The Grace investigation into claims a severely disabled mute woman suffered decades of sexual abuse at a State foster home has asked to delay its findings until the end of the year — pushing back the start of inquiries into 46 other cases at the home.
The Irish Examiner has learned that the Farrelly commission asked Health Minister Simon Harris to extend its May 15 deadline to the end of 2019 after uncovering thousands of new documents and because of delays in interviewing some witnesses.
The commission into the case of a woman known as Grace formally began in May 2017 after the HSE admitted she suffered decades of physical and sexual abuse at a South-East foster home in the late 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s.
Despite serious concerns over the home being raised in the mid-1990s, Grace was not removed from the home. It is also unclear why further internal health board reports about how she was still at the home in the early 2000s did not lead to her removal until whistle-blowers uncovered the scandal.
After the situation was revealed by the Irish Examiner in reports between 2014 and 2016, the Government appointed Judge Marjorie Farrelly to lead a commission of investigation into the case.
The commission formally began its work in May 2017 and was given until May 2018 to examine the Grace case before investigating the cases of 46 other families whose relatives were placed at the home and were originally left out of the investigation’s terms of reference.
The work involved claims of health service cover-ups, political interference, and other matters. Due to the scale of the task, it asked for a one-year extension last year until May 15, 2019.
After publishing its latest update report, which said it has uncovered 6,000 “very revealing” files but is being hampered by difficulties in interviewing some witnesses, the commission asked Mr Harris for a second extension to the Grace part of the investigation — likely to the end of the year.
In a statement, the Department of Health confirmed Mr Harris is considering the request, with a response due in the coming days.
The Department stated:
“The first phase of the commission’s work is to investigate the role of public authorities in the care and protection of a service user, Grace (pseudonym), who resided with a former foster family in the south-east of Ireland between 1989 and 2009.
“The commission’s final report on its investigations is due by May 15, 2019. However, the minister has received a request from the commission for an extension. The minister is considering the request.”
Sources close to the investigation have described the second extension request as “inevitable and necessary”.
They warned that any delay will impact on the cases of 46 other families whose relatives were placed at the home, inquiries into which will only begin once the Grace stage of the commission’s work is completed.