GARDAí are investigating an incident in which a teenager in HSE care complained she had been raped by an older man who bought her alcohol at a hotel before taking her to a nearby golf course.
The 17-year-old girl, regarded as a vulnerable minor, was on a supervised holiday with care workers at the time of the incident. She had sexual contact with the man and later told care workers, who were supposed to be monitoring her, that she had been assaulted.
She subsequently withdrew the rape allegation after receiving medical attention, although the Sunday Tribune understands that some sexual contact did take place.
The incident follows a number of recent controversies involving those in the supervision of the HSE, particularly the case of Daniel McAnaspie, the teenager found stabbed to death in Meath three months after disappearing from state care.
"There is a huge duty of care on the HSE when they take a child into care and they are not giving that care in a lot of cases", said Fine Gael's health spokesman, James Reilly. "Nobody is saying that a 17-year-old who is determined is an easy prospect to look after but the duty of care is there.
"Clearly what is alleged to have happened here is unacceptable and could only be construed as a dereliction of duty. It's not about a witch hunt. It's about putting in place procedures not to allow this to happen."
The incident involving the 17-year-old girl took place recently in Athlone where she had been staying with care workers at the Hodson Bay Hotel.
It is understood she had gone to the bar area of the hotel and met a man who subsequently began buying her pints of beer, without the knowledge of the staff. The man and the girl then moved to the neighbouring golf course.
Sources have indicated that the girl made the allegation to her care workers who in turn notified gardaí. She received medical attention in line with such complaints, but later withdrew her allegation.
An official at Athlone Golf Club said that while he was aware of a garda presence at the course, nobody was informed of what had taken place. "People didn't know what was going on. For all passers-by knew, it could have been a traffic accident," he said.
Gardaí were concentrated near the entrance of the golf club around 100 yards from the entrance to the hotel. Their presence sparked a local interest with many people dropping into the hotel to try and find out what had happened.
The HSE said that it could not comment on individual cases, but said that the level and nature of supervision for people in care is relevant to their particular circumstances.
In a statement, it said: "From time to time the HSE takes young people in care placements away for short breaks or for recreational reasons. This is done within the agreed care plan for the young person and in their best interests."
It said that adolescents in care, whether in their usual care placement or in another location as part of a planned break, are appropriately supervised by care or social workers.
"Supervision is in place appropriate to their age and circumstance," it stressed. "The HSE is concerned that there is a view emerging that children, and particularly older adolescents in care, should not have the same supervision and liberty as their peers who are not in care, but consistent with their vulnerability."