished to divert attention away from the real failings in this case.
The recommendations in this report must be acted upon in full and not just allowed to gather dust. After cases such as this, reports get commissioned yet nothing concrete ever happens, no-one ever learns and nothing ever changes. Many of the recommendations contained in the report are simply common sense that the public would assume or hope that social workers already apply, such as speaking directly to the children at the centre of such cases and interviewing those who make complaints.
The recommendations in this report can make a real difference if they are implemented. The time has come to stop talking about these children and to take real action to make sure that something like this does not happen again.