Irish Times view on the ‘Brandon’ report: a devastating indictment

The failures to protect vulnerable people are astonishing

The scale of sexual abuse perpetrated on intellectually disabled adults at Health Service Executive-run care facilities in Co Donegal for at least 13 years, with the full knowledge of management, is devastating – for the victims, their families and for the HSE itself.

The full extent of what happened is difficult to comprehend on several levels. There is the abuse itself, the fact it continued unabated for so long, the failure to tell families, and the ongoing apparent resistance of the HSE to fully reveal what went wrong. The latter should be of deep concern to Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly and Minister of State for disabilities, Anne Rabbitte.

The unpublished investigation by the HSE’s National Independent Review Panel (NIRP) found at least 18 residents of the Sean O’Hare unit in St Joseph’s hospital, Stranorlar and later in the nearby Ard Greine Court complex, were subjected “to sustained sexual abuse” between 2003 and 2016. Upwards of 108 incidents of abuse were perpetrated on many non-verbal adults by another resident given the pseudonym “Brandon” in the report. Brandon died last year.

Nursing staff made repeated efforts to protect their vulnerable charges, including writing to management in February 2008 appealing for “this very serious situation” to be brought to a “satisfactory resolution”. The common strategy was to move Brandon around the wards, giving respite to those he was leaving but allowing him access to new victims.


Repeated advices from external experts that Brandon be separated from his more vulnerable peers appear to have been resisted. In 2008 when 36 of the 40 residents of the Sean O’Hare unit moved to the bungalows in Ard Greine Court, he could have remained in the unit. In 2011 he was eventually moved into his own accommodation but was transferred back with to house-mates in September 2013. This failures to protect vulnerable people, many of whom could not have called for help, are astonishing.

And then there is the treatment of their families, who were not informed of the abuse when it was happening and were given scant information when finally told in December 2018. Those who spoke to The Irish Times want to see the publication of the NIRP report which was completed in August 2020. The HSE says it had been asked to delay publication by the Garda though Rabbitte told RTÉ radio on Sunday this reason had not been put to her until late last week.

HSE chief executive Paul Reid says "disciplinary action" is being examined for some involved in this case. However, more fundamental change is needed too. Those who put their trust in the organisation deserve to be met by a culture of care, respect and transparency, underpinned by strong, accountable governance. The findings of the NIPR report suggest that is some way off.