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.
However, Grace was put back in their care for another 13 years of almost constant abuse.
TDs heard from Disabilities Minister Anne Rabbitte that two new investigations into serious failures in disability services have been launched by the HSE in the Southeast, the same area where ‘Grace’ was abused.
Kilkenny Fianna Fáil TD John McGuiness told the chamber:
“I listened carefully to the remarks of the Minister of State and the other contributors to this discussion and I have to say that I am shocked and appalled that what is happening here today is a further abuse of Grace and the 46 others.
“We are completely ignoring the fact that there are reports within the HSE that clearly outline what happened to Grace. In the beginning, when this happened and the whistleblowers decided they were going to explain the case, it came up at the Committee of Public Accounts under the guise of the money that was spent on the Resilience Ireland report and the Conal Devine report.
“That is how it began to seep out into the public domain. That is how it was exposed. It was not the HSE or any other body else facilitating an inspection of what went on or an investigation.
“The minute all of this happened, the two whistleblowers were targeted by the HSE. They were targeted in their employment in Waterford and they were put under horrendous stress.
“I read the reports from the whistleblowers. I discussed it with them. I could not believe this type of abuse could happen in our State; that a young woman was put into a home and sexually abused and that sexual abuse was reported by a HSE worker because he was concerned that she had objects put into her that would cause her a bowel problem in her future, as it did. It was reported to the Garda and nothing happened. The HSE called to the house and inspected it and found that she lived there with three male residents.
“There were people found locked under the stairs. There were children in outhouses. There were men of the road, as they were called at the time, calling to and leaving that house, and nothing was done. When the whistleblower, against the wishes of the HSE, went to court seeking for Grace to be appointed a ward of court and for her to be the Committee, the HSE resisted this, but she ploughed ahead and was appointed.
“The other really disgusting thing about this case is that it continues today through the Department of Health and the Waterford Intellectual Disabilities Association, WIDA, because the whistleblower lost her job as a result of contacting Deputies about the case. That is what she was told. As strong as she was, she took a case to the High Court. The case was settled on the steps of the court with what I am sure was some sort of financial reward, so we are never going to know what happened.
“How much did the Department of the Minister of State or did WIDA pay in legal fees and in settlements to keep Grace’s whistleblowers quiet? Is it a fact that the whistleblower had to sign a confidentiality agreement? Will we ever know what was said?
“We know enough in these reports to know that there was corruption and criminality involved, and the Garda or the State took no action whatsoever. Instead, when the Committee of this person, Grace, decided she was going to find out exactly what happened, she received reports like the ones I have in my hand, blanked out and redacted.
“No sense can be made of some of the pages in the reports, except for the commentary that Grace spent years attending a day care centre. She turned up, stripped off her clothes and presented lying on the floor in a sexual position. She was non-verbal and intellectually and physically challenged. Nobody reported the abuse. Nobody thought fit to report the bruises on her thighs, legs and breasts, which were all inflicted by the hands of people, and not, as it was said, by a fall on the bus.
“Nobody spoke up for her or tried to help her. Other children in that house were left at the end of the road to make their own way to school or elsewhere. No one asked where Grace was. It was said that she had a cold, she was not well or she would not be in. She had not seen a doctor for six years.
“All during the time after the Committee was appointed, the HSE continued to stonewall the efforts of the Committee to get the information that was required, including even her medical information, so that person, the Committee, responsible for Grace would be able to take some form of care of her. It did not happen.
“Looking through the many redacted reports from 2009 and previously, it can be seen that incidents were reported to Piltown Garda station. I spent two hours in Pearse Street Garda station making a protected disclosure and nothing has ever happened. I have not heard a single word from them. Dogs will bark but the caravans will move on. This debate will end.
“I am holding the Taoiseach and the Government to account on this. I believe that the Dáil should insist on accountability. The Taoiseach and the Minister should be sitting in the Chamber listening to what happened to Grace and responding, not hiding behind legal advice or rules about who cannot be named.
“Someone sexually abused Grace and others in that house. They abused her financially, because they took her disability allowance and paid nothing to her. When the Committee got two boxes of her belongings back, there were clothes in them that could not be associated with Grace because they were too big for her. There were thongs in a box that were not hers. Other underwear and items of clothing in the boxes were not hers.
“Some of the clothes were filthy. There were no photographs, birthday cards or Christmas cards. There was nothing, only two boxes. When the HSE was asked if it wanted to see the two boxes received by the Committee, it declined.
‘In the investigation by the Committee – the person who blew the whistle – the HSE did not reply to some of the queries she put to them. They ignored her and said that it was a godsend that we have such places to send these children to. What a disgusting way to treat that young woman and all of the other 46 victims.
“I stood on the other side of the Chamber in opposition and insisted that what the former Minister of State, Finian McGrath, presented was wrong and that he was ignoring the 46 victims and other aspects of the case. In fairness, Deputy Howlin and others stood up and demanded change. My party supported what was to be a lesser type of debate, which is pretty typical, because it wanted to protect the institutions and the agencies.
“If we do not open up and demand transparency and accountability in this matter, and if the Minister and the Taoiseach are not asked to come back to the House to answer the questions that we have all raised here today, then we should be ashamed of ourselves.
“We should understand that we are further abusing Grace and the other 46 victims. I would like to know what is going to happen to the other 46 victims. Are we going to have more rosy reports put before us? It is horrendous, absolutely horrendous.
“The money of the State was used by the HSE, through solicitors, to perpetuate the corruption that went on, and the turning of a blind eye to what was happening. It happened on the border of counties Kilkenny and Waterford. It is shocking to think that even the red flags from the UK authorities were ignored.
“I could go on and on, because I have all the evidence with me. Suffice it to say, the whistleblower, the Committee of Public Accounts, and in particular, former Deputy, John Deasy, did an excellent job in uncovering what must be the greatest scandal of our times. We are adding to that scandal and pain with the response that the Minister of State read out here today. If we do not demand accountability, then what is this House for? How do we represent people and ensure that this does not happen again?
“There was the Kilkenny incest case. There are lots of examples from back then, and nothing has happened. When newer Members to this House contribute to the debate, which I welcome, they miss the central point, which is the State knew about it all along.
“Officials knew about it. Those responsible for the care of these people knew about it and reported it. The officials did the usual thing that the State does. They employed people who were at one time employed by the HSE but were now in private practice to investigate. The investigations were a complete and utter whitewash.
The detail of this report may be okay and may look grand. It does not give any kind of description to the abuse that these 46 people suffered when they were in the care of the State – none. Having listened to the two whistleblowers and read the reports, it is the first time in my 24 years here that I have been sickened to the pit of my stomach. I cannot believe it happened.
In conclusion, when the officials came before the Committee of Public Accounts, they told blatant lies about what they had done. They should be called back in and put through the ringer in relation to the misinformation that they gave this House.
Politicians will be blamed for the wrongdoing, but there are individuals in the HSE who know what went on. They are criminals. They should be brought to court, they should be prosecuted and we should not be afraid to chase them down.”
Previously: Michael Noonan and Grace