The Shame of Ireland
Published 05/02/2016 | 02:30
Finance Minister Michael Noonan has confirmed he was lobbied by the foster home at the centre of the 'Grace' abuse scandal.
However, Mr Noonan insisted he had "no clear memory" of the letters he received from the home's operators in 1996 when he was health minister.
According to a whistleblower dossier seen by the Irish Independent, the foster home operators sought support from the Department of Health after the local health board decided to stop sending children there over fears of abuse.
One of the letters was referred to the then junior health minister with responsibility for children, Austin Currie.
The period in question is particularly controversial, as despite the fact further referrals to the home were ended, one young girl with a profound learning disability was allowed to remain there.
At the time it was decided the woman, known as Grace, would be removed.
But for reasons never revealed, this decision was reversed and she remained there until 2009. It is feared she suffered from horrific sexual abuse during that period.
According to the whistleblower, who had access to health service files, both Mr Noonan and Mr Currie corresponded with the health board.
However, there is absolutely no suggestion they intervened on behalf of the foster home.
In a statement, the department said two individual representations were sent to Mr Noonan seeking that Grace should remain in the foster home, one of which was passed to Mr Currie.
"Information was requested from the health board which had statutory responsibility for the matter," it said.
"Neither minister sought to direct or influence the decision of the health board in any way."
Earlier this week, the department's assistant secretary for social care, Frances Spillane, said the reply issued to the representations "indicated very clearly that this was a matter for the South Eastern Health Board".
Asked about the letters on RTÉ Radio One, Mr Noonan said: "I have no clear memory of it, but I did check the position with the Department of Health.
"Seemingly two letters arrived. One to me and one to the junior minister at health, Austin Currie."
Mr Noonan said his officials contacted the health board.
"My understanding of it was the person would be removed from foster care. But subsequently information came through that there was some kind of appeal and that didn't happen," he said.
"Then after that because it was a question of the possible abuse of a child, the matter was given to the minister of state who had responsibility for children. I am not sure what happened after that."
Mr Currie was not available for comment yesterday, but it is understood he had no recollection of receiving a letter.
A backlog of 177 cases of retrospective child abuse were found by inspectors who examined social services in the Dublin south-east and Wicklow areas last August.
The Hiqa inspectors, who examined services by Tusla - the child and family agency - warned this posed a significant risk.
They found there were significant staff shortages in the service.
Hiqa said that when retrospective disclosure of abuse was received, it was screened. If a specific child or children were identified, the allegation was assessed but if no particular child was found as being at risk, the file was transferred to the child protection team.
It was then either allocated for assessment and follow-up or placed on a waiting list. Cases on the waiting list were reviewed every three months.
A high number of referrals not yet allocated remained on a waiting list.
This meant these cases had not been assessed and the potential risk to children who may have contact with the alleged perpetrators was a cause of concern, Hiqa said.
Please also note current caranua board member Austin Currie
Austin Currie: “My memory is pretty good, but this was 20 years ago. I have no recollection of that case.” Photograph: David Sleator
Former minister for children Austin Currie says he passed representations from a “foster” family in the southeast to department officials.
Two representations were made to the Department of Health in late 1996 on behalf of a family appealing a decision by the then South Eastern Health Board to remove a young adult with intellectual disabilities from their care.
One representation was from the family and another on their behalf by a public servant familiar with the family.
A decision was made in September 1996 to remove the young woman known as Grace (then 18) amid concerns about serious sex abuse at the home. Grace had been with the family since 1989.
The original decision to remove Grace was countermanded at a meeting of three health board officials in October 1996 and Grace was left in the home until 2009.
The reason she was left in the home, despite serious concerns, is unknown. No minutes remain of the October 1996 meeting. It is understood at least one of the three people at that meeting has since died.
The “foster mother” who ran the home – a “holiday home” for respite and not a registered foster home – has said she was told by a social worker, now deceased, that as Grace had turned 18 in 1996, she was no longer under their care so the family could “keep” her.
Michael Noonan, health minister at the time, has said any representations made to the department were passed on to Mr Currie as the appropriate minister.
Mr Currie, junior minister in the Department of Health from December 1994 to June 1997, said: “My memory is pretty good, but this was 20 years ago. I have no recollection of that case. If a representation was made I would have passed that on to the appropriate officials in the department.”
He also disputed reports a family of a victim of alleged abuse at the “foster” home had come to the Fine Gael Ard Fheis in 1997 with former Fine Gael councillor and then chairman of the South Eastern Health Board, Garret O’Halloran.
Mr O’Halloran also disputed reports he had tried to discuss abuse allegations at the “foster” home with Mr Noonan at the 1997 Ard Fheis. “I have no knowledge of that foster home abuse case,” he said.
But he said Mr Noonan had “sprinted” away from him at the Ard Fheis. He had brought a family, whose daughter had been abused in the 1980s by Fr Jim Grennan, parish priest in Monageer in Ferns, to Dublin to meet Mr Noonan.
Mr Currie said he met the family with Mr O’Halloran late on the Saturday at the Ard Fheis. “I said I would inquire into their allegations when I got back to the department on Monday. The next thing I heard in the press I had promised an inquiry. I had not. I know I brought that family’s concerns to the officials in the department.”
The family’s allegations about Fr Grennan were confirmed in the 2005 Ferns report.