The failure of government health officials in the 26 Counties to ascertain the number of children who died in state care since 2000 is “genuinely frightening”, Amnesty International warned today.
It had been claimed by some officials that privacy concerns required that details of the deaths be suppressed.
Amid fears the total is as high as 200, Amnesty has hit out at Ireland’s human rights record. Colm O’Gorman, Amnesty’s Irish director, called for an automatic independent inquiry any time a child dies in state care.
“It is genuinely frightening that the Health Service Executive (HSE) cannot tell us how many children died in its care,” the Amnesty spokesman said.
“Their families have a right to know what happened and how these children lost their lives.”
Children’s Minister Barry Andrews, facing calls for his resignation over the scandal, said he was determined to resolve the situation by June. Emergency legislation is being planned to force the HSE to release the figures.
“It’s unfortunate that we have to go down this road. As I said before it’s frustrating,” the minister said.
“I am determined that it will be provided by the end of June. I think public confidence needs to be restored in this area.
Mr O’Gorman said: “As disturbing as these most recent revelations are, the HSE has already shown itself unable to properly look after the children in its care.
“This year’s Amnesty International global Annual Report highlights the disappearance of 419 unaccompanied children from HSE care between the end of 2000 and June 2009.”
Amnesty’s report also said the placing of vulnerable children in adult mental health units was cause for particular concern.
It criticised the coalition government’s delay in bringing forward a referendum on children’s rights.
“This year marks 20 years since Ireland signed up to the Convention on the Rights of the Child but successive governments have failed to take children’s rights seriously,” Mr O’Gorman said.
“Despite the tragedies in HSE care, the abuse catalogued in the Ryan Report and an all-party consensus on wording, putting children’s rights in our Constitution still doesn’t seem to be a political priority for our Government.”
Earlier this week, the 26-County Taoiseach Brian Cowen admitted in the Dublin parliament that the HSE had been unable to say how many children had died in State care.
He said the HSE had so far confirmed that 23 children had died in the care of the State in the past decade but had been unable to say how many more have died.
“I do not suggest that it is something about which I am happy or about which the Government is happy. One would have hoped it was available immediately,” he said.
Reacting in the Dail to the Taoiseach’s admission, Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said he was astonished by the Taoiseach’s response.
“It is incredible that on a matter as sensitive and as important as that that the head of State does not have the information on how many children have died,” said Mr Kenny.
Mr Kenny said there was a dysfunctional HSE and powerless Ministers in the health and children’s area.
The Ministers were unable to acquire information about children who may have died in the care of the State, although it had been promised in March of last year.
“It is truly astonishing that the Taoiseach of the country, himself a former minister for health, does not have this information accurately,” he added. “We have a health department and a HSE hiding behind process and reports.”
“This debacle is one of the most monumental failures in the history of the State,” he added.
Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore also said the lack of information was astonishing. He said that if media reports of 200 children dying in State care over 10 years were true, it represented one death for every 285 children in care which was a multiple of 10 of the incidence of childhood mortality.
In a related development,it was reported that the body of 17-year-old Daniel McAnaspie was found earlier this month. He had been in the care of the HSE since 2003, but had gone missing in February.
The Health Service Executive was warned that Daniel McAnaspie’s behaviour could prove fatal six weeks before the teenager went missing.
Various reports showed that, although his problems had been identified from the age of eleven and extensively analysed and reported on, they were not addressed. The teenager was found stabbed to death in a drain in County Meath.