The head of HSE disability services said he understands why the public suspects the health authority tried to cover up in the ‘Grace’ scandal, writes Claire O'Sullivan.
Dr Cathal Morgan said he could not explain why the HSE avoided bringing the case of the vulnerable child to court, would not share health records, and waited three years after receiving a damning internal report before contacting gardaí.
“I understand why people have those feelings,” he said.
In an interview on RTÉ Radio, Dr Morgan said HSE chief executive Tony O’Brien was correct in telling the Dáil Public Accounts Committee that none of the three HSE staff “responsible for implementing the action” to keep Grace in foster care were still working in the public sector.
He said it was also correct that one of three HSE staff who “made the key decision” is still in the public sector.
Dr Morgan repeated that the report drawn up by senior counsel Conor Dignam “could not find evidence of a cover-up” but, with a statutory commission to investigate the Grace case,“there may be information that I may not have seen, that’s not known to the HSE that people may want to bring forward”.
Documents obtained by RTÉ’s This Week, under freedom of information, show the HSE first contacted gardaí about publishing the Conal Devine report in March 2015, three years after it was completed, even though the HSE had told the Department of Health that gardaí had advised them not to publish the report or begin disciplinary action due to parallel Garda investigations.
Furthermore, the Devine report, which was eventually published last week, outlined how it met with investigating gardaí in 2011, who stated they had no issue with the report proceeding or being completed in parallel with their investigation.
“I can’t explain that, but the guards had always said at a local level that they didn’t want it to interfere with their own investigation,” said Dr Morgan.
The terms of reference of the upcoming statutory investigation into the handling of the care of the non-verbal intellectually disabled young girl are to be discussed in the Cabinet tomorrow.
The Devine report also revealed a repeated failure to make Grace a ward of court because of potential damage to the HSE’s reputation.
Minutes of meetings showed that staff were concerned a judge “may consent in relationship to wardship, however, the independent person who be appointed may explore aspects of the case from a historical perspective that the HSE may find difficult to answer”.
Further records show an individual noted that a court would ask questions about actions taken by the HSE or other relevant bodies around Grace.
The report also reveals that HSE staff said in 2009 that a court will likely ask what the HSE has been doing for the past years for this client.
Dr Morgan described the response as “inexplicable” and “difficult to understand”.
He also described as “unacceptable” the HSE’s refusal to share Grace’s health records with an intellectual disability service and even with the person made a “committee of the person” for Grace.
There was no legal barrier to the sharing of these documents.
“This is fundamentally wrong,” he said.
Dr Morgan took up a HSE position a year ago and had no involvement with the Grace case before that.
“I can’t speak for the action of the persons centrally involved,” he said.
This article first appeared in the Irish Examiner.