Neither of the two women, who have risked everything to speak out and get justice, could have imagined how dramatic the night would be. As the debate commenced, Disabilities Minister Finian McGrath spoke passionately of justice for Grace and defended the terms of reference, which excluded the other victims in the home.
However, as we reported yesterday, McGrath was savaged for more than 90 minutes from deputies across the floor. The key intervention was from Brendan Howlin, who got legal advice to say the terms of reference as drafted did not allow other victims to be included in the commission’s work.
Shortly after the debate, a battered McGrath would bump into the whistleblowers on the corridors outside the Dáil chamber. There he was spotted, along with his officials, talking through their concerns about the limitations of the terms of reference. Specifically, they felt the narrow terms let the HSE off the hook.
The whistleblowers also held impromptu meetings with Howlin and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, who had to be dragged to meet them by John McGuinness.
In the Dáil a short while earlier, Margaret Murphy O’Mahony, the party’s children’s spokeswoman, had said Fianna Fáil supported the approach outlined by McGrath.
McGuinness had protested by text message to Martin earlier in the night about the party’s support for the original terms of reference.
“The party’s position is utterly disgraceful. Time to do the right thing,” he warned his leader.
Fast forward to yesterday morning, when the debate in the Dáil recommenced.
McGuinness and John Deasy, the two TDs who had been at the fore of exposing the Grace scandal, had their opportunity to speak.
Deasy laid out in cold terms what he described as the undeniable case of a systemic cover-up by the HSE. Not a fan of McGrath, Deasy let him have it as to why the terms of reference as proposed were severely lacking.
Then, McGuinness took to his feet and demanded the terms of reference be changed.
“It will not be acceptable if the House passes the motion when we know so much about this issue that is wrong. If we accept the terms of reference, we will heap further abuse on the families in question. We will become the abusers in this case,” he said.
“We need to go back to the time before Grace and humanise this story. What about the 12-year-old girl who was taken out of the foster home in question, before Grace, because her mother was told that she was attending school bruised, beaten, and neglected? When she made complaints to the South Eastern Health Board in 1992, she was told to shut up and not to repeat the stories and she was threatened legally.
“Let us put real words on this case. The child was battered, bruised, financially abused, and sexually abused anally so that, today, as an adult, she leads a life of pain and suffering. Despite this, the minister of state does not propose to have her case investigated. We should be ashamed of ourselves,” said McGuinness, powerfully.
McGrath, stung by his colleagues, rose to his feet, his voice raised and declared “no one will be excluded. Anyone who knows me knows I don’t do exclusion.”
Flanked by Health Minister Simon Harris, McGrath said he had heard the concerns of the likes of Howlin, Deasy, and McGuinness and he would amend the terms of reference, but it became clear he had not thought through how he would do it and a farcical few minutes followed, whereby Howlin and McGuinness set out how he could make the changes.
He would have to withdraw the original motion and it would have to be replaced.
Then, an hour later, during leaders’ questions, the very same Micheál Martin demanded the expanded terms of reference be committed to by Taoiseach Enda Kenny, having had his own party spokeswoman support the original terms less than 24 hours earlier. I wonder what changed his mind?
It was a farcical way to get to a satisfactory conclusion, but luckily for all of the victims, they got there in the end.