Will Tusla be held to account for its failures that contributed to the murder of Seema Banu and her two children Asfira and Faizan?

An inquest into the deaths of Seema Banu and her two children Asfira and Faizan Syed who were brutally murdered in their home in Rathfarnham in October 2020 began yesterday and continues today, 31 March 2023.

Details of Tusla’s involvement with the family have emerged in media reports.

Dublin District Coroner’s Court heard Seema and her children came to the attention of Gardaí on Christmas Eve 2018, when shop workers in Dunnes Sandymount saw her being pulled and grabbed forcibly by her husband.

She had only been in Ireland two weeks and told staff her husband was going to kill her and insisted she wanted to go home to India.

The children were with Seema and her daughter at the time and taken to Dundrum Garda Station. 

There, Asfira informed Gardaí she was slapped by her father, when she tried to help her mother.

Ms Banu did not want to make an official statement but agreed to go to a women’s refuge with her children. They stayed one night before returning to their apartment. 

The Coroner’s Court heard Tusla were informed of the child protection issue but did not issue a response for nine months.

Evidence was heard that Seema had been threatened by her husband that if she reported him to the authorities that gardaí would take her children away from her and she would not be able to see them again until they were 18.

Vivian Balwalya, a neighbour told the hearing that she had permission from Tusla to bring Asfira and Faizan on supervised visits to see their father as he was no longer allowed to go near the family home.

Tusla’s facilitation of violent, abusive coercive men having access to their children is not unique to this case. It’s an issue that has been flagged by a number of Women’s Aid reports. (1)

A former work colleague, Ahmed Aburahal told the inquest that he was part of a protection network approved by Tusla to support the family.

He said Syed was “not just intelligent but street smart” and would know the consequences of engaging in domestic violence in Ireland and that he never admitted to him that he had violent tendencies towards his wife.

Anna Kavanagh, Convenor to Ireland’s leading advocacy group for mothers having difficulties with Tusla and the Family Law Courts, the ‘Alliance of Birthmothers Campaigning for Justice’ says that a strategy deployed by Tusla is to establish a family support network for families in crisis.

In the case of mothers who are victims of coercive control, the perpetrator will have cut off the mother from her friends and relatives so that she finds herself suddenly having to reach out to people she hardly knows to be named as part of her support network.

Anna explains: “A mother who had a barring order reached out to me to accompany her to a care plan meeting. It was my first time to meet the woman I had been supporting over the phone.

At the meeting the man who led to her being hospitalised for three weeks due to the injuries he inflicted on her was sitting directly across the table with three of his mates.

Imagine how intimidating this was for this unfortunate mother.”

Despite a barring order in place, the 3 social workers put in place a care plan that involved him going to the family home 4 afternoons per week for unsupervised access to the children.

When the mother expressed concerns about her safety, she was told to leave her home and come back when the access was due to end.

Subsequently this man made several false allegations to social workers about this mother that eventually led to her losing custody of her children.

“Social workers operate in teams of two or three which are in a constant state of change. Consequently no individual is held to account for their actions,” Anna says.

“Mothers have repeatedly told me that coercive control by social workers is almost as bad and sometimes worse than the abuse they receive from the perpetrators,” Anna adds.

Ciara Murphy, told the inquest yesterday that Tusla has made changes in how it deals with child protection issues involving a vulnerable adult like Seema Banu as a result of the case.

Will Tusla ever be held to account for how it contributed to the deaths of Seema and her two children Asfira and Faizan?

(1) https://www.womensaid.ie/assets/files/pdf/child_custody_and_access_in_the_context_of_domestic_violence.pdf