HSE director general Tony O’Brien will yet again be forced to publicly answer a series of questions from the public accounts committee over the ‘Grace’ foster home sex abuse scandal after fresh concerns were raised about his evidence, writes Fiachra Ó Cionnaith and Daniel McConnell.
The PAC said it will tell Mr O’Brien to attend in a fortnight after the HSE gave further information about five individuals who were central to the controversial decision to reverse plans to remove Grace from the home in 1996.
In a letter to the PAC on Wednesday evening, HSE assistant national director Ray Mitchell said that despite previous evidence last year, it is now accepted that a number of the individuals involved in the 1996 decision continue to work in the public service.
Following on from evidence given by Mr O’Brien to the PAC on March 23 this year, Mr Mitchell said one individual, given the code H3 in Grace-related reports, retired from the HSE in 2012 before joining Tusla, the State’s child and family agency in a senior capacity in December 2013.
A second person [H7] retired from the HSE on October 17, 2010; and a third [H12] on February 29, 2012; while another individual [H6] joined Tusla on December 9, 2013, and a fifth [H4] resigned from the HSE for as yet unknown reasons on April 29, 2009.
Mr Mitchell repeated Mr O’Brien’s view from March 23 that the HSE director general was unaware anyone had joined Tusla until 24 hours before last month’s meeting due to the HSE’s complicated payroll tracking systems.
Separately, he said the HSE did not attempt to limit a Freedom of Information Act request specifically on HSE claims that gardaí were blocking the publication of two reports into the Grace scandal for up to five years from RTÉ radio’s This Week programme as no “time line” was put forward.
Mr Mitchell also said that “because of poor record keeping, absence of files, and because people had different recollections”, it is unclear why Grace was left at the home in 1996 despite a decision to remove her being made months earlier.
In responding to these issues yesterday, the PAC said that Mr O’Brien must be recalled before the committee yet again.
Sinn Féin’s David Cullinane, who is a member of the PAC, said: “There’s some of the people who where involved in the Grace case who are still in the public service”.
He added that attempts to find out what happened is “like getting blood from a stone”.
This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.