Yesterday’s Irish Examiner showing the letter sent by the foster father of Grace to the then Minister for Health Michael Noonan, above, in August 1996
You may recall the story of Grace, the mute child – now a woman in her 40s – who remained in a foster home with an abusive family in the south east of Ireland for more than a decade after other children had been removed.
The other children were taken out of the home in 1995, after concerns were raised with the then Southern Health Board in 1992.
Yesterday’s Irish Examiner reported how – after the health board initially decided that Grace be removed – Grace’s foster family appealed against this decision but lost.
Following that, the foster father, in 1996, sent a letter lobbying the Minster for Health Michael Noonan to allow Grace stay in the home.
It’s unclear what exactly happened after this letter was sent but Grace did stay at the home for another 13 years.
Daniel McConnell, of the Irish Examiner, spoke with Matt Cooper on Today FM yesterday evening to explain the significance of the letter.
“Whether, it seems, by accident, or inadvertently, the intervention seems to have had a chilling effect because what’s detailed in the documents is that Grace’s removal was delayed on foot of the request from the foster father. Then that removal never happened.”
“…We put a series of detailed queries through the Fine Gael press office, to him [Noonan], last [Monday] night and he said he had nothing more to add…”
Readers may also recall the allegations made by former Fine Gael councillor and barrister Garry O’Halloran in relation to Minister Noonan.
Mr O’Halloran has claimed that, at the 1997 Fine Gael Ard Fheis in Dublin, Michael Noonan ‘ran away’ from him even though Mr Noonan was scheduled to meet with him.
Mr O’Halloran wanted to speak with Mr Noonan – not about Grace – but about the late Fr Jim Grennan, who had abused several children in Monageer, Co. Wexford, the diocese of Ferns. One of Fr Grennan’s victims was with Mr O’Halloran at the Ard Fheis.
At this point, in 1997, Fr Grennan was already dead, having died in 1994.
Mr O’Halloran, who was chairman of the then South Eastern Health Board, wished to speak with Minister Noonan to request that he order an inquiry into the health board’s response to abuse allegations made by 10 children against Fr Grennan back in 1988.
Mr O’Halloran explained:
“The allegations were raised in 1988 and they were validated immediately. There was a local teacher, a local social worker and a local guard who all did a very good job. But after that, a superintendant came along and destroyed the file and the guards did nothing, the health board did nothing.”
“He [Grennan] went on to carry out devastating rapes after that, with devastating consequences.”
Mr O’Halloran was prompted to lobby Mr Noonan in 1997 – three years after Fr Grennan died – because Mr O’Halloran had learned that one of Fr Grennan’s victims had been gravely abused for several years, on a regular basis, after 1988.
The day after Fr Grennan died, on May 9, 1994, aged 61, a child of 13 took an overdose of medication and was admitted to hospital. On May 30, the child told their mother they had been molested by Fr Grennan, in the months prior to Fr Grennan’s death.
Mr O’Halloran explained:
“I was asking questions. I was in the health board and everything was being denied. The acceptance of any clerical child abuse was denied. When we got the thumbs down from the authorities, there was only three of us working on it at this stage – Billy Moroney, a farmer from New Ross, journalist Veronica Guerin, and myself.”
“We worked closely together. But Billy and myself set up a group called Survivors and we used to meet every month in Waterford and, very quickly, we had people coming and all the situations were the same. All the victims had raised a complaint about being raped and abused and they were all ignored.“
The eventual Ferns Report, which was published in 2005 and looked at 100 allegations of child sexual abuse made between 1966 and 2005 against 21 priests in the Diocese of Ferns, confirmed all of Mr O’Halloran claims and those of Fr Grennan’s victims.
In light of the findings of the Ferns Report, readers may wish to read Mr O’Halloran’s recollections of the Ard Fheis. He said:
“[Noonan] kept us waiting all night, no sign of him. Eventually I spotted him leaving the podium and he was heading for the door and, when I followed him, he sprinted as fast as he could and when I reached the door he was already in his car and there was black smoke whirring up into my face, from the wheels spinning. And Phil Hogan was standing alongside me and Phil said to me, ‘you relax, the Minister for Children [Austin Currie] is meeting your deputation, everything will be fine.‘”
“So we met him [Currie] and, after about half an hour, he said, ‘right you have your inquiry’. So that was fine. I contacted his secretary on the Monday morning to progress the matter and she said, ‘hang on a minute’. And then she came back and said, ‘No there isn’t any inquiry’.”
“And I said, ‘Oh yes there is, we met the [junior] minister on Saturday night, he said we have our inquiry.’ And she said, ‘oh no he [Currie] didn’t. What he told you was that he would inquire into it and, having inquired, there’s no substance to your claims and allegations’.
Last Saturday, Mr Currie denied this was the case, telling the Irish Times:
“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.”
So what does Monageer have to do with Grace?
It should be explained that Mr O’Halloran came forward to recall his non-meeting with Minister Noonan at the Ard Fheis in 1997 – after he heard Minister Noonan give an interview with Richard Crowley on RTÉ Radio One on Thursday, February 4.
During that interview Minister Noonan was briefly asked about the letters he received about Grace.
Mr O’Halloran knew nothing of Grace when he heard the interview – but it jogged his memory in relation to Fr Grennan. Mr O’Halloran also felt it was important to explain that the case of Grace wasn’t an isolated incident.
Ever since his allegations about the Ard Fheis were published, many people have contacted Mr O’Halloran about Grace.
Further to this, he has written to both the Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan and Minister Noonan.
He has asked Ms O’Sullivan to investigate Minister Noonan’s conduct – for his time as Minister for Health from 1994 to 1997.
In addition, he’s asked Minister Noonan to resign.
Mr O’Halloran, a barrister, explained his reasons for this:
“In 1995, having received repeated evidence of complaints of child sex abuse in the particular foster care facility, it was decided to place no further children in that facility and to remove Grace forthwith. The foster parents had an entitlement to appeal that decision and they did appeal it.”
“The appeal committee accepted that the original decision was a proper decision and that it was in the best interest of the child that she be removed forthwith from that facility. In response to that the foster father wrote directly to the minister stating that they did not accept those decision and hence they were putting in a further appeal to him.”
“Notwithstanding the fact that he had no statutory function in the matter, he passed the matter on to his officials and his junior minister. He was notified by the health board, the matter was governed by Section 43 of the Childcare Act, which meant that if there was any ongoing concerns that a judge of the District Court should make the decision on the basis of what was in the best interest of the child.”
“Instead of the matter going to a judge, it ended up with a further appeal committee – the composition of which remains unknown to this day – deciding that the child be left at this foster care facility, and there she remained for a further 13 years until a social worker recently appointed to her case, brought the matter to attention.”
“As far as I’m concerned [Minister Noonan] is a man that shouldn’t be holding high public office and he merits investigation.”
Listen back to Mr McConnell’s interview in full here