The findings of an investigation examining State agencies’ role in a North Galway foster care home in which three young girls were repeatedly raped over a prolonged period of time, will be published within weeks.
Minister for Children, Katherine Zappone, has confirmed that the anticipated completion date of the National Review Panel’s report is this October. The report, commissioned in 2016, will provide the findings of the review of three cases of child abuse in County Galway by the National Review Panel.
Minister Zappone was responding to Galway West TD, Catherine Connolly who sought an update on the case, which was highlighted by RTÉ’s Prime Time earlier this year.
The review was to determine how three young girls were left in a Dunmore foster home where a teenage boy – now a 29-year-old married man – was allowed to rape them for years on a weekly basis.
Minister Zappone said: “The panel is independent in its work, and the panel members for these cases have significant expertise in child protection, foster care and child sexual abuse. Once the report is completed, Tusla will act on identified areas for learning and any recommendations made.”
Deputy Catherine Connolly (Ind) previously raised the matter in the Dáil with An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Speaking this week, Deputy Connolly said: “The first disclosure in this case was made in 2009, the second in 2011 and the third in 2013. For four years after the risk to these young girls was uncovered they were left in a home that the HSE knew they were at severe risk of rape and abuse.
“These young girls needed the care of the State and yet the State failed them when they most needed it. We must be given an explanation as to why and how it took until April 2016 for the referral to be made to the independent review panel. And an explanation as to why the report by the national review panel is taking two and a half years to complete. These three young women who were in the care of the state deserve answers.”
The HSE has already apologised unreservedly to the three women for failings in care they received while they were in foster care with a family in Dunmore, arranged by HSE’s Galway Community Care, between 2005 and 2007.
Keith Burke of Addergoolemore, Dunmore, was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison, with a year suspended, after he was found guilty of raping the three foster children between 2003 and 2007. All three girls were under ten years of age at the time.
One of the victims, Rachel Barry, waived her right to anonymity so that her abuser could be named in the RTÉ Investigates programme, entitled Fostered and Failed, which aired in April of this year.
The two other victims were also interviewed for the programme, but their identities continue to be protected.
The Central Criminal Court was told that Keith Burke had raped the girls on a weekly basis when they were aged between six and 10; he was aged between 14 and 18 at the time of the offences.
Rachel told RTÉ that, in 2005 when she was eight years old, she was sent to the home of Kathleen and Gerry Burke in Dunmore for monthly respite care.
For the next two years, once every month, she stayed there for a weekend, where she became friendly with another long-term foster child who asked to be identified as ‘Amy’. Both Rachel and ‘Amy’ were raped by Keith Burke.
During one stay, Keith Burke took turns raping Rachel and ‘Amy’, forcing each girl to watch what was happening to the other.
In May 2007, Rachel told her biological mother she had been sexually abused by Keith Burke and a subsequent HSE investigation assessed Rachel’s disclosure as “credible”.
Rachel also reported that ‘Amy’ – who at that stage had been living with the Burkes for over a decade – had been raped by Keith Burke. However, at the time ‘Amy’ did not disclose any abuse.
Gardaí sent a file to the DPP but no prosecution followed. ‘Amy’ and another foster child, a boy, continued to live with the Burke family.
Documents seen by RTÉ Investigates also showed that two months after Rachel’s disclosure, the HSE decided ‘Amy’ and another foster child – a boy – were not to be removed from the Burke foster home.
But the HSE also stipulated Keith Burke was not to be left alone with the foster children. The foster parents agreed to supervise this arrangement. Keith Burke moved out of the family home at that point and lived a short distance away.
However, despite the reporting of sexual abuse concerns in 2007 and the HSE assessment that they were “credible”, Keith Burke still regularly visited the family home.
In fact, during the sentencing hearing two weeks ago, Gardaí told the court that Keith Burke continued to have unsupervised access after 2007. When questioned by RTÉ, the HSE said ‘these were matters for Tusla’.
Four years later, in October 2011, ‘Amy’ came forward and told a teacher she too had been raped by Keith Burke. Her disclosure prompted a new Garda investigation, which uncovered a third victim. ‘Sarah’ was also placed into foster care with Kathleen and Gerry Burke in 2000, aged five. She too was regularly raped by Keith Burke. ‘Sarah’ also witnessed ‘Amy’ being repeatedly raped.
The independent review panel was asked to investigate the matter in 2016, and its report is due to be published next month – two-and-a-half years later.