Manulla woman promises to never run a crèche again
Crèche subject of HSE prosecutions closed
The owner of a crèche in Manulla that faced ten HSE prosecutions for breaches of the Childcare Act has vowed never to own or operate a crèche again. Marie McGrath of Sunny Days Crèche, Manulla, Castlebar, appeared before Achill District Court last Thursday for the finalisation of the ten prosecutions. The court heard that the crèche had closed on June 27 last. Defending solicitor John Geary told the court that Ms McGrath was a senior citizen who was unlikely to ever be involved in childcare again. Following a question from Judge Mary Devins, Ms McGrath gave a sworn undertaking that she would never own or operate a crèche again. However, the court said she could work in a crèche. Ms McGrath was fined €100 and ordered to pay €5,000 towards the HSE’s €10,000 legal costs. The ten charges related to breaches during HSE inspections on January 15, January 25 and April 11 of 2013. Eleven other charges were withdrawn last October after Ms McGrath entered a plea of guilty, having initially indicated a plea of not guilty. HSE Manager of Early Years Inspections for Mayo, Breda Cloney, said that ‘95 percent’ of issues that arise during childcare inspections in Mayo relate to inadequate garda vetting of staff, and that such issues are usually resolved swiftly. The remaining 5 percent relate to insufficient ratios of staff to children, she said. Ms Cloney said that Sunny Days was the only childcare facility where she saw children being shouted at. She also cited being let into the crèche by a child and seeing a child being pulled by the arm by a worker. On one occasion, she noted that sleeping toddlers had not been checked for over 30 minutes. Regulations state they must be checked every ten minutes. Referring to inspections this year that showed ongoing breaches of regulations, Ms Cloney said: ‘The issue is Ms McGrath’s inability to address non-compliance over a period of time’. ‘Vendetta’ Achill District Court heard from Sandra Loftus from Canavan Byrne, a consultancy firm employed by Ms McGrath, who claimed there had been a ‘vendetta’ by the HSE against McGrath. Ms Loftus said she would not describe Ms McGrath as having closed the crèche voluntarily, claiming there ‘was quite a lot of pressure on her’. Ms Loftus said Sunny Days Crèche had tried to recruit more children but was unsuccessful ‘because of negative coverage in newspapers’. Judge Mary Devins asked if she meant ‘factual reporting’ of what was said in court. Ms Loftus said there was ‘some factual reporting’ but argued a ‘spin’ was put on it. Ms Loftus claimed visits by Ms Cloney since last November were ‘confrontational’ and that staff members ‘felt threatened’. She did admit she was not personally present for any of these visits. Ms Loftus also claimed that she wrote to the HSE and Ms Cloney ‘on several occasions’ but got no reply or acknowledgment. Ms Cloney refuted this claim. Ms Loftus further claimed that on occasion when she did meet with Ms Cloney, Ms Cloney said that she knew Ms Loftus had a childcare service in Sligo and intimated that she inspected in Sligo too. “I took this as a direct threat to my service,” claimed Ms Loftus. She said this was the first time in her dealings with the HSE that ‘I’ve not been able to work with a HSE inspector’. Claims rejected James Ward, solicitor for the HSE, said if there was a vendetta, the positive elements included in Ms Cloney’s report would not be present. Speaking of both Ms Cloney’s and Ms Loftus’s report, he told Ms Loftus: ‘Ms Cloney kept a degree of decorum in her report which is sadly lacking in yours’. He said that since November there had been further breaches of the Childcare Act. Ms Loftus said there had been a ‘trial by media’ which had been a ‘factor’ in the crèche being closed. Mr Ward said any ‘trial by media’ had nothing to do with repeated breaches by Ms McGrath. Marie McGrath told the court that in her four inspections since last November, Ms Cloney ‘kept saying I shouldn’t be there’ and asked her to leave her premises, claiming Ms Cloney said ‘she’d close me down and that she’d see me in court’. Ms McGrath claimed her staff ‘felt intimidated’ any time Ms Cloney came. Breda Cloney told the court she completely rejected claims that she had a vendetta and that she had told Ms McGrath to leave the premises. She said she did raise a concern that Ms McGrath may not be removing herself from the day-to-day running of the crèche, as ordered by Judge Devins last November but ‘no ultimatum was issued’. With regard to Ms Loftus’s evidence, Ms Cloney said ‘I don’t know where she got a lot of her evidence from’ and refuted having ever received any letter of complaint from Ms Loftus. ‘Immense toll’ on health Defending solicitor John Geary said the prosecutions had been ‘extremely difficult on her (McGrath’s) health’ and had taken ‘an immense toll’ and asked Judge Mary Devins to be lenient with a fine, as Ms McGrath’s business was now closed. Ms McGrath gave an undertaking never to open or operate a crèche again. James Ward sought costs of €10,000, saying the matter could have been resolved far more speedily. Judge Devins said the case had been a ‘fairly lengthy process’ due to ‘extraneous’ matters raised, ‘mostly by the defence’ and so ordered Ms McGrath to pay €5,000 in costs and convicted McGrath and issued a fine of €100.