The system for child sexual abuse prosecutions is set up in a way that gives Tusla and NOT the Gardai control over the outcome and is criticised in a recent Joint EU-Council of Europe report.

When a child is raped or sexually assaulted they can only be admitted to a sexual assault treatment unit (SATU) if there’s a referral from Tusla. The Gardai cannot initiate a prosecution without a report from the SATU stating that the allegation is “Founded”.

There’s evidence that Tusla is blocking or delaying referrals to SATUs thereby blocking Garda investigations and prosecutions.

𝑺𝑨𝑻𝑼 𝑨𝒏𝒏𝒖𝒂𝒍 𝑹𝒆𝒑𝒐𝒓𝒕 2022

The annual report of the HSE-funded sexual assault treatment units (SATUs) 2022 was published yesterday. The units are located in Dublin, Cork, Waterford, Mullingar, Galway and Letterkenny.

A record number of 1,072 adults and children were treated at the country’s six sexual assault treatment units last year up from 859 in 2021.

Just under 60% of the attendees were under the age of 25 years and 91% were females.

The SATU network provides care to anyone over the age of 14 who has been sexually assaulted.

On occasion the SATU service may care for people under the age of 14, when paediatric services are unavailable and there is an acute forensic need for attendance.

In spite of the fact that the SATU units are not for children, 9% of the attendees were children under the age of 14 years.

A fifth (20.1%) of those who went to the sexual assault treatment units were children under the age of 18 years.

What’s more concerning is the fact that the report doesn’t comment on the sexual abuse of children until page 65 of the 66 page report (1)

“… is clear from the data presented in this annual report of key service activity that adolescents are significantly represented in SATU attendances every year.

Furthermore, between 2017 and 2022 we noted an increase of 37% in the number of adolescent attendances to the SATU network,” the report notes.

It’s possible to glean from the charts accompanying the reports from the individual units the following information on attendees:


30 children/teens under 18 years including 1 child under 14 years


80 children/teens under 18 years including 4 children under 14 years


80 children/teens under 18 years including 4 children under 14 years


44 children/teens under 18 years including 9 children under 14 years


32 children/teens under 18 years including 2 children under 14 years


10 children/teens under 18 years including 0 children under 14 years


The Barnahus model of service brings together forensic, child protection, medical, therapeutic and policing services in a child centred way under one roof when sexual abuse has occurred or is suspected, thus eliminating the need for children to retell their story to multiple agencies.

Barnahus is the leading European model for a child-friendly multidisciplinary and interagency response to child sexual exploitation and abuse.

The country’s only Barnahus unit is located in Galway to serve the west of Ireland. The Gardai, Tusla and a number of other agencies work alongside each other.

Last January Minister Roderic O’Gorman announced plans to set up a unit in Dublin and Cork as part of an EU/Council of Europe joint project to ease trauma for children who have been sexually abused.

Barnahus South is due to open in Cork by the end of the year, followed by Barnahus East in Dublin.

Up to the end of 2022, Barnahus West in Galway had 255 child sexual abuse cases since opening referral pathways in November 2020.

St Clare’s Unit and St Louise’s Unit cater for children in the greater Dublin area, Kildare and Wicklow who have been sexually assaulted.

𝑮𝒂𝒕𝒆𝒌𝒆𝒆𝒑𝒆𝒓 𝑻𝒖𝒔𝒍𝒂

The SATU report for 2022 only provides a partial insight into reported child sexual abuse in Ireland.

Tusla acts as a gatekeeper in that a child can only be seen by a sexual abuse treatment unit on foot of a referral form signed by Tusla.

The Alliance of Birthmothers Campaigning for Justice (ABC) is aware of cases where Tusla delayed referrals to a SATU so that it was several months after the incidents took place before the children were seen in a SATU. This inordinate delay resulted in no prosecution of the assailants involved.

ABC is Ireland’s leading non-Tusla funded advocacy group for mothers in difficulties with Tusla, Gardai and Family Court.

ABC is also aware of cases where Tusla refused to make referrals to a SATU when child sexual abuse was reported to the Gardai.

The procedure is that the Gardai refer the matter to Tusla when a report of child sexual abuse is made to them and they then wait on a report from the SATU before deciding on whether or not to send a file to the DPP.

If Tusla refuses or fails to make the referral, the report of child sexual abuse to the Gardai goes into limbo.

Data recently given to Deputy Mattie McGrath by Minister Helen McEntee shows there was a total of 2,264 reports of child sexual assault, rape and defilement made to the Gardai in 2022.

Assuming there was an average 128 children dealt with in Barnahus Galway in 2022 and 1,072 by the six SATUs, this leaves a shortfall of approximately 1,200 reports to the Gardai not showing up in these seven units.

Where were these circa 1200 children referred to?

Were they all referred to St Clare’s Unit and St Louise’s Unit?

ABC spoke today to a mother who reported to Tusla and the local Gardai that her child had made disclosures of sexual abuse by her father.

She gave details of how her daughter made several disclosures to her about how she was sexually abused by her father.

She says the Gardai did not carry out an investigation of the abuse when it was reported to them.

Reports of these disclosures were also made to Tusla. The last disclosure she made was of a very serious nature. Tusla also failed to investigate the matter.

The mother described being stonewalled by Tusla for more than a year. Emails and voicemails remained unanswered.

When the issue of the sexual abuse was raised in the Family Court, because of Tusla and the Gardai’s failure to investigate the sexual abuse, the mother had nothing to support the child’s allegations.

The father succeeded in convincing the court that she was mentally ill.

His plea to the court to grant an interim care order for all the children to be taken into care was granted.

When the case finally came back before the Family Court, the Guardian ad Litem appointed by the Court met with the children and confirmed to the Court that the child had made disclosures to her.

The Judge expressed dismay that Tusla had failed to make a referral to a SATU and made an order that the children be returned to their mother immediately and applied a supervision order.

The mother made several unsuccessful pleas to the social worker appointed to supervise the family to refer her daughter to a SATU.

This mother’s story is similar to a number of other mothers’ experiences reported to ABC, some of which will be documented in a podcast series that will be broadcast by M-Compass media in the Autumn.

In spite of the serious allegations made by the child she is just one more statistic among an unknown, unheard number of children whose sexual abuse has never been investigated. 

𝑻𝒉𝒆 𝑻𝒓𝒊𝒂𝒅 𝑹𝒖𝒍𝒆𝒔

ABC submitted an extensive report 𝑇𝐻𝐸 𝑇𝑅𝐼𝐴𝐷 𝑅𝑈𝐿𝐸𝑆: 𝑇𝑢𝑠𝑙𝑎, 𝐹𝑎𝑚𝑖𝑙𝑦 𝐿𝑎𝑤𝐶𝑜𝑢𝑟𝑡𝑠, 𝐴𝑛 𝐺𝑎𝑟𝑑𝑎 𝑆𝑖́𝑜𝑐ℎ𝑎́𝑛𝑎 in September 2019 to every member of the 32nd Dail.

The report noted how Maud de Boer-Buquicchio the then UN Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children was concerned about the under reporting of child sexual abuse in Ireland.

In the report Ms. de Boer-Buquicchio presented to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in March 2019 following her visit to Ireland in 2018, she also expressed concern that the conviction rates for child sex abuse in Ireland was extremely low.

A Garda Inspectorate report, 𝑅𝑒𝑠𝑝𝑜𝑛𝑑𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝑇𝑜 𝐶ℎ𝑖𝑙𝑑 𝑆𝑒𝑥𝑢𝑎𝑙 𝐴𝑏𝑢𝑠𝑒 published in 2018 shows 4 per cent of child sex abuse cases reported to the gardaí result in a conviction in court.

The report also shows 66 per cent of all sex crimes in Ireland involve a child victim.

Successive governments and ministers cannot plead ignorance about Ireland’s failure to deal with the epidemic of child sexual abuse afflicting the country.

𝑱𝒐𝒊𝒏𝒕 𝑬𝑼𝑪𝒐𝒖𝒏𝒄𝒊𝒍 𝒐𝒇 𝑬𝒖𝒓𝒐𝒑𝒆 𝑹𝒆𝒑𝒐𝒓𝒕

The aforementioned Barnahus model which began as a pilot project in Galway in 2019 is the subject of a report published jointly last April by the EU and Council of Europe. (2)

The report says: “There is no policy or legislation in place mandating a referral to Barnahus, while there is a referral pathway established in Barnahus West.

Referral to Barnahus is at the discretion of the social worker/clinician involved, with Tusla currently determining who is referred to Barnahus.”

The best practice guidelines for the Gardaí on how to interview children were published 20 years ago, and are in need of updating, the report notes.

The report also says that it’s taking up to nine years for a case to reach court and hearings can last up to three weeks.

The report describes how Tusla’s IT system is not compatible with the Garda IT system resulting in long delays in inter-agency communications.

Following queries from the Irish Examiner, a statement from An Garda Síochána said “a specific data-sharing agreement is to be developed for the Barnahus service to ensure appropriate information sharing and data protection procedures are adhered to in accordance with the best interests of the child.” 


In summary, if a child discloses sexual abuse, Tusla and NOT the Gardai decides whether or not a referral will be made to a SATU.

The Gardai can only proceed with a prosecution if there’s a report from the SATU stating that the allegation is “Founded”.

While we wait for the national Barnahus model to be up and running, Tusla has the power to act as gatekeepers deciding which children to refer to a SATU and Barnahus.

This system is open to widespread abuse.

In the past, the media has reported on the Gardai having to resort to getting warrants to search Tusla offices for child abuse files; having to go court to get Tusla to unredact case files containing critical evidence that had been blacked out and Tusla telling alleged child abusers before gardai have a chance to begin a probe which gave them the opportunity to prepare for questioning by the Gardai.(3)

We must never lose sight of the fact that we have been discussing the plight of little children whose lifelong sentence is innocence lost, some will recover, many won’t.

We have a duty and a responsibility towards child victims of sexual abuse to shout from the rooftops, the extent of the evil that prevails across the country, in the hope that the government will be shamed into taking immediate action to hold all involved to account for their wrongdoing.