Tusla, the child and family agency, has apologised over an “inexcusable” delay of more than five years in responding to a woman’s report of childhood sexual abuse.
Sinéad Lay (34), from Monasterevin, Co Kildare, was 14 when a neighbour, Fergus Delaney, who had groomed her, began to allegedly sexually assault her in 2000. Delaney of Allendale Lawns, Baltinglass, Co Wicklow, is now in his 50s.
In late 2012 a referral was made to social workers over the past sexual abuse. The referral outlined Delaney was the father of young children, volunteered as a GAA underage coach and worked as a bus driver.
Social workers interviewed Ms Lay in April 2013 but were unable to arrange a meeting with Delaney, and the case was left unallocated, without a social worker, for a significant period afterwards.
An internal Tusla report into a complaint from Ms Lay found there had been no review of her case for several years, and it was left unallocated due to “ongoing staff shortages”.
Five years after she had reported the abuse, social workers interviewed Ms Lay again in early 2018, before determining her allegations to be “founded” and credible in December 2018.
The report into her complaint found she had received no updates on the progress of her case over much of the five years.
After resuming contact in 2018, social workers had told Ms Lay her case had not been progressed as the perpetrator had not engaged with Tusla.
The report noted that the man had not refused to meet social workers, but his solicitor had asked for an alternative meeting date. “This could not be facilitated as the case was unallocated at the time,” the report stated.
One reason for the delays, according to the report, had been “significant staff shortages”, which meant social workers had prioritised referrals about current children, rather than disclosures of past abuse.
The report, completed in December 2020, concluded there were numerous shortcomings in how Tusla responded to the case.
In a March 24th letter this year, Tusla chief executive Bernard Gloster wrote to Ms Lay, apologising over the “inexcusable delay” responding to her disclosure of abuse.
Mr Gloster apologised for previous explanations Tusla had offered about the delay, which had added to her “frustration and upset”, he said.
Ms Lay took a civil case in the High Court against Delaney, and was awarded €300,000 in damages over the past abuse in 2019.
Justice Kevin Cross said Delaney, who did not defend the case, had “lured” a teenager into a close relationship. The judge said he fully accepted everything that Ms Lay said in evidence to the court as true.
Ms Lay said Tusla’s delay responding to her case had “added to the trauma” of the abuse.
“The delay itself made me feel like my disclosure didn’t matter. I felt forgotten again,” she said. The State had offered no supports offered by the State during the “exhausting” process, she said.
A Tusla spokeswoman said the agency deals with tens of thousands of referrals each year. “There are unfortunately a minority of occasions where the standards we expect are not met by us,” she said.