Dáil agrees new terms of reference for ‘Grace’ investigation

Finian McGrath confirms the inquiry will cover any ‘suppression of material’ by HSE

 Minister of State for Disability Issues Finian McGrath speaks outside  Leinster House, Dublin. File photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Minister of State for Disability Issues Finian McGrath speaks outside Leinster House, Dublin. File photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

The Dáil has unanimously agreed new expanded terms of reference for the commission of investigation into the abuse of the intellectually disabled woman known as Grace and 46 other children in a foster home in the southeast.

The commission is expected to cost €5 million, Minister of State for Health Finian McGrath later told the Seanad. He said he would prefer to spend the money on disability services and it was frustrating but they had to get to the truth.

The Minister said he was aware of concerns raised at the Public Accounts Committee on Thursday morning about the HSE’s appearance before the committee.

In the Dáil, he said the expanded terms of reference for the commission would include “”any deliberate suppression or attempted suppression of material” by the HSE and other State agencies.

Mr McGrath withdrew the initial terms of reference earlier this week following objections from the Opposition that they were too narrow and restrictive, with the specific inclusion of Grace alone. He insisted that it was “always my intention that there would be a second phase of this commission”.

He added: “Nobody was to be excluded but the initial focus was always going to be on Grace because she spent so long in the home.”

Grace was in the foster home for 12 years after allegations of sexual abuse were first made.

Senior Counsel Marjorie Farrelly will conduct the investigation and will issue a final report within 12 months on Grace’s case.

The second part of the investigation will focus on the 46 other children in the foster home and on the treatment of whistleblowers.

Independents4Change TD Mick Wallace said the primary whistleblower of three - a male social worker - was “not on the radar” of the inquiry. He became Grace’s social worker in 2007 and in early 2008 he believed Grace needed to be made a ward of court to ensure she was taken out of the placement, Mr Wallace continued. The HSE “removed the files from his desk, ordered him off the case and told him he was not allowed to make any more contact with Grace’s mother”.

He said the inquiry should examine the treatment of the family of a girl called Sarah who were bullied into withdrawing their sex abuse allegations in 1993. Mr Wallace said they came under Garda suspicion in 2014 because they helped the primary whistleblower.

Fianna Fáil spokeswoman on disability Margaret Murphy O’Mahoney said her party accepted the new terms of reference following a meeting she and party colleague John McGuinness had with the Minister.

Sinn Féin disability spokesman Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said the new terms introduced greater clarity and there should now be no further delay in the commencement of the commission’s work.

He was anxious that a “bright light is shone in all the dark places for Grace and others”.

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams said “this was not just a systems failure. It has all the elements of a criminal conspiracy.” He added that “the most glaring question is why no one was disciplined, sacked or charged with a criminal offence”.

Labour leader Brendan Howlin said that “at the heart of these matters is an extraordinary failure - again and again - to have the welfare of a most vulnerable citizen of Ireland respected and protected”. They needed to know why that was the case and who was responsible, every step of the way, he added.