Irish High Court grants leave to sue State Agencies over failure to protect from child abuse

On Wednesday this week Mr Justice Peter Kelly, President of the Irish High Court granted leave to initiate legal action against State Agencies on behalf of a woman who was allegedly sexually abused by more than 12 men when she was a child. The proposed legal action against the State Agencies is to be based on their failure to protect her from the alleged abuse.

The woman at the centre of the proposed litigation is a Ward of Court and lives in a residential care unit. Her interests are being represented by Patricia Hickey the General Solicitor for the Wards of Court.

Ms Hickey had sought a formal legal Opinion from Sara Moorhead SC on which to base her application to the court for leave to bring the proceedings against the Health Service Executive and TUSLA, the Child and Family Agency.

In her Opinion Ms Moorhead detailed what she described as an “appalling failure of duty” on the part of the State Agencies. In her Opinion Ms Moorhead referred to a case conference which had taken place when the woman was aged two, the view of the professional at that case conferences was that she should be taken into care, but there was no suitable placement available for her.

Social Services were aware of and familiar with the woman’s family before she was born. Mr Justice Kelly referred to an entry in social work notes that stated in the same year as this woman was born the local public health nurse had made a referral to social services detailing alleged physical abuse by her father of older siblings and raising concerns about whether this woman’s mother was able to cope with another pregnancy.

After the birth of this woman her family were provided with support which included daily visits. At the age of five she was assessed as functioning in a mild range of general learning disability. She remained at home until she was 10 at which stage she was taken into care.

On admission to care, the woman disclosed alleged sexual abuse by more than 12 individuals from her local area, this alleged abuse included sexual intercourse which she said took place in her bedroom and also in hotels. She also alleged that a brother had been abused by male family relatives. Mr Justice Kelly noted that a child sexual abuse unit had assessed both children and concluded the allegations were credible.

Following on from these admissions criminal proceedings have been brought against her mother and maternal grandfather.

Having read the Opinion of Ms Moorhead, which Mr Justice Kelly said had described a “horror story”, he authorised the woman’s legal team to issue proceedings against the Health Service Executive and TUSLA.

Unfortunately what this application demonstrates is that the abuse of children and possible failures to protect them from that abuse remain a real and present danger.


Written by Adrian Carey, Solicitor, BLM

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