Muckamore Public Inquiry to begin next month
THE long-awaited public inquiry into an abuse scandal at Muckamore Abbey Hospital is to begin next month, The Irish News has learned.
Leaked minutes from a meeting attended by senior health officials confirm that a start date of October 1 has been set following agreement on Terms of Reference and "timeframes" the inquiry team will probe.
Its chair, Tom Kark QC, will also be "fully committed" from that date after "completing prior commitments", the Muckamore Departmental Assurance Group (MDAG) meeting was told.
The landmark inquiry into alleged physical abuse, mental cruelty and neglect of vulnerable patients by staff was ordered last September by health minister Robin Swann.
Families of Muckamore patients had campaigned for a statutory inquiry which could compel witnesses following concerns about lack of transparency within the health service when they tried to get answers about alleged abuse.
A major criminal investigation is ongoing, with seven people facing prosecutions while there have been more than 20 arrests.
Dundonald man Glynn Brown, who was the first parent to raise the the alarm about alleged abuse of his non-verbal son Aaron in Muckmore five years ago, has welcomed the inquiry but expressed disappointment they had not met with the chair to date.
Mr Brown heads up the pressure group, Action for Muckamore (AFM), and wrote to Mr Kark at the beginning of August seeking a meeting to "take their views into consideration" prior to the drawing up of the inquiry's scope.
They received an acknowledgement of their letter in the past fortnight.
"It disappointing the inquiry team has not reached out to us. We are a deeply wronged group of families and we want to have confidence in this team," Mr Brown said.
"If this is the way to start, it doesn't bode well. Our request wasn't even acknowledged for four weeks, we had to go back to them to find out if they'd got it. I found that grossly discourteous.
"We wanted a face-to-face meeting with Mr Kark with our solicitor present, where we could have been open and forthright in our views. A consultation was carried out with families - but this was done via Zoom meetings where people were more guarded."
The Irish News asked the Department of Health to comment on the group's concerns.
A department spokeswoman said Mr Swann published a Patient Client Council (PCC) report in June on "engagement" with families "to ensure that both current and former families and patients have had the opportunity to influence the Terms of Reference of the Inquiry". The report was facilitated on Mr Kark's behalf.
She added: "Since appointing the Chair, Minister Swann has been consulting with him regarding finalising the Terms of Reference which are now imminent".