Members of the Citizens Assembly vote on the Eighth Amendment in April
In The Times Ireland edition.
Ellen Coyne wrote about how a woman, referred to as Niamh, wanted an abortion in Ireland 16 years ago but was warned by a counsellor she might go to jail if she did so.
She was told this by a counsellor working for Life pregnancy counselling service in Cork city.
Ms Coyne explained how Life changed its name to Anew in 2015 and how it receives annual funding from the HSE.
From Ms Coyne’s report:
“I sat down and [the counsellor] said, ‘well you do know now, your baby has a heartbeat’. And, ‘you can’t even think about an abortion, that would be murder’. And she said, ‘I understand you’ve talked to loads of people, and one of those people now could go to the gardaí and tell them that you’ve had an abortion. And if they find out, you’ll spend years in prison’,” Niamh said.
She was so scared of being arrested and not being able to get a job that she continued the pregnancy. “I was forced into it. It was horrible.”
Life changed its name to Anew in 2015. Like Cura, it receives annual funding from the HSE crisis pregnancy programme. Niamh said that there was Southern Health Board literature on the tables and walls. Both Anew and Cura are anti-abortion, but do not clearly advertise their ethos. Cura also receives funding from the Catholic Church.
“I remember going to them and thinking they were funded by the HSE so they must be legit,” Niamh said. “Now I can see it clearly, I am so, so angry about it.”
…Niamh’s story was featured as part of the citizens’ assembly review of abortion laws this year. She said she was conscious that there were anti-abortion extremists who argue that if the counsellor had not deceived her, she would not have her eldest son.
“But I’m lucky, because I love my son,” she said. “There are other women out there that do not love their children. Some women look at a child that they didn’t want, and that’s not OK.
“And it’s also not OK for a child to grow up in a relationship where they are not wanted. That harms society. It’s just about indentured servitude at the end of the day, creating this class system of vulnerable people having children early.”
…Niamh’s son is 16 years old and understands what happened to his mother when she was pregnant with him. “He has said that he understands my decisions. He also feels very angry. It makes him panic thinking that that could happen to him and his girlfriend or friend even now,” she said. “And I am very angry. Nothing has changed. It’s the same shit over and over again.”
Social Democrat co-leader Róisín Shortall has called for an immediate halt to the hand-over of the new National Maternity Hospital to the Sisters of Charity
Deputy Shortall said:
“The decision about the ownership and governance of the new National Maternity Hospital was made in secrecy and lacks any transparency and public accountability.
There are too many unanswered questions from the Minister and we need to see an immediate halt to the current process so that these questions about the ownership and the issue of ethos can be addressed. The Five questions I have are:
What is the justification for gifting a €300 million hospital, paid for with public money, to a private interest?
Why not just lease the site from the Religious Sisters of Charity?
Will the Minister publish the details of the agreement that was reached over the governance and ownership of the new National Maternity Hospital?
What assurances will women have that a Catholic ethos will not determine the range of medical interests available to them in the new hospital?
What will the exact composition of the new corporate entity be and why does the St Vincent’s Healthcare group have any place in that structure?
HSE general director Tony O’Brien before the PAC on February 2, 2016
Officials from the Health Service Executive, including HSE director general Tony O’Brien, will appear before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in Committee Room 3.
Ahead of this, one of the ‘Grace’ whistleblowers has written a lengthy piece in The Irish Examiner in which she highlights inconsistencies in public statements made by Mr O’Brien and the HSE about the ‘Grace’ case in relation to:
– The HSE’s three-year delay in seeking clearance from the gardai to publish the Conal Devine report and what prompted it to finally seek that clearance.
– Whether or not people who were involved in the Grace case are still working within the HSE.
– Procurement issues relating to the two reports, Conal Devine report and the Resilience Ireland report, commissioned into the foster home.
You may recall how, yesterday, the Minister for Disabilities Finian McGrath withdrew the proposed terms and conditions of a commission of investigation into ‘Grace’ and the alleged abuse she suffered at the home for 20 years.
His decision to remove them came immediately after stinging criticism of the proposed terms and conditions by Fine Gael TD John Deasy, from Waterford, and Fianna Fáil TD John McGuinness.
Mr Deasy alleged that there was a cover-up by the HSE, saying: ‘this was a concerted and organised attempt to hide information and conceal the truth by a clique of HSE managers‘.
Mr McGuinness recounted the experiences of other alleged victims of abuse who lived at the foster home and said if Mr McGrath’s terms and conditions didn’t include the 46 other people who stayed at the home, the State would be “heaping further abuse” on the families affected.
Specifically, Mr McGuinness said, before Grace, a 12-year-old girl was taken out of the home – after the school she attended told the girl’s mother she would attend school bruised, battered and beaten. Mr McGuinness said the girl’s mother made a complaint to the South Eastern Health Board in 1992 but was “… told to shut up. She was told not to repeat those stories. And she was threatened legally”.
This morning, the Dáil unanimously agreed expanded terms of reference which state the 46 other cases will be examined in a second module of the commission of investigation.
But it’s being reported that families of the 46 other cases and the whistleblowers remain unhappy with the revised terms.
“The whistleblowers added that while the revised terms state that phase two will undertake an investigation of the recommendations in the report of Conor Dignam SC, the terms omit Mr Dignam’s recommendation to look at “allegations of cover up”. This, they say, is of serious concern.”
Further to this…
Independents 4 Change TD Clare Daly TD spoke about the matter in the Dáil this morning.
And she raised concerns about the connection between law firm Arthur Cox, the HSE and Resilience Ireland, which last week published a 2015 report it was commissioned to do, by the HSE, on the Grace case.
Ms Daly said:
“Minister, I have to say, the entire manner in which this has been addressed has been utterly shambolic and wholly unacceptable and I really hope that this does not come back to bite us.
“And the reason why it is particularly important that we get things right in this case is that we know that the backdrop is, at best, I suppose, economical-with-the-truth information being given, but, at worst, deliberate misinformation around these issues in previous attempts to resolve them so forgive us if we’ve trust issues where the HSE are concerned: we think they are legitimate.”
“Now, yesterday, we went into the meeting with yourself. We wanted to raise the issue of the draft order – the statutory instrument upon which the terms of reference were based. The first response we got was, ‘well, sure, God, nobody else raised that’. We want to address the terms of reference. We had to commission legal opinion from Eame’s solicitors to explain why the order had to be changed and that the terms of reference could be ultra vires if you didn’t do that.”
“We then went on to actually submit changes to the terms of reference – none of which were included I might add.”
“Now, no doubt, minister, you will argue that the order and the terms of reference, in the manner in which they have been changed, will allow us to address all of the issues that we have raised and that is possibly the case. And I seriously hope that that is the case.”
“But I found it ironic this morning that one of the amendments that we specifically had posed was the problem that was highlighted by the PAC [public accounts committee] – the fact that earlier attempts by people to get to the truth, including Government ministers and Oireachtas committees were deliberately thwarted by persons or persons unknown in the HSE. It’s an absolute fact.”
“In terms of the information put out, that the gardai were blocking publication of the reports – not even allowing ministers see them – we know it now that that’s not true.”
“We know in the case that I raised with Minister [Leo] Varadkar about a vulnerable person remaining in that facility up to 2015, the minister efficiently asked: are we sending anybody to this? And the answer, very cleverly, he got was: don’t be worrying, Minister. We’re not sending anybody, it might be a private placement but that’s sorted.”
“It wasn’t sorted. So they didn’t actually care about the truth or the person at the centre of it; it was all about covering up for the organisation. And against the backdrop of the Devine Report, which had been hugely discredited, the Resilience Ireland report terms of reference drafted by Arthur Cox who were the legal team that represented the HSE in the Grace case. You couldn’t make this up. Heads have to roll over this.
“I really hope that the changes have got it right and that we be proven wrong on this but there’s a lot hanging on it.”
From top: HSE’s Dr Cathal Morgan; Part of the Conal Devine report on foster child Grace.
You’ll recall the publication of the HSE-commissioned Conal Devine report last week in relation to an abusive foster home in the south-east of Ireland.
The report was completed in 2011 but wasn’t published until this week, with the HSE citing that they were prevented from doing so because of ongoing Garda investigations.
However, documents obtained by RTÉ’s This Week show the HSE only contacted the gardai about the publication of the report in 2015 – three years after it was completed.
Yesterday, This Week, prssenter Colm Ó Mongáin interviewed Head of Operations in the HSE’s Disability Service Dr Cathal Morgan in light of obtaining the documents under the FOI.
Colm Ó Mongáin: “I want to look at the interactions with the gardai. Most recently, on the 16th of November last year, Tony O’Brien [of the HSE] wrote to the Minister for Health and this was concerning the publication of the Conal Devine report. He said, ‘at times, such as this case, [this is the case of Grace], An Garda Siochana requires the HSE to postpone its internal investigations or to postpone the investigations of a report that could, in the view of An Garda Siochana, potentially prejudice ongoing investigations.
In the opening of the Conal Devine report, it says that the inquiry team met with investigating gardai on the 18th of March, 2011. The gardai stated they had no objection to the inquiry proceeding and completing its task in parallel with their investigation. Do you see any inconsistency between those two positions?
Dr Cathal Morgan: “Well, I think, the understanding is that the gardai, at all times, were stating that they had an ongoing criminal investigation and there was a couple of investigations going on. And, at the time, my understanding is, that they were reluctant to see any kind of other work going on whilst they were trying to under take their own investigations.”
O Mongain: “But as far as internal investigations within the HSE going, as early as 2011 [see portion of document above], when Conal Devine was carrying out his report. The gardai didn’t have an objection to his inquiry team carrying out their work. Correct?”
O Mongain: “OK, so when [HSE chief] Tony O’Brien assured the Minister for Health that, at times such as these, An Garda Siochana requires the HSE to postpone internal investigations, that doesn’t tally with what the Conal Devine report team says about March 2011?”
Morgan: “Well, yeah, I can only give you my understanding. My understanding is that the guards had very clear view that they wanted this to be carried out extremely carefully that they were very very clear, that they wanted to make sure that it didn’t interfere with their own processes, their criminal investigations were being carried out and which are still ongoing.”
O Mongain: “And when were the guards first contacted about the publication of the Conal Devine report?”
Morgan: “I don’t have the exact date here, to hand.”
O’Mongain: “Ok, well in a Freedom of Information request that was submitted by this programme, there was a list of interactions between the HSE and the gardai. And the first interaction with the HSE, to consult on the publication of the Conal Devine report, was the 6th of March, 2015 – over three years after it had been completed. It was also the day after the Public Accounts Committee was contacted with a protected disclosure by one of the whistleblowers. They were contacted on the 5th of March, 2015. And the first contact with the gardai is on the 6th of March, 2016 [sic]. Do you think there’s any connection between those two things?”
Morgan: “I don’t think so. I don’t believe there’s any conspiracy here…”
O Mongain: “The garda investigations are also criticised in the Conal Devine report. Does it not seem strange that HSE, at local level, and gardai, at local level, were effectively being given a veto over a report that was into their conduct?”
Morgan: “Well, I think, my read of, the benefit of the Dignam report absolutely clarifies and there was a letter, as you know, that came from the Assistant Commissioner which said that the HSE were perfectly entitled to publish the report but they had to have due regard to the investigation and due process…”
O Mongain: “Well, yeah, that was from Assistant Commissioner Eugene Corcoran. He wrote to the Dignam…and this was on the 15th of July of last year. He said the position of An Garda Siochana, on the matter of publication, should at all times have been understood as being that no objection to publication arises in the circumstances where the interests of affected party and/or the overall public interest require it. In particular, no objection to publication arises in certain stances, where publication is necessary and appropriate to fulfil any or all obligations to the affected party.…”
HSE officials holding a press conference in Kilkenny this morning
Following the seven-year efforts of social worker whistleblowers, the HSE is publishing two reports into serious failures at a foster home in Waterford.
A press conference on the matter is currently under way in Kilkenny.
The reports, the Conal Devine and the Resilience Ireland reports, were commissioned by the HSE and both looked at the services provided by this particular foster family – who had looked after 47 children intermittingly over a 20-year period, up to 2013.
One of these children was Grace, a non-verbal, intellectually disabled woman who is now in her 40s and who lived with the family for 20 years, until 2009.
Grace lived in the home for almost 13 years after the local health board decided to stop placing children at the home.
The 148-page Conal Devine report was completed in 2012, while the 92-page Resilience Ireland report was finished in 2015. Copies of both reports were issued to service users and families of service users yesterday and some journalists have had sight of them.
In this morning’s Irish Examiner, Daniel McConnell and Fiachra Ó Cionnaith report:
The 2012 Conal Devine Report and the Resilience Ireland Report into the foster abuse scandal reveal Grace suffered significant physical injuries before being removed from the home in 2009. The two reports are due to be published today.
The injuries include black eyes, bruises to limbs, and carpet burns on her back, while she also suffered horrendous neglect in terms of her physical condition.
The Devine Report details how an original 1996 decision to remove Grace from the home, amid allegations of sexual abuse, was overturned following representations to the then health minister Michael Noonan.
It shows that a seperate allegation of “sexual molestation” against a second child in 1995 was not properly investigated because of the absence of a formal complaint to gardaí.
One of the social workers who blew the whistle on the Waterford home spoke to Claire Byrne last night.
Her identity was protected during the interview (above).
While speaking with Ms Byrne, the woman told how, after raising concerns with the HSE, the Department of Health, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and the gardaí, she felt she had to go to the Public Accounts Committee – to highlight the wastage of taxpayers’ money – in an effort to get answers.
The move resembled that of Garda whistleblowers Sgt Maurice McCabe and former Garda John Wilson, who also approached the Public Accounts Committee – to highlight the loss of money for the State – when they were trying to highlight the quashing of penalty points.
From last night’s interview:
Claire Byrne: “Grace is currently a client of yours and, before we begin, it’s important for me to ask: is she in a safe place now?”
Social worker: “She is.”
Byrne: “Allegations of sexual abuse, physical abuse and neglect. When did the extent of the allegations, regarding the foster care facility become known to you?”
Social worker: “It really started in 2009 that my colleague and I began to become aware of some concerns that we were, I suppose, unaware of, up to that point. But, really, over the last seven to eight years, we’ve become aware of more and more, a litany of failures I suppose to address these concerns, more concerns about different types of abuse, the number of people involved. And right up to today with the publication of these reports, it’s the first time that we’ve become fully aware of what was known to the health board and the HSE at various times.”
Byrne: “And it’s estimated that 40 individuals would have passed through this care home?”
Social worker: “Yes, what we know from today’s reports is that, in total, there were 47 children and vulnerable adults with disabilities, some of them for long-term placement, some of them for short-term respite care breaks.”
Byrne: “Now, when Grace was living at the home, the local authorities became aware of serious allegations by a previous resident and steps were taken, at that time, to remove the resident still living there, but Grace went on to live in that home for a further 13 years. Isn’t that the case?”
Social worker: “That’s correct.”
Byrne: “Now, seven years ago, you began a process of uncovering why Grace had remained in that care home, despite the complaints that had been made and the concerns that had been raised. You blew the whistle on what you believed had happened. To whom and which organisations did you speak to?”
Social worker: “We made a protected disclosure to the Department of Health, in the first instance, we then went to the Office of Protected Disclosures, within the HSE. At various times, I’ve been to the Office of Ombudsman, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, several different departments within the HSE itself, right up to the very top echelons of the HSE. I’ve been to An Garda Siochana, we’ve had numerous inquiries, reviews and investigations out of those processes and, still, I suppose, in 2014, late 2014, I was in a position where I still didn’t know what had happened. I still had no answers… I hadn’t achieved anything other than endless inquiries, reviews, significant amount of taxpayers’ money – over half a million on inquiries at this stage, plus I would say, an equal amount on legal fees and management consultant fees. And so I decided to investigate the procurement processes in relation to those and that gave me, I suppose, a circuitous route to the Public Accounts Committee. And I was quite fortunate there that, upon meeting John McGuinness, and explaining to him my concerns around wastage of taxpayers’ money on unpublished reports, you know, answers we weren’t getting, learning that wasn’t happening, that we weren’t protecting vulnerable adults or learning from these failures. And John McGuinness, very quickly, took on board that there were more substantive issues, really than procurement. And it really is because of the work of the Public Accounts Committee that we are where we are today – waiting on a proposed Commission of Investigation.”
Byrne: “And where we are today, the HSE-commissioned reports, two of them will be published tomorrow [Tuesday]. Now there was one that was published back in 2012, that was the Conal Devine report. Another report was completed in 2015 by Resilience Ireland but neither report was published, as we know. They will be published tomorrow [Tuesday]. You have seen them, what do you make of the findings?”
Social worker: “While I was prepared for the lack of answers, we still don’t really know what happened. There seems to be, by and large, a failure to establish the facts, a failure to establish why certain things went wrong. We know that it went wrong, we just don’t know why yet. What I really wasn’t prepared for is the litany of failures. The word ‘failure’ it just seems to appear over and over again. Reading those reports today and seeing 47 individuals who were put at risk, there’s no other way around it. Their lives, these are people’s lives, they’re not just cases. They were put at risk. And I wasn’t prepared for how stark the reports would be in outlining 30 years of repeated failures. We know that the terms of reference for the Conal Devine report and the Resilience Ireland report were far too narrow to ever investigate what happened fully.”
Byrne: “Well, the Government has committed now to a Commission of Investigation into this foster home scandal and the minister in charge, Minister Finian McGrath will publish those terms of reference shortly. But what you’re saying is, the end result here, the one that you would hope for, is accountability in these cases?”
Social worker: “That has to happen. I think, at this stage, that, if the taxpayer sits back and doesn’t demand accountability on this, if they say, ‘well, I’m happy to pay for repeated inquiries and reviews and reports for a system that never holds anybody accountable’ – the same system, without any change, can’t affect different results in the future. That’s my concern. That, really, how can that system protect people if failures and a duty of care to the most vulnerable in our society – if we let that system become a risk to the very people it’s there to protect, how can that system ever protect vulnerable people?”
Byrne: “All of this, and given what you’ve just said. It must be hugely concerning for the families with those people with intellectual disabilities who are relying on the State to provide care facilities for them. I mean can we be sure that this isn’t happening now? Are the checks and balances in place now, do you believe?”
Social worker: “Oh I don’t think so. I think if I believed that, I wouldn’t be sitting here tonight, for a start. I wouldn’t have spent the last seven years, intend to spend the next couple of years working towards the Commission of Investigation’s findings to affect that kind of change. But, at the moment, I don’t think the system can adequately protect people. I think what we’ve seen, even around policy direction, what we have is people leaving foster care with an intellectual disability and there is no system for them to go into. They’re discharged from the care of Tusla. The HSE has a duty of care to them but doesn’t actually have a system of monitoring, vetting, oversight, training of the placements where they stay, if they’re in family-based placements. What we need is that for every child with a disability leaving foster care, if we learn anything from this, we need now for those placements to be regulated, for them to have oversight, to ensure that their needs are being met, to ensure if there are concerns, that action is taken and that there is a structure in place and that there is a system of regulation in place.”
Byrne: “Finally, we’ve heard an awful lot about whistleblowers and how they’re treated in this country. How was your experience, as a whistleblower?”
Social worker: “It’s been appalling. You know, it’s been a very difficult seven years and I think that, all through that, I was very lucky because I work for a very small agency that, when I came to that agency in 2009 – I was only a newly qualified social worker – this was actually the first case I ever had in disability social work. And, when I started raising those concerns, I had the support of the management team within the organisation I work, I had the support of the board of directors and the voluntary agency I work for. And that allowed me to go to all of the various departments I went to. To go to the Office of the Ombudsman, to go to the Public Accounts Committee. At no stage, did anybody – I suppose despite the impact that that had on a small agency – at no stage did anybody attempt to discourage me from that within the organisation.”
“The difficulties I faced within the HSE were significant and my concern is that for any other social worker now, who might be out there, who might know of another Grace today, that’s not a system that would entice anybody to make a protected disclosure, to blow the whistle on it.”
From top: Bill Kenneally; the late Monsignor John Shine
You may recall how the victims of paedophile Bill Kenneally – an accountant from a well-known Fianna Fáil family and basketball coach in Waterford – want a Commission of Investigation.
They believe senior gardai, members of Fianna Fáil, members of the Catholic Church and staff at the South Eastern Health Board failed to act when told about the abuse.
Kenneally was convicted and sentenced to 14 years last February, for abusing 10 boys in the 1980s, after victim Jason Clancy came forward in 2012.
However, certain Gardaí knew about the abuse as far back as 1985.
Further to this…
Yesterday, Damien Tiernan, on RTÉ’s This Week, reported that after gardaí raided Kenneally’s house in December 2012, Kenneally made some admissions to gardaí and gardaí notified the HSE.
However, Basketball Ireland, and a local Waterford basketball club, say they were never contacted or made aware of the situation by the HSE or officials attached to Tusla.
Instead, it was only when one of Kenneally’s victims went to the media in April 2013, that the basketball club became aware of the matter. The club subsequently told Kenneally to leave the club’s committee and he resigned.
Kenneally’s victims now want this matter to be part of the Commission of Inquiry that they’re seeking from the Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald.
Readers will also recall how Kenneally’s uncle was the late Fianna Fáil TD Billy Kenneally, who died in 2009 and who was succeeded by his son Brendan Kenneally.
Brendan Kenneally was told about the abuse by a Waterford woman in 2002 but he didn’t tell gardai. Instead, he spoke to another uncle and local priest – and former chairman of the board of management at Holy Cross National School in Tramore, Co Waterford – Monsignor John Shine – and arranged counselling for Bill Kenneally.
Monsignor Shine died on Saturday, February 18.
Further to this…
The death of Monsignor Shine has prompted Kenneally’s victims to call for the establishment of an inquiry into the matter “before anyone else with crucial information dies”.
Saoirse McGarrigle writes:
[Victim] Jason Clancy says that the Tramore priest was a “central figure” in the cover-up.
It’s alleged he was told about the abuse, but did not report it to the gardai. Instead he contacted a local TD looking for help to suppress victims’ claims.
“A lot of the key witnesses are elderly, do we need to wait until more die before the minister decides it’s time to get to the bottom of this?” said Mr Clancy.
Mr Clancy and other victims – Colin Power, Paul Walsh, Barry Murphy and Kevin Keating – are pushing for a commission of investigation into who knew about the abuse and allowed it continue.
The men, who are now in their 40s, were abused when they were teenagers in the 1980s.
Their solicitor Darragh Mackin has written to Frances Fitzgerald saying “the passing of Monsignor Shine, who would have undoubtedly been a key witness to any inquiry, has resulted in the loss of evidence to the investigation”.
Superintendent Sean Cashman admitted Bill Kenneally told him he was blind-folding, handcuffing and sexually abusing teenage boys in 1987, but he did not charge the basketball coach because he promised to stop.
Last month Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald wrote to the men saying: “While I am minded towards holding some form of investigation” she was not going to launch one yet, because a fresh criminal investigation is now underway after three other men came forward making reports of abuse at the end of 2016.
“There is probably another 150 men walking around Waterford that have been abused by this monster, this could go on for years,” said Mr Clancy.
He added: “It is not a valid excuse to stop her investigating the cover-up and it certainly was not an excuse given to us when we met her in November…she said that new victims coming forward wasn’t something that would stop a commission of investigation.”
Minister for Health Simon Harris speaks to reporters after giving an address to the Health Enterprise Alliance Symposium.
Mr Harris continues to deal with the fallout of the RTÉ Investigates programme on Monday that revealed the HSE operate at least two other waiting lists not published by the National Treatment Purchase Fund, the body responsible for putting together list data.
“The personal stories of the people waiting for treatment are deeply moving and the experiences they describe are absolutely inexcusable.
“I am keenly aware of this burden and it is for this reason that last summer I requested that the HSE put in place an Action Plan to halve the number of patients waiting over 18 months for treatment….
“However, I think it is important to note that, while there are still too many people who have to wait too long for their treatment, as of last December, only 2% of patients were waiting longer than 18 months for treatment. 93% were receiving treatment within 15 months and over half were receiving treatment within 6 months.”
Minister for Health Simon Harris (top) on last night’s RTÉ Investigates (above) programme on overcrowding in Irish hosptials
A&E consultant and Totally Sound Bloke Dr. Fergal Hickey was on [RTÉ Radio One’s] Morning Ireland today about this (‘up to 350 people will die needlessly’ if things do not improve in the Irish health service over the next year)….I went off and drew 350 people just to see what that might look like.