Last year’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
In the Irish Examiner.
Daniel McConnell reports on an interim report from the Commission of Investigation into the case of ‘Grace’, chaired by Marjorie Farrelly SC.
“Michael Noonan’s handling of the case of ‘Grace’ while health minister and the role of his department in the 1990s will be the subject of commission of investigation hearings early in the new year, an interim report states.”
“…Mr Noonan has strongly denied acting in any way on behalf of the foster father following written representations seeking to have ‘Grace’ remain at the home.”
Mr McConnell also reports that the interim report was given to Minister for Health Simon Harris and Minister of State for Disability Issues Finian McGrath yesterday and that it will be discussed by Cabinet next Tuesday.
Readers will recall how ‘Grace’ was born to a single mother in the southeast of Ireland in the late 1970s.
She was supposed to be put up for adoption but, instead, was put into foster care soon after her birth.
She was born with microcephaly and was mute.
From 1989 until 2009, Grace lived with a set of foster parents.
The foster father – who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1999 and who died in 2000 – was accused of sexually abusing another child in their care in 1996, at which point it was decided that no more children would be placed in their care and that Grace would be removed.
The foster parents appealed this decision to remove Grace and, in a letter dated August 9, 1996, to the then Health Minister Michael Noonan, the foster father stated that he and the foster mother lost this appeal and that they were appealing to the minister to “decide in their favour”.
On August 26, 1996, Mr Noonan received a second letter appealing for Grace to remain with the foster parents. But this second letter was from the principal of a school attended by a grandson of the foster parents.
On November 14, 1996, the foster parents were told Grace could stay with them.
Mr Justice Peter Kelly approved a settlement involving a package worth €6.3million for Grace, the non-verbal, intellectually disabled woman who is now in her 40s and who lived with an abusive foster 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 in 1996. The decision to remove Grace came after the mother of a female service user claimed her daughter was sexually molested while she had spent a week on holiday/respite at Grace’s foster home.
The decision to reverse this decision to remove Grace occurred after a letter was sent by the foster father to then Minister for Health Michael Noonan in August, 1996.
The letter to Mr Noonan, which had been copied to the health board, appealed to the minister to “decide in their favour”.
Also in August 1996, MrNoonan received a letter from the principal of a school attended by the foster parents’ grandson, in which the principal wrote in support of Grace staying with the foster family.
The matter is the subject of a Commission of Investigation, chaired by SC Marjorie Farrelly, launched in March of this year.
Further to this…
Mr Justice Peter Kelly approved a settlement involving a package of measures worth €6.3m for the woman referred to as ‘Grace’.
The Health Service Executive apologised to the woman in court for the failings in her care.
The failings included inadequate monitoring and oversight of her care and inadequate action to remove her from the foster home after significant concerns had been raised.
In its apology the HSE said the care she received fell short of the compassionate, caring and personalised support that she was entitled to.
It said the HSE had taken steps locally and nationally for continued service improvements, standards and safe care.
…Mr Justice Kelly said a decision had been made in 1996 to remove ‘Grace’ from the foster family. But he said that decision had been reversed by a three-person committee in the health board for reasons which remained a mystery to this day.
He said this was after representations were made by the foster parents to the then minister for health.
…He asked what extraordinary hold the foster family had over the health board officials who made the decision. He said if it was not for the fact that a commission of inquiry has been set up, he would have wanted answers to these questions.
The Public Accounts Committee is launching its report on the sale of Project Eagle.
The chair of PAC, Fianna Fail TD Seán Fleming said:
“The committee considers that it was not appropriate for Nama, as the contracting body, to meet with Cerberus representatives the day before the Project Eagle bid closing date. It could have given the perception that Cerberus was benefiting from preferential treatment.
“Also. The committee considers that it was not procedurally appropriate for the Minister for Finance [Michael Noonan] to meet with senior Cerberus representatives on the day before the Project Eagle bid closing date. This could have given the perception that Cerberus was benefiting from preferential treatment.”
From top: Daniel McConnell, of the Irish Examiner; Hugh O’Connell, of The Sunday Business Post, and Josepha Madigan, Fine Gael TD and member of PAC
You may recall how, on Sunday, February 12, in The Sunday Business Post, Hugh O’Connell and Jack Horgan-Jones reported on a draft working paper by the Public Accounts Committee into Nama’s sale of Project Eagle.
The paper said it was “not appropriate” for the Department of Finance to meet with the ultimately successful bidder, Cerberus, in the days before the closing date for Project Eagle bids. It similarly states that it was “not appropriate” for Noonan or Nama to meet with Cerberus the day before the Project Eagle bid closing date – and that this could be perceived as “special treatment”.
PAC’s report no longer states the Department of Finance and the Minister for Finance Michael Noonan’s behaviour was ‘not appropriate’. Instead, their behaviour was ‘not procedurally appropriate’.
Why was it changed?
From the press conference…
David Davin Power (RTE): “You found that Michael Noonan meeting Cerberus wasn’t ‘procedurally appropriate’ and I know there was a contention about that on the committee. Fine Gael members voting against it. But Michael Noonan says that he never had an adequate opportunity to respond to what was ultimately an adverse finding against him and that he’s been unfairly treated, effectively, by the committee.”
Sean Fleming: “Well, he said that, based on the original working document that said it was ‘inappropriate’ but the wording in the report published today refers to the procedures that allowed that meeting to happen. It was procedurally inappropriate. So it’s not quite the same as what was in the original report. And that word is there for a reason. Because this committee is precluded from finding specific fault against an individual person. And we’re looking at the process of that meeting, not specifically the person who attended. I would [inaudible] the distinction between the finding in relation to Nama, where we say it was inappropriate, because we were finding that the body, the corporate body of Nama, rather than that one person, acted inappropriately. But we can’t use that particular word due to legal restrictions, in relation to one individual.”
Davin Power: “But why did you seek to use that word if it was legally suspect in the first place…”
Fleming: “The committee never sought to seek that. There was a working document prepared after some 30,000 sheets of paper presented to the committee and after 11 public hearings. The committee never used that particular wording. The only wording that the committee settled on is the wording in the report.”
Davin Power: “Could you ask one of the Fine Gael members [of PAC] to respond to that point? Are you happy…[inaudible].”
Fleming: “Peter [Burke], if you’re happy?”
Peter Burke: “Thank you very much. First of all, I think to use the words ‘procedurally inappropriate’ is not fair. I would point out that the Minister did attend the PAC meeting, even though he’s not legally required to do so. He spent five hours under intense questioning. He brought forward all information and answers and answered everything very clear and concise and to see a situation whereby he was actually denied natural justice because the response that’s in the report is to a media leak which appeared on the Sunday Business Post. So, in other words, he never got due process or was questioned on the content of this assertion.
“And, to point out, Section 9 of the Nama Act is very clear. That it is independent in its functions in terms of its role with the minister and previous people have brought this up, including our chairman when the act was [inaudible] in the Dáil in 2009, in terms of to keep it outside of the realm of politics, I mean that was very, very important. And to suggest that it’s procedurally inappropriate, one has to ask: what is the procedure? And there is none. If the minister has clear legal separation and there is a former US secretary of the treasury coming over to Ireland to discuss, from banking to insurance to asset management, I think it would be unwise for any minister not to meet him.”
Burke: “… the commercial activities of Nama are driven by the board. The minister has no role in this. And even, as a process, it was mentioned that the minister should have called off the sale, but at that time, he’d no legal power to do so. And there’s departmental legal advice, which was mentioned at the committee here, in relation to that.”
Daniel McConnell (Irish Examiner): “But are you not playing politics with it now? Are Fine Gael not playing politics with the PAC, for the first time in its history, in 94 years, you caused a vote at the PAC, purely to protect the standing of Michael Noonan?”
Burke: “No, Danny, that’s not correct. If we look at this, in a fair and balanced fashion. If a minister, who is not legally obliged to attend the PAC, does so of his own free will, in the interest of fairness, in the interest of transparency, on foot of that, that he is denied the right to due process, to respond to a charge that was put to him, that he was never asked one single question on, I think that’s an incredible part of this report. That the minister was denied that right to respond to an assertion that he was never…”
McConnell: “So, who put it in the report initially then? Because this is important. Who put the initial finding of ‘inappropriate’ in the report? Was it a civil servant?”
Burke: “Here is a draft document
McConnell: “So a civil servant…
Burke: “…which was leaked to the Sunday Business Post…”
McConnell: “So it was a civil servant who put it in, is that what you’re saying?”
Burke: “It was a draft document, I can’t answer that….”
Fleming: “I will answer that, and I will call on David Cullnane [Sinn Fein] next. I, as chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, supervised directly, personally..”
McConnell: “So it was your, that was your, that was your language?”
Talk over each other
Fleming: “…reporting in the first instance. What I do want to clarify, people mightn’t have go to it. We put a specific appendix in the report, on page 86, on the issue. We record fully and faithfully everything in respect of the minister’s response. First of all, in that, when we came to that issue of whether or not, at our meeting, and it’s all documented there [inaudible] we had three or four meetings, and Peter and his [Fine Gael] colleagues proposed wording to say, rather than it was ‘not procedurally correct’, to put the wording it was ‘not advisable’. So the board members were satisfied that the report should say it was ‘not advisable’ of the minister. That was voted down and the other wording was put forward.”
“But I just want to respond, before I call on David Cullinane, it was fortuitous in a way that there was a leak because that did give the minister to respond and the content of the letter received by the minister was examined closely by the parliamentary legal office in this house. And [inaudible] essentially responded to any allegations that we were about to make. Even though his letter came in before we concluded. And I do want to say, this is the transcript, the 82-page transcript of the meeting, of the Public Accounts Committee on Thursday, the 6th of October 2016. And I have to say that that meeting, the minister and the people on his side were the only people aware in the room, at that time of the meeting with Cerberus. No member of the committee was aware that a meeting ever happened. And the minister gave no indication whatever of that meeting. To suggest we didn’t ask him something about which we knew nothing about is unusual. He had four and a half hours at the meeting when we invited him in to talk about the sale of Project Eagle. And he spent four and a half hours discussing it and made no reference to that meeting. And there is the transcript if people want to check it.”
Hugh O’Connell (Sunday Business Post): “Do you think you may have dropped the ball, as a committee, in not asking him if he had met Cerberus? And secondly, when you did become aware of it, why didn’t you ask him about the meeting via correspondence?”
Fleming: “The answer to that is we didn’t drop the ball because we weren’t aware the game had happened. Right? No member of the PAC were aware, at the time, that that meeting…”
Josepha Madigan: “Sorry, that’s incorrect. It was subject to FOI, the minutes were actually given in correspondence on the 4th of November…the 8th of November  to the committee, so they were fully aware of…”
O’Connell: “So, why then, did you not write to Michael Noonan and ask him: why did you have this meeting? And what was the purpose of this meeting?”
David Cullinane: “There was a note that was given to the committee under the Department of Finance that set out the official notes taken by officials, in terms of that meeting. And those notes clearly show that Project Eagle was raised and it was raised in the context of Cerberus raised and they were told that it would be best dealt with at a meeting later that day with Nama which we believe that was also inappropriate. So, there was reference to Project Eagle in that meeting. And…”
O’Connell: “Why didn’t you ask him then? Why didn’t the committee call him back in?”
Alan Farrell: “That’s entirely inaccurate…it is entirely inaccurate….you’ve got your dates mixed up, David.”
‘Grace’ was born to a single mother in the southeast of Ireland in the late 1970s. She was supposed to be put up for adoption but, instead, was put into foster care soon after her birth.
She was born with microcephaly and was mute.
From 1989 until 2009, Grace lived with a set of foster parents.
The foster father – who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1999 and who died in 2000 – was accused of sexually abusing another child in their care in 1996, at which point it was decided that no more children would be placed in their care.
So, why did Grace live there for another 13 years?
What effect did two letters sent to Minister for Finance Michael Noonan, who was then the Minister for Health – calling on him to intervene and to reverse a decision to remove Grace from the home – play in the ultimate reversal of that decision?
Why did a school principal lobby the Minister Noonan about the case, in favour of the foster parents?
And why did the health board say this principal’s view would be taken into account in “reaching their recommendations in relation to the future care of [Grace]”?
The partially redacted and anonymised HSE-commissioned Conal Devine report, which was completed in 2012 and only published on Tuesday, states the following:
1989: Grace started to live with this set of foster parents on the premise that she would remain there until a residential place was made available for her. She was on a waiting list for such a place.
There is no evidence that the foster parents were assessed at any level as required under the Boarding Out of Children Regulations 1983 or that references were obtained as per those regulations.
There’s also no evidence of any documented visit by the health board to determine the suitability of the home before Grace went to live there.
September 1989: A visit by health professionals is made to the foster home and while the location is praised, there are concerns raise about the following: a lack of other children with whom Grace could socialise; the age of the foster father; and the fact Grace isn’t attending school.
December 1989: The foster parents are informed that a school place has been reserved for Grace from the middle of December.
November 1990: Following a visit to the home, it is noted that Grace hasn’t been back to school since Christmas 1989.
Apparently the reason for the poor school attendance is transport problems but there is no evidence of any effort being made to deal with whatever the obstacles are.
1991: There are no documented six monthly reviews, as required by law, and there is still no evidence of any efforts to accommodate Grace’s school needs.
1992: A request is made for a residential placement for Grace from a residential facility in the birth mother’s home town. The name of the person or organisation that made the request is redacted in the report.
1993: No evidence of any activity around Grace and no documented review visits, as required per law.
1994: There were brief handwritten notes indicating two possible home visits – one on Feb 13 and one on June 17. But no evidence of any documented review visits as per law.
1995: A residential placement for Grace in an area outside of the immediate health board is sought for Grace and it’s noted that this request is due to the foster parents “becoming elderly”. Again the name of the person or organisation who sought the placement is redacted in the report.
May 1995: A psychological assessment notes Grace hasn’t really progressed intellectually or in terms of self care skills since her previous assessment some six year previous, in 1989. It is noted she would benefit from regular attendance at a day care facility – in terms of stimulation and social contact.
However, during a home visit in August 1995, it is noted the foster father did not agree to Grace going to a “workshop” because “there was nothing could be done with her”.
Despite this stance, it was organised for Grace to go to a day care facility. She starts attending the facility on September 4, 1995.
October 17, 1995: During a home visit, it is noted that Grace is taking her clothes off when she gets home in the evening.
October 19, 1995: An incident report from the day care facility, states: “While toileting Grace in the arm, large bruise noticed on left hip, appears tender to the touch. Bruises noticed also on the left elbow and right elbow just visible and not tender to touch. In good form”.
October 25, 1995: Another incident report form, from the facility, states: “For the first time in [the facility] while on social programme training…Grace completely stripped herself for no apparent reason, notified previously of these stripping incidents at home by [redacted]”.
March 1996: The mother of a female service user, at this point living in the UK, claims her daughter was sexually molested while she had spent a week on holiday/respite at Grace’s foster home.
The Devine report notes there was no substantive investigation in respect of this sex abuse complaint.
April 2, 1996: Further to the UK complaint a meeting takes place between the relevant health board professionals. At this meeting, it’s decided that Grace – who is now 17 – will be placed elsewhere.
The Devine report states this is a direct result of the sexual abuse complaint and the age and ill health of one of the foster parents.
Within a week of the meeting, arrangements are made to secure a residential bed for Grace in a facility for people with intellectual disabilities.
The foster father is also told of the sexual abuse complaint made against him at this time.
April 22, 1996:The foster family are notified of their right to appeal the decision to remove Grace.
April 23, 1996: There is a case conference attended by “all the relevant professionals”, of which there are no minutes taken. There’s also no evidence of anybody from the day care facility being invited to attend – even though Grace had been attending the facility for seven months.
Although there are no minutes kept, it’s noted that the case conference is told “Grace was reverting to her former agitated behaviour” but it’s not known who made this claim or where it came from. It didn’t come from the day care facility.
Also, at that case conference, it is noted the foster parents would appeal the decision to remove Grace and those present agreed to await the outcome of that process before proceeding with Grace’s removal.
In addition, at this case conference, it is noted that the health board will no longer use these foster parents.
April 24, 1996:The foster father requests that the family be given time to allow their grandchild get used to Grace leaving and they suggested Grace be allowed to remain with them until the autumn. There’s no evidence of that letter being replied to or being discussed further by those involved in the making the decision to remove Grace.
But we know, from the Devine report that, at some point, a bed that was left vacant for Grace from April that year was filled on the basis that a placement would be made available for Grace at the end of that summer.
May 17, 1996: The foster parents put their case before two professionals – Ms Marie Kennedy and Dr Marie Ryan – as to why they should be allowed to keep Grace. The minutes of that meeting recorded three questions which required clarification.
There is no mention of what the foster father had requested in his letter of April 24 – that Grace be allowed to stay with them until the autumn.
The questions are:
– Was Grace reviewed during the course of her placement and were the foster parents aware that alternative placements were being explored for her?
– At what level did discussions take place in relation to moving Grace to an alternative placement?
– What reasons were given to the foster parents in relation to the proposed move.
There’s no record of these questions being followed up and there’s no record of the two professionals making any decision or recommendation, following the meeting.
August 9, 1996: The foster family sends a letter to the then Minister for Health Michael Noonan which had been copied to the health board. This letter states they had “lost their appeal” and that they were appealing to the minister to “decide in their favour”.
The foster father also writes:
“We have looked forward to having Grace for a few more years in fact until my wife reached retirement age. How anyone can say the type of move envisage for Grace is in her best interest beats all.”
“Our grandson is 8 years of age who lives with us has always regarded Grace as his sister and to suddenly part them would be very upsetting for him particularly as his mother died last year.”
“…I can see no valid reason for this move…”
August 15, 1996: Six days later, according to the Devine report, the Department of Health requests a report on the matter from the health board.
August 20: Five days later, the Department of Health is notified that the matter is being dealt with under Section 43 of the Child Care Act. The health board tells the Department of Health it has “grounds for believing that it is in the best interests of the child to be removed from its current child care placement“.
The same letter to the Department of Health says the foster carers’ objections were heard “as per regulations” and that the plan to remove Grace was going ahead following “an agreement to leave her with the family for the summer”.
But there’s no record or file of any such agreement. There’s only the April 24 letter in which the foster father requested this arrangement, citing his grandson’s relationship with Grace.
August 26, 1996: The Minister for Health Michael Noonan’s office receives a letter from the principal of a school attended by the grandson. The principal writes in support of Grace staying with the foster family.
September 11, 1996: The Department of Health gives this school principal’s letter to the health board with a request for a report.
September 12, 1996: A day after Minister Noonan’s department passes on the letter from the school principal to the health board, it’s recorded that, during a visit to the home, the foster parents say they are going to oppose Grace’s removal and that they have written to Michael Noonan.
September 25, 1996: In response, the Department of Health is told the matter is “currently under consideration by the professional staff on the board” and that the school principal’s view would be taken into account in “reaching their recommendations in relation to the future care of Grace.”
October 24, 1996: A case conference takes place. The Devin report notes:
“There is some dispute in recollection between the professionals as to whether a decision was taken not to remove [Grace] prior to the case conference held on 24th October 1996. There is also a dispute as to why the decision to remove confirmed at the case conference in April 1996 was effectively overturned in October 1996. The [redacted] is of the view that the decision was taken at the case conference while the [redacted] was of the view that the decision not to remove was because “the appeal” by the [redacted] was successful.”
If you recall, in his letter to Minister Noonan, the foster father said he lost the appeal.
In addition, the Devine report noted:
“The Inquiry Team, on the basis of the evidence available, would be of the view that the two persons designated to hear the representations made by the [redacted] did not uphold the appeal of that decision. The inquiry Team would also be of the view that the decision taken at October’s case conference to effectively reverse the outcome of the April case conference was taken by the professionals concerned including the [redacted], [redacted] and the [redacted]. It is not clear however if this decision was made prior to the October case conference or was taken at the case conference.”
Either way, at the case conference of October 24, 1996, it is noted “there is no evidence that anything happened to Grace or that her well being or welfare are not being met..” but, at the same time, the conference is also told neither the health board or any intellectual disability service provider would be placing any further children at that home.
November 14, 1996: The foster parents are told that Grace will be staying with them.
2000: The foster father died.
February 27, 2001: During a visit to the home, the foster mother says she’s relying on the income that she receives for looking after Grace and says she’d like Grace to stay with her and her grandson until he turns 18, which would be in 2006.
March 27, 2009: After it’s noticed that Grace had suspicious bruising on her thigh and breast, she’s taken to A&E and then a Sexual Assault Treatment Unit. A statement is also taken by gardaí. She was later returned to the foster home as it was “the least worst option”.
Grace remained at the home until July 17, 2009.
Protected disclosures by whistleblowers in relation to the treatment of Grace are made in late 2009 and early 2010.
A total of 47 children with profound intellectual disabilities were placed at the home between 1985 and 2013.
From top: Letter from Grace’s foster parents to then Minister for Health Michael Noonan in 1996; page 30 of the Conal Devine report; the panel on last night’s Tonight with Vincent Browne; Daniel McConnell; and Vincent Brown and Gavan Reilly, of Today FM
On TV3’s Tonight with Vincent Browne, the panel – Fianna Fail TD Mary Butler, Fine Gael TD Alan Farrell, Labour TD Jan O’Sullivan and political editor at The Irish Examiner Daniel McConnell – discussed the Grace case.
Grace is a non-verbal, intellectually disabled woman, now in her 40s, who lived with an abusive foster 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.
An original 1996 decision to remove Grace from the abusive home, amid allegations of sexual abuse, was overturned following representations to the then minister for health Michael Noonan in August 1996.
During the discussion, Gavan Reilly, of Today FM, read out tweets that were being directed at the show.
From the show…
Daniel McConnell: “Vincent, one of the starkest things that came out of the press conference today and also the interviews from the HSE’s designated spokesperson was, when it got to the idea of accountability, the three people who were involved in the decision to leave Grace in the home in 1996 – which was an overturning of an earlier decision to remove her from the home – they’re no longer with us, so, therefore, we can’t pursue that angle.”
“The HSE don’t have powers of compellability so we can’t even ask them. So, therefore, it’s just, they’re gone, they’re off the hook. There are 11 other healthcare workers, remaining in the system, but yet the HSE are convinced that there’s no difficulty or there’s no risk to child. How do they know if they haven’t even asked the people who were involved, as to what went on?”
Gavan Reilly (after reading several tweets): “It has to be said, Vincent, there’s one other common thread in the tweets and it’s something that I think relates back to a point that Daniel just made a few moments ago which is a lot of people are querying why there hasn’t been more made today, in the media coverage, about the role that Michael Noonan played in this, bearing in mind that Michael Noonan was the Minister for Health in 1996, when a decision was made to remove Grace from this particular home. The foster family, themselves, approached Michael Noonan, he passed it down the line and, ultimately, a decision was made, further down the line, not to remove Grace from that home.”
“Now, as Daniel has said, there’s obviously significant shortcomings in the fact that the three people responsible for that decision have yet to be approached by the HSE because, it says, it doesn’t have compellability – that is, possibly, the only lingering reason why a Commission of Investigation would still be a good thing. But, just to finish this point, Vincent.”
“The report today, and it has to be said, and there is other commentary around Michael Noonan, and no doubt there are questions to answer, the reports today, particularly, the Conor Dignam report, there is nothing damning about the handling of this case by Michael Noonan in that, quite simply, because it doesn’t go into any detail at all.”
“The only instance where Michael Noonan is invoked in that is that the family wrote to Michael Noonan, Michael Noonan passed it down. There is no indication that Michael Noonan gave any instruction, either way, that’s something that has to be sounded out. But I just, I think, it should be said because a lot of people are wondering, they think that the coverage is a little bit lacking because it doesn’t incorporate the role of Michael Noonan and I think the point just has to be made: that the reports today didn’t make any comment on the performance of Michael Noonan and it doesn’t shed any light on that.”
Garry O’Halloran is a barrister, former Fine Gael councillor and former chairman of the South Eastern Health Board.
Readers may recall a previous post outlining how, in 1997, Mr O’Halloran attempted to speak with the Minister for Finance Michael Noonan – then Minister for Children – about allegations of child sex abuse in relation to Fr Jim Grennan, who had abused several children in Monageer, Co. Wexford, the diocese of Ferns.
According to Mr O’Halloran, Mr Noonan ran away from him when he attempted to speak to him about this at a Fine Gael Ard Fheis in 1997. One of Fr Grennan’s victims was with Mr O’Halloran at the Ard Fheis.
Mr O’Halloran resigned from Fine Gael following the incident.
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, 2016.
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 was not an isolated incident.
Further to this, and the publication earlier today of the Conal Devine report and the Resilience Ireland report into the Grace case…
Mr O’Halloran writes:
A few questions and answers:
Q1: How many inquiries does it require to establish the truth in respect of a single event?
If the event was to overturn a lawful decision taken by social workers to remove a young woman with disabilities from her residence, and that decision was overturned following the intervention of then Health Minister Michael Noonan, the correct answer at this moment in time is ‘at least six’.
The inquiry presently being set up has been preceded by
2007 report of a SEHB (South Eastern Health Board) social worker;
2009 report of a non-SEHB social worker;
2012 report by Conal Devine;
2015 report by Resilience Ireland;
2016 report by Conor Dignam SC.
It is not known how many Garda reports may be in existence.
Q2: Three reasons why this issue is important:
A beautiful young woman, whose disabilities rendered her unable to verbally communicate and whose mental age remained at 12 months old, was exposed to possible daily rape and other forms of torture for an additional 9 years as a result of the Noonan intervention.
The parents/guardians of 47 other persons with disabilities who had been sent to this Kilkenny residence were never informed of the disclosures of rape and torture. Respect for the rule of law and confidence in the institutions of the State are in unequivocal jeopardy.
Q3: What actually happened?
A case conference in May 1996 on ‘Grace’ determined that she be removed from her foster-carers. This decision could not be implimented immediately as there were no placements available for persons with a disability. When arrangements were made, the foster-carers were informed in September and given the standard three days to deliver up the child.
The foster-carers appealed this decision, as was their entitlement under the 1995 Foster-Care Regulations. The oral appeal was held before Ms Marie Kennedy and Dr Marie Ryan, and the decision to remove Grace was upheld.
By letter dated August 9, 1996 (see copy exhibited in a report by the political editor of The Irish Examiner, Daniel McConnell), the foster-carers appealed directly to Minister Noonan.
Minister Noonan acted on this letter, notwithstanding that the whole area was governed by statute, and including the new Foster-Care Regulations.
Minister Noonan passed the matter on to his junior ministerial colleague, Minister Austin Curry (as again happened in the ‘Monagear’ case a few months later).
Minister Curry passed it on to an official of the Department of Health (DoH). The DoH official passed it on to the SEHB.
The SEHB operated under a hierarchical structure. At the top was the CEO, John Cooney, who was assisted by programme managers in the areas of general hospitals, special hospitals (ie psychiatric and geriatric hospitals) and community care (covers foster-care).
The Programme Manager for Community Care in the SEHB, Martin Hynes, responded to the DoH official by stating that this was possibly the first decision taken under the provisions of the Foster-Care Regulations, and the decision stood.
A further case conference late in 1996 was informed by the chair, Sandra Merity, that the decision to remove ‘Grace’ was overturned. No clear reason was given, but mutterings about legal advice and a possible three-person meeting in September have proved elusive to all those who have followed the paper-trail.
However, Dr Cathal Morgan of the HSE told Keelin Shanley on RTE’s News At One today that he knew the identity of the three as-yet unidentified persons ‘who were responsible for implimenting the decision of the case-conference’, and he further noted ‘they have left the service’.
In addition to his profuse apologies, Dr Morgan also referred to ‘a HR procedure’, that a Garda investigation is ongoing (he omitted the fact that it appears to have commenced in 2007), and he made repeated reference to the over-riding need for Due Process. This final comment is particularly ironic since it was the interference with due process which condemned Grace.
Q4: How useful are inquiries?
The ‘real news’ about inquiries is that they are invariably set up with a view to kicking the truth down the road – for years, decades, or permanently.
The ‘facts’ established by Inquiries cannot be used in criminal proceedings.
The matters at issue in the ‘Grace’ case are criminal in nature – the decision-makers who subjected Grace to daily torture for over nine years cannot claim immunity from the criminal law. That includes Minister Noonan.
Q5: How can the truth be established?
The very small number of decision-makers and facilitators could just say what happened.
When this does not happen (after the 5 previous inquiries and reports), it is necessary to personally identify the crew, get just one to free himself or herself from the glue, and then expose both the lie and the liars. After that, the truth will find its own level.
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.”
Further to the newspaper’s report last week that the Minister for Finance Michael Noonan, the Department of Finance and Nama have been heavily criticised in a draft report by the Public Accounts Committee – in relation to Nama’s sale of its Northern Ireland loan book, known as Project Eagle…
And that, specifically, it was “not appropriate” for Noonan or Nama to meet with Cerberus the day before the Project Eagle bid closing date…
Jack Horgan-Jones and Hugh O’Connell reported:
Noonan has rebutted the finding, contained in the committee’s draft working paper and published by this newspaper last week, that it was “not appropriate” for him to meet with the US fund prior to its €1.6 billion purchase of Nama’s Northern portfolio. The draft said this could be perceived as “special treatment”.
…In a letter to the committee last week, Noonan expressed “great concern” over the draft findings, saying they were “extremely damaging” to him. He maintains that the meetings were not inappropriate and that he was never given a right of reply.
But committee members are doubling down this weekend. “Everybody agrees the fact that he met them is a problem. Everybody understands. Nobody can say it was a good idea to meet Cerberus on the day of the bids,” a PAC source said.
“The point of that whole meeting, the potential impression that meeting gave, will remain in [the report] . . . The essence of that meeting happening at that time and the impression of that meeting and having such access at that critical time will be in the final report.”
Another committee source said that while the language around the finding may change, it is extremely unlikely to be removed altogether.
Fine Gael TDs on the committee have indicated they will attempt to block any report which states that Noonan did not act appropriately.