Finance Minister Michael Noonan’s handling of the Grace case while he was health minister featured prominently at a meeting of Fine Gael ministers before Cabinet this week, the Irish Examiner has learned, writes Daniel McConnell, Political Editor.
Mr Noonan has come under sustained fire as a decision to remove the intellectually disabled girl from the foster home at the heart of the scandal was overturned on his watch in 1996.
As revealed by the Irish Examiner, Mr Noonan was lobbied by the then foster father who appealed to have Grace left in the home.
Mr Noonan has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing or failure to act on his behalf saying he merely referred the matter to local health officials for consideration.
Grace remained in the home until 2009 despite allegations of sexual abuse being known by authorities.
It has emerged that ahead of the Cabinet discussion on Tuesday about the publication of two HSE reports into the scandal, Mr Noonan “voluntarily” offered an explanation of his position on the scandal to his Fine Gael ministerial colleagues.
According to some of those present, Mr Noonan again insisted he was innocent of any wrongdoing. “He was not prompted or requested to explain his role, he did so voluntarily,” said a source.
Asked by the Irish Examiner as to his view of Mr Noonan’s role in this scandal, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said he was satisfied with Mr Noonan’s handling of the Grace case.
A spokesman for Mr Noonan said that as Disabilities Minister Finian McGrath has made public that he intends to propose the establishment of a commission of inquiry, Mr Noonan has nothing to add to what he has already placed on the public record on this matter.
In February, Mr Noonan confirmed he was made aware of the Grace case around 1996 and the matter was passed on to his junior minister, Austin Currie.
“We were told that the young woman in question, or young child in question, had been removed from the foster home,” he said.
“Some weeks later, it transpired that the South Eastern Health Board officials, who had made the decision, had reversed the decision for some reason.”
He also contested the account given by solicitor and Fine Gael councillor Garry Mr O’Halloran who accused Mr Noonan of failing in his duty of care for abuse victims in the South East. He told the Irish Examiner: “I can’t be responsible for third-parties who make allegations about me which I refute.”
Independent Alliance minister Mr McGrath says Mr Noonan’s role as health minister will be investigated.
He said: “I met Michael Noonan last with with officials from the Department of Health and we gave him an update on the correspondence that was there.
“We are satisfied that will bea dealt with within the commission but my gut reaction is that I don’t think there is anything to answer.”
Inclusion Ireland is claiming that people with intellectual disabilities are abused every day in institutions around the State.
Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil TD John McGuinness, who has led the charge to highlight the abuse scandal, has urged Mr McGrath to ensure the commission is not just limited to Grace’s case.
“There were 46 other children and young adults, vulnerable adults who went through the home, including a boy who was locked in a cupboard under the stairs. They cannot be left out of the terms of reference. They must be included,” he said.
Mr McGuinness raised the matter at a meeting of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting yesterday and urged his party leader to insist the cases of all children are included in the inquiry.
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