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Hospital CCTV comes under inquest scrutiny

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It took eight days to locate a voluntary patient, who absconded from UHG’s psychiatric unit last summer, as there were no recordings of him leaving – as per regulations preventing CCTV being installed in and around the department.

At the inquiry into his death at Galway Courthouse on Friday, Coroner for West Galway, Dr Ciaran MacLoughlin, said that this was either “a glaring omission” or that the interpretation of the restrictions imposed by the Mental Health Commission was wrong.

It was CCTV footage captured from a neighbouring building that led to the search efforts being intensified around the Shantalla area – the remains of Raymond Walsh (40), formally of Whitehall Close, Lower Abbeygate Street, were located the following day.

His family were critical of hospital staff for not thinking to check the camera outside Ard Aoibhinn centre, which is owned by Cancer Care West.

The Coroner disagreed, however, and said that this would be unreasonable, considering the camera was not on hospital grounds.

He did praise the efforts of Sgt Lucy Lowry, however, who was the first to notice the camera on August 11.

While there was a security camera at the entrance to the mental health unit at the time, CCTV footage was not being recorded – as per management’s understanding of regulations imposed by the Mental Health Commission.

A live feed was connected to a screen at the nurse’s station – so patients or visitors could be buzzed in and out through the keypad-controlled door.

This measure was implemented in response to recommendations made by the Coroner, following the death of a voluntary patient (24) in similar circumstances five years ago.

The Inquest in January 2012 was told that outdated CCTV at the psychiatric unit had led to seven days of anguish for the family, before a young man’s remains were found.

The Coroner had recommended that the HSE update their CCTV cameras at the entrance to the ward, and provide one central location where all the cameras could be viewed at once.

However, since the August 2015 disappearance of Raymond Walsh, a camera now records the comings and goings at the entrance to the unit, but not what happens inside its doors; another camera records the enclosed garden at the perimeter of the property. Footage is kept for just 24 hours, and the cameras are not linked to the main hospital security system, which drew criticism from the Coroner.

“We think we are in breach of the Act, and may be sanctioned – there are significant sanctions,” consultant psychiatrist, Dr Laura Mannion, explained the reluctance of staff to record CCTV footage.

“We have been told that we are not allowed to record in a psychiatric unit.”

Mr Walsh had presented with a strong letter from his GP on July 30 last year. In it, he was described as having very severe symptoms of depression, low mood, and had lost interest in life.

When he was assessed by the psychiatric team, he acknowledged that suicide would be the “easy way out” but denied any active plan to take his own life. He was placed on a ‘Level 2’ status – the second lowest, through which a patient must remain in their night attire at all times, and is checked every 15 minutes by nursing staff.

He was reviewed on a daily basis over that bank holiday weekend, and seen by Dr Mannion on Tuesday, August 4, at 9.30am.

“He was very concerned at the nature of his diagnosis – I said I couldn’t give it, that it would be subject to further treatment in hospital,” she said.

“I had no concerns for him, and would have changed him to a Level 1 (in time). It would have been a long admission, should he have stayed in hospital.

“He didn’t meet the criteria for involuntary detention under the Mental Health Act. We couldn’t have detained him if he’d asked to leave that morning.”

He was noted as being present at 12pm that day, but not at 12.15pm, and protocols were followed in a bid to find him. However, without a recording device at the entrance to the unit, it was not known if he had left that way. Furthermore, he had not been captured by any of the 38 CCTV cameras located throughout the hospital grounds, so it was not known which direction he had gone in.

Both the Coroner, and barrister for the Walsh family, Paul McGettigan, shared an interpretation of the regulations relating to the use of recording equipment at the unit – which differed from the view held by Dr Mannion and other senior staff.

Dr MacLoughlin’s understanding was that staff were prohibited from observing an individual patient on CCTV, but not from ensuring that the perimeter of the unit was safe and secure, in the event of anti-social behaviour from outsiders.

“This is either a glaring omission or the Commission are wrong,” he said.

“It is years in operation, and I would have thought that this would have been sorted out nationally – CCTV is everywhere. It is needed to see who is coming in and out of the building – from the security point of view. If someone leaves without authority, you could tell where they left and in what direction.

“This section seems to purely relate to the residents as individual patients, and that you cannot observe him or her all day, which would be an invasion of privacy.

“One of the purposes of Inquests is to identify a situation that, if left unremedied, would lead to further death. Regulations are regulations, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be changed, even if they could have been amended or changed to prevent this happening in 2011 and now.”

It was not until eight days later that Sgt Lowry noticed the Ard Aoibhinn camera, and checked its recording for August 4. She had gone to the hospital to discuss the possible exit points with staff.

“If he had gone out the main entrance, or another possible exit to the main hospital, CCTV would have picked him up – the only other avenue of possibility was out through the garden,” she said.

“The CCTV covers the entrance to Ard Aoibhinn and the car park – I could see a male climbing over the (hospital) fence, running through the car park and out the entrance gate, crossing the road and disappearing.”

This focussed the search parties on that area. Garda Padraig Monaghan was involved in the search of the extensive grounds of St Mary’s College the following day, August 12, and found Mr Walsh’s remains under a tree. He was pronounced dead at 1.40pm.

Barrister for the Walsh family, Mr McGettigan, claimed that staff at the psychiatric unit should have known about this camera, which would have brought the search to a conclusion much sooner. The Coroner did not agree, however, and told the barrister that he was overstating the point.

Dr MacLoughlin did make some recommendations, though, among them that clarification on the surveillance issue should be provided by John Meehan, the head of mental health services in the HSE West region, at the resumed hearing date of May 19.

“We need someone to engage with the Mental Health Commission and give us a definite answer… Clinicians should not be afraid of adversarial engagement with the Commission,” he said.

“Had the Gardaí known of the camera at Ard Aoibhinn, they might have found him quicker – anyone who has CCTV on their premises should notify Gardaí so that they can seek the assistance of that footage if there is any incident.”

He offered his sincere sympathy to Mr Walsh’s brother and sister, on the tragic circumstances of his sudden and untimely death.

Connacht Tribune

Tests reveal high pollution levels close to Barna bathing spot

Denise McNamara

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New bathing water testing in Barna has revealed dangerously high levels of pollution at an inlet stream that discharges into the local pier which is a popular bathing spot.

Galway County Council confirmed that it had recently started sampling at Mags’ Boreen Beach in the village and at the inlet stream that feeds into the pier.

The results from May 26 show levels of E.coli at 198,636 cfu/100 ml and Enterococci at 2,900 cfu/100 ml at the stream. Cfu (colony-forming unit) is a measurement used to estimate the number of viable bacteria or fungal cells in a sample.

Mags’ Boreen Beach was 86 for E.coli and 7 for Enterococci at low tide.

The levels of both pollutants in the water for it to be deemed ‘sufficient quality’ are 500 and 185 cfu/100ml respectively.

E.coli is a bacteria that lives in the gut of humans and animals. Some types can cause illnesses such as diarrhoea, abdominal pain, fever and vomiting and can be life-threating to infants and people with poor immune systems.

Enterococci are bacteria which indicate contamination by faecal waste that can cause disease in the skin, eyes, ears and respiratory tract.

Galway County Council Secretary Michael Owens said the Council would continue to monitor water quality at these locations during the bathing season.

“The monitoring results for the inlet stream to the pier are concerning and may indicate a risk of poor water quality at the pier. Local people have noted that young people use the pier area for swimming,” he stated.

“The results of monitoring of Mags’ Boreen Beach indicates that the water quality was compliant with the standards for excellent water quality. Further sampling will be carried out during the bathing season.

“We will carry out further investigations to try to identify any sources of contamination in the catchment. We have already installed a sign at the inlet stream noting that the inlet stream is contaminated and may pose a risk to health.”

Chairperson of Barna Tidy Towns, Dennis O’Dwyer, said there had been a lot of speculation for years about the stream polluting the water.

“It’s extremely high but at least we now know that the stream has a problem while Mag’s Boreen Beach is safe,” he said.

“We will probably now ask the Council to go further upstream where two streams converge at Donnelly’s Pub, one under The Twelve Hotel and other beside the bus stop so we can eliminate if individual houses or housing estates not linked to the sewage pipes are causing the pollution.”

The group will also request testing at Barna Pier which is a popular jumping off point.

“It’s not a designated swimming area but people do swim there, including children. I don’t think anyone has ever been sick but we’d rather know because a lot of kids do jump in.”

Mr Owens said it can be very difficult to identify sources of pollution in a stream or river as it is generally a combination of multiple sources.

“The majority of properties in the village are connected to the public wastewater scheme, which is pumped to the Galway City public wastewater treatment plant. There is a possibility that some properties that should be connected to the public wastewater scheme are misconnected.

“Other possible sources in the catchment include private wastewater treatment systems connected to individual homes, housing estates and businesses and discharges from agricultural activities. Galway County Council intends to carry out inspections of private wastewater treatment plants in the area and will issue advisory notices if issues are identified.”

The catchment has been put forward as a Priority Area for Action for the next cycle of the River Basin Management Plan which is scheduled to commence in 2022. If this is approved, additional resources will be available for investigations in the catchment.

There is no requirement on the Council to notify the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as the sample of concern was taken from an inlet stream. The local authority is required to notify the EPA in the event of non-compliances at all designated bathing areas. The inlet stream is not a designated bathing area as it is too shallow.

“If necessary, additional signs will be put in place at the pier,” added the County Secretary.

“The EPA advise that after a heavy rainfall event it is best to avoid recreational water activities at a beach or bathing area for at least 48 hours to protect public health. It is especially important in areas where sewage may pose a risk.”

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Connacht Tribune

Community’s delight at club’s first ever Irish rugby international

Stephen Corrigan

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Members of Monivea Rugby have expressed their delight at the naming of one of their own in the Irish team for this year’s summer series – with Caolin Blade looking set to be the clubs first to don the Irish jersey as a new era at his home club gets underway.

Blade, who is part of a 37-man squad named by Head Coach Andy Farrell this week that will take on Japan and the USA in two test matches in Dublin this July, exemplifies what can be achieved by a player from a small club in the West of Ireland, according to its recently appointed President Anthony Killarney.

“The sense of elation and pride in the club is immense, to see the Blade name on the Irish squad sheet. A very well-deserved achievement and timely indeed, based on his performances for Connacht.

“Caolin is showing such a great example – on and off the pitch – of what can be achieved through dedication and hard work to all the young players in Monivea RFC. We are all so proud today, and for this to happen as we approach our 50th year celebrations,” said Mr Killarney.

Caolin’s dad Pat was Monivea’s star player for years, he added, so to see his son rise up to international rugby was no surprise.

Blade’s naming on Monday coincides with a shakeup at the club that includes the election of a new committee aiming to grow the club and achieve the long-held goal of building a clubhouse.

As well as Mr Killarney becoming President, Carmel Laheen has been elected Vice President, while local councillor Shelly Herterich Quinn has taken the position of Chairperson.

Speaking to the Connacht Tribune this week, Cllr Herterich Quinn said she’d been involved in the club for almost ten years and was hugely honoured to take the role, as she paid tribute to the outgoing President, Pádraic McGann.

“I was delighted to receive the nomination for Chair from Pádraic McGann and I want to sincerely thank Padráic for everything he has achieved for rugby in Monivea over the past 49 years. It is absolutely true to say that without Pádraic’s grit and determination, we would not have a rugby club to go to every week, to play the game we love so much,” she said.

“2021 has been a significant years in more ways than one, but in particular here at Monivea RFC where one of the main figures in all things rugby for the last 49 years will take a back seat as we face into exciting times. Affectionately known as Mr Monivea, Pádraic McGann has been the driving force behind Monivea Rugby since 1972 which he founded, based on his love and enthusiasm for the game.”

The new committee comes from a wide variety of backgrounds, she said, and share a determination to build on the clubs successes – and to produce more players like Caolin Blade.

“The absence of a clubhouse is notable but we know that with the determination of the new committee, and the help of all our members, Monivea RFC will soon put down some solid foundations and continue to build on what has already been achieved in this wonderful club,” said Cllr Herterich Quinn.

“What better way to mark 50 years of rugby in the small picturesque village of Monivea than the opening of a clubhouse.”

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Connacht Tribune

Man jailed for using coercive behaviour to control family

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A man whose young children fear for their mother’s safety once he is released from custody, has been sentenced to three years in prison for using coercion to control his family.

Imposing the sentence at Galway Circuit Criminal Court this week, Judge Rory McCabe concurred with the findings of psychiatric and probation reports handed into court, that 49-year-old Paul Harkin posed a high risk of reoffending and of committing violence against his partner.

Harkin, a native of Derry who formerly lived with his wife and two children near Kilchreest, Loughrea, pleaded guilty before the court last January to knowingly and persistently engaging in behaviour that was controlling or coercive on a date unknown between June 24 and August 13 last year at an unknown location, which had a serious effect on a woman who is or was his spouse, and the behaviour was such that a reasonable person would consider it likely to have a serious effect on a relevant person, contrary to Section 39 (1) and (3) of the Domestic Violence Act, 2018.

Judge McCabe heard evidence at Harkin’s sentence hearing last week but adjourned finalisation of sentence until this week to consider the findings of comprehensive psychiatric and probation reports.

The court heard Harkin believed in several conspiracy theories and his coercive control of his wife and two young children, then aged nine and seven, escalated on the run-up to the children’s impending return to school last September as he feared they would be vaccinated against Covid 19, which he believed was a hoax.

He made veiled threats to his now former wife, Fiona Clarke, that he would burn their house down, and the homes of her extended family without warning, resulting in the loss of twelve lives, if she did not behave and do as she was told.

The court heard Ms Clarke went out to work while her husband stayed at home. He got her to withdraw money from her account on a regular basis and give it to him. He spent most days watching conspiracy videos on his phone and drinking beer, the court heard.

In her victim impact statement, which Ms Clarke read to the court, she said she lived in fear for the future when Harkin got out of prison.

“I went against Paul by speaking out and I am now terrified of the consequences. I don’t know if he will want revenge,” she said.

Detective Sergeant Paul Duane told the court that he arrested Harkin on September 2 last year.

He confirmed Harkin had previous convictions from Northern Ireland in 1998 for threatening to kill a former partner there, for two aggravated burglaries and causing criminal damage for which he had received a two-year suspended sentence.

Judge Rory McCabe said Harkin’s 1998 convictions showed he had ‘form’.

The judge placed the headline sentence at four-and-a-half years which he said, reflected the gravity of the offence, which carries a maximum tariff of five years.

Taking the early plea, Harkin’s expression of remorse, and his intention to leave the jurisdiction and go back to live in Derry as mitigating factors, Judge McCabe said the sentence he had in mind was three years.

However, he decided not to finalise the structure of that sentence until this week, stating this was a complex matter and he needed more time to consider the reports before the court.

Judge McCabe said an immediate custodial sentence was unavoidable and warranted when passing sentence this week.

The judge said he believed Harkin would make no effort to rehabilitate and it was his belief he would pose an ongoing risk of reoffending.

Imposing the three-year sentence, the judge directed Harkin to have no contact with the victims and come under the supervision of the probation service for twelve months on his release from prison.

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