Monthly Archives: October 2013

Who’s to blame for Dublin’s water blackouts

Future Shock: The Last Drop

Future Shock: The Last Drop

I am afflicted with the need to bore people about Dublin’s strained relationship with water. I do it a lot. In fact I do it to an olympic level, I could bore for my country about water and take gold in all disciplines. I’ve been doing it for a long time too, above is a picture of me blathering on about Dublin’s water supply in a Future Shock documentary back in 2007.

Most of the time I’m just boring but for a few brief days every year when there’s shortages of supply in the capital city I am an all knowing seer. A prophet, a futurologist even. Except I’m not because everything that I have been reporting for nearly ten years was identified as a problem 20 years before I ever stumbled upon it.

The problem in a nutshell is that for an uncomfortable amount of the year the demand outstrips what the system can comfortably supply. In the graph below you’ll see the red line (demand for water) matches and regularly exceeds the blue line (what’s produced).

Water Supply

The system is forced to work beyond its maximum capacity much of the time leaving no wriggle room, no margin for error and certainly no room whatsoever for unforseen climate/weather related events. The cities of most developed countries operate with a spare capacity of at least 20%, in Dublin that figure is officially 1% but is actually a minus figure when the system is working beyond what it was designed to do.

We can’t fix the problem anytime soon so “water blackouts” and constriction of supply will be a feature of life in the capital for a long time to come. But on the upside at least it is crystal clear who’s to blame.

A GENUINELY HAPPY AND RELAXED  BERTIE AHERN IS PICTURED YESTERDAY(SUNDAY) . PIC MAXPIX.

Engineers have been saying for a very long time that what has happened was going to happen. The European Commission was telling us back in the 1980’s that we needed to invest in water services. But at a time when the rest of our European neighbours had the foresight to recognise that Water Rates was an evil necessity they should get on with implementing Bertie Ahern thought otherwise. He and Noel Dempsey returned from a European summit in Lisbon in 2000 with a “major political victory” – a derogation on the implementation of water rates.

Cogent arguments can be made that it was actually Fianna Fail’s scrapping of rates in 1978 or Brendan Howlin’s abolition of the Domestic Service Levy in 1997 that did in investment in water infrastructure. The real scapegoat is probably every government that ignored the engineers over the last 40 years. But Bertie deserves special mention for hitting upon the idea that we needed to be saved from this insidious Euro tax, so that we are now the only OECD nation without water rates . . . for the moment.

Now at a time when households and businesses can least afford it the nettle has to be grasped anyway, but we’ve 20 years catching up to do on that lack of investment. So we’ll be paying through the nose for something we’ve foolishly got used to thinking is free. And we’ll be getting a really poor quality service too until the fruits of that investment will be seen ten or more years from now.

You can listen to a podcast of my report on the specific difficulties being encountered at the Ballymore Eustace treatment plant here. If you’re Bertie Ahern, Brendan Howling or even Joe Higgins you can reflect on a picture of this statue on O’Connell Street.

Sir_John_Gray

That is Sir John Gray. You’ve probably never noticed him nestled in between Daniel O’Connell and Jim Larkin. The cities fathers decided to commemorate him because in the middle of the 19th century he had the foresight to realise that Dubliners couldn’t continue to source all their drinking water from the Liffey and the Royal and Grand canals. He set about raising funds for the Vartry Reservoir at Roundwood which to this day supplies about a quarter of Dublin’s needs. He was a contentious figure but for this act of statesmanship, public service and timely addressing of a looming problem he is now a permanent part of Dublin’s landscape. Can I make my point any clearer.

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“Lainey and Chloe’s” Story

Child Mirror

When I started reporting on the cases of the children I have been referring to as Maggie and Emma it wasn’t clear if they were representative of anything. In the literally thousands of disclosures of abuse made every year there had to be cock ups, and perhaps these cases were just “outliers”. Egregious examples of incompetence with a bit of possible official malice thrown in. I made no initial assumptions about them being anything other than terribly tragic instances of the state failing vulnerable children.

The volume of similar cases that I now have on my desk suggests strikingly similar patterns of official action. Concerned mothers lobbying for their children getting labelled “difficult”. Those mothers being forced to undergo psychiatric assesment. Their fitness to parent called into doubt on the say so of an allegedly abusive spouse. Incomplete or haphazard consideration of the evidence of abuse.

And most disturbingly  – fathers who have been deemed abusive by Gardai, by independent Psychologists, by paediatricians getting access to their children on the recommendation of the HSE.

Birds of a feather flock together and it may well be that by discussing these cases so publicly I have encouraged the handful of other similar cases that exist to come forward. So it is still too early to draw any hard and fast conclusions about the extent of this. My instinct however is that the women who have identified themselves to me and provided documents to support their allegations are the courageous few not afraid to move to the front of a long queue of  silenced grievance.

ChildrenFirstLetterhead

There are more stories coming to my attention. There will be more reports on Drivetime. This from yesterday’s programme is Lainey and Chloe’s story.

Lainey and Chloe’s Story – Listen here

Two young children made disclosures first to their mother, then to other adults, of stories that backed each other up. The level of detail they offered in those stories is in the minds of several psychologists – who have independently examined their testimony – proof of grooming and abuse by their father. But the HSE arrived at a different conclusion and have recommended that the father regain unsupervised access.

That decision was reached with considerable input from one psychologist. A professional who had not interviewed Lainey or Chloe since they made their disclosures. This did not inhibit the psychologist from concluding that no abuse had taken place. A conclusion the Social Workers agreed with in making their recommendation that the father regain access which did not necessarily need to be supervised.

After the HSE reached its conclusion Lainey’s mother video recorded her making a disclosure of abuse. She has played it for two different psychologists. You can raise quite legitimate objections about possible coaching by a parent  – but notwithstanding that possible influence those psychologists concluded that it could not be ignored.

I have watched it. It is horrifying. If you saw it you would find it very hard to understand how the HSE could have closed the file on Lainey and Chloe let alone made the recommendations it has. But the mother said that her attempts to get the HSE to consider it have been rebuffed.

Lainey and Chloe’s mother has since then had to hand her children over to their father for unsupervised access. They are daytime visits in public places and of relatively short duration. So at present she is relatively reassured that no further abuse is taking place, but her ex husband could yet petition the courts for greater access. As things stand there would be little reason for the judge not to award it.

HSE response – Listen here

The only formal response we have had from the HSE until now is to draw our attention to our obligations under Children First. In other words  – no acknowledgement of the possibility of any problem but a warning that in highlighting these cases anonymously we were failing to disclose to the HSE the identity of  victims of sexual abuse. We have responded that everything that has been reported on by this programme is information that the HSE has too.

Children First Guidelines

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Emma’s Story

When news emerged of those two unfortunate children in Athlone and what they may  have been subjected to,  most probably assumed that at least they would be well looked after now. The past week has suggested that is something that cannot be taken for granted. Emma’s story illustrates just how wrong things can go for the abuse victim.

The Ombudsman chose to publish Maggie’s report because she believed that Maggie’s case highlighted bigger problems with the HSE’s treatment of child sex abuse victims. Within hours of it being broadcast a woman who had first been in touch with me a few years ago renewed contact. She told me Emma’s story (all names changed).

Emma is eleven now, her parents are estranged and she would frequently return to her mum from overnight visits to her father with unexplained rashes, and disturbed/withdrawn behaviour.

Emma made a disclosure of abuse to her mother, she made the same disclosure to her GP, her teacher and the gardaí. This little girl never once changed her story.

As you know the DPP seldom pursues  prosecutions in this area largely because the evidence and testimony of young children is viewed as unreliable. But in Emma’s case the DPP decided to prosecute.

Just as in Maggie’s case, for whatever reason some officials in the HSE decided that Emma’s mother was a bigger problem than this apparent open and shut case of child abuse.  They recommended against Garda advice that the father be allowed to resume access visits. They did not provide the child with any therapeutic or counselling services. And they recommended that the mother be required to undertake psychiatric assessment to determine her fitness to parent.

She subjected herself to the humiliation of psychiatric assesment, and he gave her a clean bill of health. I have read that report … and I should say that everything I am reporting here is backed up with documentary evidence. What those documents, obtained under Freedom of Information, appear to point to is this.

The HSE interviewed mother and father separately but the father got in there first. He made a number of allegations about the mother. He said she was emotionally unstable, mentally ill and in the habit of making unsubstantiated allegations. Those suggestions were what was acted on. The mother was sent to see a shrink and the father was given resumed access to Emma.

Medical evidence would suggest the  abuse started again but the mother’s hands were tied in how she could respond as a result of a number of very hard to understand  things done by the HSE officials.

A recommendation was made in  Emma’s file that no action should be taken on any further disclosures of abuse for a period of year. Emma’s mother was told that if she made any allegations to anybody about her husband abusing their daughter she could end up before the courts.

In addition to which, the original allegations of her mental instability and the recommendation she be assessed by a psychiatrist were left on the file but the clean bill of health from the psychiatrist wasn’t attached … in fact they refused to attach it according to Emma’s mother.

There is a very significant amount of medical and forensic evidence to support the mother’s claim that her daughter was abused again after the dad’s visistation rights had been restored. She was examined by specialists in a children’s hospital and a number of alarming things were noted.  But the HSE never took action on a case that you would imagine should have had alarm bells ringing all over the place. The file which I have obtained a copy of says that  no action should be taken on foot of further disclosures without the mother first attending a psychiatrist  for ongoing treatment.

Emma’s mum was forced to go through the agony of sending her children, she says against their will, to stay overnight with their father … from where she would get text messages that would break the heart of any parent. This is a transcript of my interview with her.

SO the girls had a phone when the first went to stay with him. And they’d text me “I’m crying. I don’t weant to be here”.

They just didn’t want to go down to him and I had to force them to go down because I was told if I didn’t send them I’d be arrested. And that would be exactly what he would want, me being arrested and being found not to be a fit mother.

PBH:

Was Emma abused again?

Mother:

 Yes she was. On two occasions that I know of…. that I have seen the physical manifestations of the abuse again, yes. One of them she had to have a rape examination in the children’s Hopsital. She had an anal infection, and they found pubic hair.

PBH:

So there was a wealth of forensic and medical evidence supporting claims of abuse for the hospital to pass on to the HSE? Did they act on it?

Mother:

No they didn’t. They had a meeting and they decided that they weren’t going to act on it because it had come from me.

PBH:

It was medical evidence of abuse.

Mother:

My opinion on it is that they have made a grave grave mistake, and I’ve told them so. I said that I would hold them responsible, and I will until I get an apology for Emma.

PBH:

In your opinion did they directly expose Emma to the risk of being raped?

Mother:

Yes … Yes … I am absolutely sure that they did. They had a wealth of people that they could contact. They never did. They spoke to the wrong teacher in her school. I alerted them to that. They still didn’t care. I wrote into them all the times they were making a mistake.

But every time I did the risk was that I would have them taken off me, and I was afraid. I had to way up the fact that if I did they’d be given to him …. or I could just keep my mouth shut … and I’ve had to do that. …. It’s absolutely eating me.

 

 

The first criminal case never made it to court. But Gardai have received the second medical file which the HSE did not act upon and they are investigating.

The HSE dismissed Emma’s complaints of pain and soreness arising from the resumed abuse as being because she was suffering from a Urinary Tract Infection. This was an perhaps odd conclusion as the hospital lab results show that she didn’t have a UTI.

Emma has to see her father though his contact is supervised and limited. She has still not received any counselling whatsoever from the HSE.

There is a bigger point to be drawn from Emma’s story.

Each year over 3000 children make disclosures of sexual abuse. Large numbers of those children never access therapeutic  services. Now …. are they not going because they don’t need to. Or are they not going because they get therapy privately … or because like Emma and Maggie and others that I am being contacted by because the HSE is not providing treatment.

It is an illustration of a general point the Children’s Ombudsman made last week. Where a parent is articulate and forceful in standing up for their child officials will quite frequently label them as difficult and decide they are the problem.

Judge for yourself what happened here –  child is returned by the HSE to a father who appears to have continued abusing, HSE ignores the medical evidence of that abuse … but the mother is the crazy one in the HSE’s view even though she has a clean bill of health from a consultant psychiatrist.

That is a trauma for the parent … but what about the untreated child?

 

As with Maggie’s Story – the HSE doesn’t have any response. I contacted them four days ago seeking comment and I haven’t received an acknowledgment of that email. You can hear a podcast of my Drivetime report here, but if you’ve got this far you’ve read it all.

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“It’s just not good enough” – an update to Maggie’s story

Bullied child

It’s not even twelve months since we passed the Children’s Rights referendum. Less than a year since we all bought into the idea that an X in a box would give children a voice. “A once in a generation opportunity to show how much Ireland values children” we were told. No doubt the people of Ireland do cherish children, and for many the referendum was a warm, fuzzy expression of that. But in the crucial parts of our systems of government where child protection is concerned it’s as if the 10th of November 2012 never happened.

For three years before the referendum vote I had been lobbing questions at the HSE about an 11 year old rape victim I am calling “Maggie”. For ten months since the referendum I have been throwing much the same questions at them on a regular enough basis. Both before and after the referendum the questions were shrugged off with the same feckless ease. If this referendum actually strengthened the protections in law for children either nobody told the agency primarily responsible for implementing them or this child wasn’t covered by those laws.

“Maggie” has been traumatised by this experience. Both by being raped many times, some times at knife point, and by being ignored, left untreated and not believed by the people she thought were supposed to be there to care for her. And yet almost seven years on from first reporting the rape to Gardaí  she has a genuine sense of wanting the system to change for others. Many victims mouth these kind of platitudes because it is part of positive re-framing excercises taught by therapists. In her case it is genuine.

I believe she is sincere because all the time that as a pre-teen she was being mishandled and brutalised by petty little bureaucrats she intuited it shouldn’t be like this for anybody, not just her. With the pure, uncomplicated logic of a child as far as she was concerned it was this simple: she got raped, she should be helped.

She shouldn’t have to watch her mother despairing over the phone trying to secure a physical examination by a woman as opposed to a man. She shouldn’t have to feel that it was wrong to be emotionally drained by the Garda interviews and not wanting to do an more without her mum present.  She shouldn’t be picked upon by officials who told her it would be in her interests to drop her complaints.

And that is why, long after it was likely that anything that would benefit her was to be gained, she told her mother to persist in complaining. You can hear Maggie, her mother Sarah and The Children’s Ombudsman, Emily Logan, in my report for Drivetime here.

In my experience state agencies don’t like people who know what they want or have an idea what they might be entitled to. Maggie’s mum knew the Gardai and HSE were dragging their feet. That is why she started kicking up a fuss. She was pegged as “difficult” and “challenging” right from the start. In fact nameless, and obviously shameless, HSE officials still persist in spreading that defamation to this day.

What parent wouldn’t be “difficult” if they felt their recently ravaged child was not getting every bit of treatment that they could to heal their wounds? Personally I’d be a physical danger to anyone who wasn’t doing everything possible for my child. But don’t lets fall into the trap of thinking that Maggie’s mother’s personality is of even the slightest relevance. She could be a screaming harridan, hurling the foulest of personal abuse every time she opens her mouth and it still shouldn’t make any difference to the treatment Maggie received.

But it did. In an understated but thoroughly comprehensive report published today The Children’s Ombudsman, Emily Logan, called it exactly like it is. The HSE focussed on its dispute with the mother and ignored it’s statutory obligations to the child. “It’s just not good enough”, said Logan

The Ombudsman for Children, Emily Logan

The Ombudsman for Children, Emily Logan

Just think about that for a minute. They focussed on a dispute with the mother. They ignored the child who had been raped. They ignored the child who they were later told had attempted suicide. They ignored the child they were told had been diagnosed with depression. They ignored the child they were told was raped again because in despair at the lack of action being taken on her behalf  she had foolishly confronted her rapist. They ignored the child’s solicitor when he wrote on Maggie’s behalf, not even acknowledging receipt of a letter from this officer of the court. In all they ignored the child for seven long years.

Well strictly speaking they ignored her up until 2011. By then Emily Logan’s investigation had begun in earnest. The potential for embarrassment couldn’t be ignored inside the HSE so officials did what comes so naturally. They slipped seamlessly from burying their heads to covering their arses.

Maggie’s GP was contacted by a social worker who sought confidential information about her mother and then started talking out loud about whether or not Maggie might need to be taken into care. Maggie’s headmistress was contacted and told not to let Maggie return to school unless she attended a named psychiatrist. The headmistress and doctor thankfully had the backbone to tell the official what to go and do with herself. At a meeting with a Social Worker (their one and only) it became clear to Maggie and her mum that the tap on services for Maggie would be turned open if only the complaint to the Ombudsman was dropped.

These actions may have been misinterpreted by Maggie and Sarah. There may be an entirely innocent explanation for what these officials were trying to do. But if so the HSE haven’t taken the opportunity  I have offered them to correct this sinister interpretation.

There can be no excuse whatsoever though for the supposed mental healthcare professional who told Maggie that her mother’s complaints were behind her depression and suicidal feelings. He may have had a point, but if he had recognised the distress the dispute was causing Maggie how callous of him to tell a teenager this. How astonishingly cruel not to work to remove the HSE imposed cause of the distress rather than undermine the child’s relationship with the only person caring for her properly.

I hope that Maggie’s case is isolated. It doesn’t bear thinking about that there may be hundreds others suffering in the same way. But logic and numbers suggest otherwise. The 2011 Review of Adequacy documents indicate that 3,326 children disclosed sexual abuse to the authorities that year. It is possible that more than 50% of them never got into or beyond the first assessment interview that Maggie fell at. (I’m looking for specifics on this but it takes time) There are myriad different reasons but the net effect is this; potentially hundreds of sex abuse victims unable to access therapeutic services every year.

Even if some of these kids haven’t been sexually assaulted doesn’t making a claim to the authorities that you have been not suggest you’re in need of professional help anyway?

I’m not going to deal in this blog with what should be happening inside the HSE in response to the Ombudsman’s criticisms. It’s a zero sum game looking for accountability within an almost entirely unaccountable institution. It has occurred to me though that there might be ways to avoid these kind of situations ever occurring. Maggie in common with many others I’ve met with similar real grievances would have been considerably compensated early on with a simple apology. Protracted stand offs could be avoided, many man hours saved and much human agony prevented if we developed a formula for a “no liability sorry”. Institutions like the HSE are guided by the “Teflon principle” of Never saying sorry means never having to admit in court that you’re liable.  If released from the shackles of this professional constraint I wonder  how much closer to the aspirations of the Children’s Rights referendum we might creep.

They are working in Canada on methods of how to allow officials to say sorry and find a way forward without it coming back and biting them in the backside. An official “sorry, we were wrong to treat you that way” would go a long, long way for Maggie.

Child-Sexual-Abuse-by-the-Numbers-9-May-2012

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