How the story unfolded
Under the headline ‘Gardaí investigate savage abuse of disabled children at family home’, the Irish Examiner revealed the HSE had, for the first time, admitted significant failings in cases of “savage” rape and physical abuse of disabled children in a foster home in the South-East, seven years after allegations were first raised.
The story outlined how the HSE was severely criticised by leading members of the Dáil Public Accounts Committee over its failure to formally acknowledge the plight of victims up to that point and over its handling of the abuse.
Documents obtained by the Irish Examiner and based on a limited portion of the unpublished Devine Report into the case, sent to the PAC by the HSE before Christmas, revealed: “The HSE has made arrangements to meet with the service user who was the subject of the Devine report to apologise for the significant failings of the service in meeting the service user’s needs over such an extended period of time.”
It also emerged that between 1983 and 1995, 46 children were placed in foster care with the family in the South-East. in the south-east of the country. The recommendations of the Devine Report and the HSE response were also revealed.
It turned out the HSE may not have apologised to the victim. One of the whistleblowers involved in the case said they attended a meeting with the HSE in early December and no apology was offered. The victim’s carers and birth mother had already denied any apology was given and expressed that view to the PAC, even as the HSE insisted the apology was given and issued a rebuttal.
It was also reported gardaí were examining the possibility of taking a “reckless endangerment” case against specific HSE employees over the alleged abuse, after taking a formal statement from a whistleblower.
Irish Examiner columnist Fergus Finlay, chief executive of Barnardos, urged the Government to get to the bottom of the story of ‘Grace’, as he calls the girl at the centre of the scandal.
“If I was health minister, I would (I hope) regard it as my paramount duty to find out what happened to Grace and how it happened,” he wrote.“I hope I would demand that every scrap of paper relating to Grace’s treatment was delivered to my office, and I hope I wouldn’t rest until I got to the bottom of how this was allowed to happen to a defenceless fellow citizen.”
At a PAC meeting, the HSE was accused by PAC chairman John McGuinness and vice-chairman John Deasy of “misleading” the committee and “concocting” the apology story. There are growing calls for a public inquiry.
Junior Health Minister Kathleen Lynch for the first time hints that a commission of investigation into the case could take place and claims she “never ruled out” an independent inquiry, although a letter from the Department of Health secretary general appears to contradict that assertion.
In a statement on Saturday the HSE admits that “despite a clear intent to do so” no official apology was made to ‘Grace’ or her mother, or 46 other service users who had contact over the years with the foster home.
It emerges at least one more person with significant intellectual disabilities continued to live with the foster family until October 2013On January 31Saturday last, after the HSE confirmed a second woman was placed by a private organisation with the family since 1993.
Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan orders an investigation into allegations state employees may have acted in a criminal manner when placing vulnerable individuals with the foster family, after the PAC had sent a letter to the commissioner last week claiming social workers had raised concerns inside the health service about placements in the home.
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