Foster care scandal: Justice for ‘Grace’ comes late in day

There is an old saying: “It is never too late to do the right thing,” writes Daniel McConnell

'Grace', now a woman in her 40s, has had to endure so much, as have her family.

However, for the woman we have come to know as ‘Grace’, the move by the Government to establish a Commission of Inquiry into her case, comes very late in the day. Victim of the most horrific abuse over a long period, ‘Grace’ has been failed utterly by the State which promised to cherish her.

‘Grace’, now a woman in her 40s, has had to endure so much, as have her family, and those brave enough to risk their careers by speaking out about what went on.

However, just what is this all about?

In 1983, the State started to use the foster home in the south-east as a respite refuge for intellectually-disabled children.

For some of the most vulnerable children in our State, who lacked a voice, it turned out to be a place of absolute horror.

The vast majority of those who stayed there did so for short respite periods during the summer months, usually one week or two weeks at a time. As many as 47 children and young adults went through the home, which was the scene of the most savage rape, physical abuse, and neglect ever to emerge.

In 1995, concerns were raised about the situation at the home, and, as a result, no more children were sent.

However, it has emerged that some of the children, mostly with intellectual disabilities, were emotionally, physically, sexually, and financially abused at the hands of their carers and others who lived on the site.

‘Grace’, or, ‘Service User 42’, as she was referred to by the HSE, was a girl with an intellectual disability. She was placed in the foster home on a full-time basis in 1989. She remained there until 2009, at which point she was removed to “an appropriate full-time resident placement”.

A child, she was unable to speak out about the horror she had endured at the hands of her foster parents.

When she was removed from the home, her carers were concerned when she acted out some of the sexual abuse to which she had been subjected.

She would adopt a sexual pose simply on the uttering of a specific phrase. Her family has said she has suffered horrendous internal injuries, having been raped with implements.

In 2009, allegations were flagged by two whistle-blowers to the HSE into what happened to ‘Service User 42’ or ‘Grace’ (a name attributed to her by Fergus Finlay in this newspaper).

The case became the subject of the Conal Devine report, which cost over €100,000 and was completed in 2012.

However, the report has not been published.

Worse was to come. She and her carers were told her allegations couldn’t be prosecuted, because she would not make a good witness, due to her inability to speak.

A second report into 46 other cases in the foster home was completed in 2015 and that too has not been published. This was on foot of Garda requests, as investigations into the allegations of abuse continue.

At least two other cases of sexual and physical abuse have emerged and are under investigation.

In December, the HSE was forced by the Information Commissioner to release some details of the Devine report to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). In that document, it was stated an apology was given to the victim and her carers.

However, as first revealed by the Irish Examiner, the victim’s carers and birth mother denied any apology was given and have told the PAC that. After our story was published, the HSE insisted the apology was given and issued a rebuttal.

Then, in a letter to PAC, the two whistleblowers again stated that no apology had been given, and that HSE management knew no apology had been given when it issued the rebuttal to the PAC.

The two local HSE representatives who were meant to have given the apology have “confirmed that they were never asked to apologise, that they did not apologise, and that they told the HSE chief officer that no apologies were given”.

Over the weekend, the HSE embarrassingly admitted the claimed apology was not given. They issued a grovelling apology to the PAC for misleading it,

However, shockingly, HSE director general Tony O’Brien then revealed that another woman, now in her 30s was placed in the foster home in 1993 and was only removed in October 2013.

Given the debacle within the HSE, Health Minister Leo Varadkar cleared his diary over the weekend and, along with Minister for Primary Care Kathleen Lynch, he met O’Brien and other senior brass in the HSE for more than two hours. Both ministers contacted their party leaders, Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Joan Burton, who agreed with their calls to establish an inquiry.

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan has also confirmed the latest allegations will be investigated by officers already examining what occurred in the foster home.

However, it will be for the new Government to see it through. They will not be bound by the decision of this Government, but political and moral pressure will be on to ensure ‘Grace’ and her fellow victims get justice.

It is the least they deserve following their experiences.

© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved

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