‘Exposing – Whistle-blowing – going ‘outside’ in the pursuance of justice for vulnerable people.
Dr Margaret Kennedy PhD
Today in the Irish Times (10/01/2014) my case against the Brothers of Charity (BOC) , the HSE and the HSE (West) in the High Court clearly describes ‘vindication’ following what I believed were defamatory statements made about my professionalism and also inaccuracies that I had not reported concerns to the Brothers of Charity, which I had done, verbally and in writing, said in a published HSE review of Client Protection services in the Brothers of Charity Galway.
As a social worker, a social work trainer and specialist on Disability and abuse whistle-blowing was the hardest thing I have ever had to do in my career. ‘Whistle-blowing’ the report (The Kilcornan Report’) to the Irish Times in 2003 which described shocking living conditions in one residence for intellectually disabled people in the BOC institution resulted in my losing my job with the BOC (and another at a second Irish organisation who wanted to ‘Gag’ me with a contract not to go to the press…which I would not sign).
The next hardest thing was to read in the HSE document; the Mulvihill/Murphy Review (2006) that I behaved unprofessionally and that I had not shared any concerns to the BOC managers. This reported to Mulvihill and Murphy by a senior person within the BOC organisation. Fortunately for me I had written proof I had done so! But it was painfully distressing to have my reputation sullied in such a manner. I had always worked as a social work trainer and consultant out of deep love and respect for vulnerable people. Child and Adult protection within the disability field was a dedicated route I had chosen and almost single-handedly developed in the UK and Ireland as no-one else at that time was much interested in this side of protection work.
Even today the protection of disabled children and vulnerable adults is still not sufficiently recognised or dealt with. In Ireland there are no vulnerable adult policies in client protection. The abuse of disabled children is largely overlooked.
Today I feel ‘vindicated’. I was able to ‘call to account’ agencies who perpetrated grave injustice against a dedicated worker.
However are we further forward in our practice? There are no whistle-blowing policies that would protect staff. In a climate of austerity and recession will workers whistle-blow if they know they will be sacked for doing so? Could it be, staff will ‘keep quiet’ to protect their jobs?
Whistle-blowing is the ultimate ‘last call’ in the framework of ‘Client Protection’ but this is not yet acknowledged. Though I have to point out the last sentence in the letter of vindication the Brothers of Charity, HSE and HSE West did write:
“We accept that it is the right and obligation of staff to have recourse to raise concerns in the most appropriate forum and advocate for the rights of people with intellectual disability”.
This was an acknowledgement I requested and significantly, to their credit, they included this statement. It can now be, forever, a statement of permission to workers to ‘whistle-blow’. For surely as we do our work the ultimate is to protect vulnerable people from abuse, regardless of the implications to us. That’s a hard reality but if it’s not the ultimate challenge then we are colluders.
But I am still saddened, no angry, that despite the McCoy report (Nov 2007) and the Hynes report (2009) intellectually disabled Victims of Brothers of Charity (and other staff) have not been afforded the full scrutiny of a statutory inquiry. The McCoy report was deeply flawed and can only be described as a partial narrative account of sexual abuses perpetrated within the BOC against vulnerable children and adults. It failed to call to account and indeed in one part almost blamed the victims themselves by declaring the BOC had a difficult client group to care for.
Alan Shatter FG in opposition said on 13th December 2007 “I want an inquiry by the department…the report [McCoy] did not travel the distance and produce the comprehensive information it was required to do so”. Jan O’Sullivan on 29th June 2010 said “ outstanding issues need to be clarified with regard to what happened in Galway” saying at that time also “ the Hynes report is very disappointing and the issues raised by Margaret Kennedy are not dealt with in either it or the Mccoy report”. Kathleen Lynch also called for a statutory inquiry. Indeed all these key ministers now in power vociferously over this period called for a statutory inquiry, particularly Minister Alan Shatter. Once in power the issues were dropped like a stone and no more was said.
This is the only victim group not to be afforded a public statutory inquiry into abuse by a religious congregation. Why? Because they were intellectually impaired! I call again on these Ministers to do that which they were continually asking for. Institute a full statutory inquiry and give these victims the proper answers, calling to account and uncovering the facts. There are individuals still alive who need to be brought to justice for failings and/or abuse. The victims and their families still need answers and full understanding of ‘who, why, what’ happened.
I am vindicated as a professional but victims in the Brothers of Charity who were abused or mistreated have never been given full justice. This remains an appalling discrimination and a broken promise by three opposition TD’s now in power.
It has to be done.