‘Grace’ whistleblower: ‘Absolutely worth’ making disclosures

McGuinness says greater transparency needed to prevent ‘this type of abuse’ again

 

The whistleblower, who was at the centre of the case involving the mistreatment of a profoundly intellectually disabled woman known as “Grace”, is calling for the current HSE protective disclosure system to be urgently addressed.

The social worker was speaking on Friday after the High Court on Thursday approved a €6.3 million settlement for Grace. The amount is among the highest ever agreed for such a case.

Having been entrusted by her mother to HSE care as a child in the 1980s, Grace was finally removed in 2009 from a foster family with whom she had been placed in 1989.

She was left with them for 13 years after 1996, when other foster children were removed arising from allegations of sexual abuse and evidence of physical abuse and neglect.

The judge paid particular tribute to a social worker in court who was crucial in exposing Grace’s plight when she got involved in her case in 2008. What the woman did was of “extraordinary benefit”, and Grace’s condition has greatly improved since, he said.

The social worker said on Friday the system needed to be addressed to ensure that if there is another Grace or another home that needed to be reported that the person would feel confident to do so.

“The system of protective disclosures in the HSE is not fit for purpose,” she said.

She has previously criticised the HSE’s treatment of her after making the disclosure.

The social worker had said she has been forced to persist for seven years and was forced to rely on the Dáil Committee on Public Accounts and the media for her concerns to be heard.

She was asked on RTÉ Morning Ireland if it has been worth making the disclosures.

“Absolutely worth it. I never regretted taking that decision,” she said.

However, she said she had received many calls from people who are “fearful” to disclose information.

“ They are afraid that the system won’t protect them. They have seen how the system has failed people,” she said.

She also welcomed the decision by Mr Justice Peter Kelly to award €600,000 to the voluntary agency for which she works to compensate for funds they lost as a result of making the protective disclosure.

“We had always maintained that the funding to our agency had been impacted by the disclosures,” she said.

“It is not encouraging for whistleblowers if they see funds being impacted.”

She told how in April 2016 she provided figures to the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee that indicated the agency she worked for was €600,000 short and the HSE had refused to provide adequate funding.

“That sum is a colossal sum to us. It means the agency was struggling without it,” she said.

It was a particularly unusual feature of the settlement, agreed by the HSE and approved yesterday by the High Court, to include general damages award for €600,000, when the maximum such award in catastrophic injury cases is €450,000.

The additional €150,000 is for punitive damages, to reflect what High Court president Mr Justice Peter Kelly described as the “scandal” of the “abdication” of responsibility for Grace over years from when she was a child until her early 30s by the relevant State agencies.

Fianna Fáil TD John McGuinness said he welcomed the settlement but greater transparency was needed to prevent “this type of abuse” from happening again.

The former chairman of the Public Accounts Committee said the days when someone “could blame the system and then walk away” are over.

Mr McGuinness said the settlement could not compensate for the loss of a life led.

Mr McGuinness told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland on Friday the fact the judge called in the HSE to swear an oath giving an undertaking to abide by the settlement, was a “sad reflection” on the authority, highlighting it was “an organisation that cannot be trusted”.

“Someone has to be made accountable. There are individuals who were aware of what was happening,” Mr McGuinness said.

He said other parents were told to take their children out of the house where Grace lived and it had been noticed that children were going to school dirty and uncared for. “Why was this not reported to the gardaí?”

Mr McGuinness warned that “old habits die hard” and called for greater transparency to ensure that “this type of abuse” does not happen again.

He also said that the cases of 46 other children who had stayed at various times in the same home as Grace should be fully investigated.

Mr McGuinness paid tribute to the social workers who had persevered. “Without the whistleblowers there would be no case. They were treated badly.”

“I hope the work of the Commission of Inquiry will be completed and will span 47 cases and bring to light who is responsible so we can learn from this.”