Update 11.35pm: A poll of more than 1,000 Irish adults carried out by Amárach Research for the programme asked:
Original story: The birth mother of 'Grace', the non-verbal intellectually disabled young girl left in a foster home in the south-east for almost 20 years despite a succession of sexual abuse allegations, has spoken about how her daughter's suffering has ruined her life.
In her first interview since the scandal was unearthed, the mother spoke to Aoife Hegarty of RTÉ Investigates, in an interview broadcast on Claire Byrne Live on RTÉ One, and revealed how she "felt very suicidal" when she first heard that there was something wrong.
She said: "I felt very suicidal, I just wanted it all to go away, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Even now I can’t read, I can’t read the freedom of information, I just read clippings of it and that’s enough to send me over the edge."
She also outlined how as a young, single mother in the late 70s she put her baby into care and during her regular contacts over the years with the then South Eastern Health Board, now the Health Service Executive, she was repeatedly led to believe that 'Grace' was living with a loving foster family, in a caring foster home.
She told Claire Byrne Live how the sexual abuse of her daughter and "the constant lies... has ruined my life".
On hearing of the abuse, the birth mother says she demanded her daughter's removal from the foster home immediately and vowed: "I will never stop fighting for justice."
You can read her full interview on the RTÉ One programme below:
Grace's Mother: I was pregnant with Grace and I was so young and I had no support and I was in no fit state to look after her so I put her in the care of the SEHB and I thought that was the best thing to do at the time, that she’d be well looked after and cared for and……I always kept in contact. I had no reason to believe she wasn’t happy. A day hasn’t went by that I haven’t thought of Grace, she’s the first thing I think of in the morning and the last thing I think of at night so she’s constantly there with me, always, and always has been and always will be.
Aoife Hegarty: What had been your understanding of where Grace was living and what her situation was like?
Grace's Mother: My understanding back then before all the allegations was that she was happy, she was attending her day services and she was just in a loving, caring home and that made me happy knowing that she was happy because that’s what I was made to believe, that’s what I was always told.
Aoife Hegarty: You did have some contact from the HSE over the years...
Grace's Mother: I did, I had contact, they were asking me mantoux testing and dental treatment ……… but they never contacted me when there were sexual, allegations of sexual abuse where I needed to give consent for STI testing. There was plenty opportunities for Grace, where they failed to tell me so I’ve got no faith whatsoever in anything they’ve got to say because all through Grace's life in the care of the HSE and the SEHB I was lied to constantly, constantly lied to.
Aoife Hegarty: What contact details did they have for you throughout the years?
Grace's Mother: They’ve always had my contact details, I’ve had the same telephone number that I’ve had with the last 30 years and I’ve still got that phone number to this day, they’ve always had contact details. They’ve had my address, yeah they’ve always had my details. They still have my number on file if they went to look through it.
Aoife Hegarty: The first time that you had any indication there was anything wrong – what were you told on that call?
Grace's Mother: I was told that she was taken to hospital for, to get checked out, that there was bruising to breasts and to her thighs and I was totally devastated.... totally, totally devastated. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, I said I wanted her removed immediately.
I thought how could they do this, how could anyone cover up all this from me and to keep her, you know, and have her in danger – it was just totally awful, I couldn’t believe it.
I felt very suicidal, I just wanted it all to go away, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Even now I can’t read, I can’t read the freedom of information, I just read clippings of it and that’s enough to send me over the edge. I don’t know when I’ll be able to pick it up, that’s if I’ll ever be able to read it because the bits I did read was just too much, too much to take in.
I won’t rest and I’ll keep going, I’ll keep going until – and I want answers, I want answers and I’m going to keep going til I get these answers because I’ve never gave up on my daughter and I never, ever will. She’s always been on my mind day and night and that will never change and I will never stop fighting for justice.
Aoife Hegarty: A big decision for to have your side of the story heard for the first time – why have you decided to sit here and do this?
Grace's Mother: I’ve sat here today because my daughter hasn’t got a voice and I’m here to give her that, I’m here for that voice for my daughter. And I just never want another child to suffer like that ever, I think it’s wrong, it’s wrong. And these people should be accounted for what they’ve done, for the cover ups, for letting my daughter suffer for 20 years without monitoring her and I put my trust and faith in the HSE and that’s what they done.
So I will not rest until I get answers and I’ll keep going until I get answers – the answers I never got, I want.
Aoife Hegarty: What are you looking for now from the inquiry?
Grace's Mother: I’m looking for all the answers that I asked and just for them to be accountable for the let-down of my daughter Grace. Why they failed her, why they never monitored her, just basically why they left her for 20 years without checking up on her, they’re the answers I want.
Aoife Hegarty: Who would you like held to account?
Grace's Mother: The people that failed my daughter, all the people that have failed my daughter and the 47 other children that were meant to be in the care of the foster mother, yeah I want them to be held accountable.
Aoife Hegarty: Have you ever received an apology from them?
Grace's Mother: I got one letter there just a while back but I felt in my heart, it wasn’t coming from the heart, but I don’t accept that apology. No one from the HSE have picked up a phone and apologised to me or asked me how am I doing, nobody have ever done that for me and I don’t accept their apology. I don’t trust them, I don’t trust what they have to say, what they’ve told me was that my daughter was doing great, she was in a loving home, which she wasn’t in a loving home. And they knew all about it and never monitored her and left her there for 20 years to suffer.
Aoife Hegarty: You saw Grace recently...
Grace's Mother: It was very emotional but it was lovely yeah, it was a lovely day. We took pictures and it’s the first thing, it’s the last thing I look at, at night before I close my eyes, is her pictures on my phone. It was a lovely day but it’ll be the first of many days.
Aoife Hegarty: So what are the plans going in to the future, for you and for Grace?
Grace's Mother: I hope I’ll be in a better place when all this is over to enjoy my time with her, yeah, that’s what I’m hoping but at the moment I just cannot move on until I get all the answers that I want. I feel that it has ruined my life, all this, I have, it’s ruined my life, the lies, the constant lies and the suffering of my daughter has ruined my life, they have and I hope someday like that they’ll be held accounted for and knowing that no one else is going to suffer again that I can move on and be happy.
Below is an interview with Sinead Carroll of Cantillon Solictors, who was contacted by a significant number of former service users or their families.
Sinead Carroll: What they want is answers simply, and by that I mean a full and detailed investigation into what went on this home, how any allegations were dealt with. They just want to know what went on. And there has been some suggestion, as we know, there was a concealment of what went on, and they now want that uncovered, and they want to know who was involved, what steps were taken to protect those loved ones, or not taken as the case maybe
Aoife Hegarty: Do they feel like they have any answers after reading those two reports?
Sinead Carroll: I think one glaring thing that comes out of the Devine Report in particular, is that HSE had a choice to make at some stage and that was a choice between protecting those who went through this home and preventing further abuse OR protect the HSE. And i am referring to a specific point in time when a decision could have been made to make particular court application that would have removed a service user from this home. It would have stopped the placement, and obviously that would have protected others. The decision was taken not to do that and the report clearly notes the reason why, which was the HSE would have had to answer difficult questions. So it is there, its black and white, its blatant. The HSE chose itself, its reputation over the care of the most vulnerable people in irish society, who placed their faith in the system. And that is absolutely devastating. What occurred in this home is abhorrent, shocking, horrid. But its made exacerbated and made all the more worse by the then by the blatant concealment and cover up.
It seems that the only way we can actually stop that and ensure that there is truth going forward is to introduce legislation to make it compulsory. That if the HSE receive complaints, or they come across adverse findings, that they have to investigate it, have to deal with the family members and notify them. And if they don’t do that, i think it should be a criminal offense. And that is what needs to happen. Its radical but it is the only thing that is going to work. So that we don’t have this over and over again
Aoife Hegarty: How important is the issue of accountability for the families right now?
Sinead Carroll: It is hugely important. Every family member that i have spoken to, they all say, who made these decisions, where are they now and how are they going to be held accountable. There is some suggestion that those who are involved, instead of being disciplined, were promoted. And you are basically giving someone a clap on the back for doing the wrong thing. So accountability is absolutely key.. It s key for them as family members but it is also key for us as a society, that we send out the message that this is not right. Whatever appropriate disciplinary action that can be taken, should be taken.
Aoife Hegarty: Do you have confidence in the inquiry to get the answers the families want?
Sinead Carroll: I don’t know. Depends on how far the terms of reference go in the inquiry. But also, secondly, how much documentation is available. Because the concern is that there has been concealment. We have heard of destruction of files, things gone missing. Is there going to be an abundance of information missing, maybe deliberately or otherwise. I don’t know. It may hinder any progress. But saying that, i think when you have somebody like the whistleblower, there are determined to get the truth out there. I have confidence in them. I think with their help, we will get some answers and i think that clearly we should be able to identify who was involved in the decision making. That should be able to come out.