Finance Minister Michael Noonan’s handling of the Grace case in the 1990s while he was health minister is to be investigated by the long-awaited commission of investigation into the foster abuse scandal.
It is understood the actions of Mr Noonan, the Department of Health, and senior officials at the time will be subjects of the judicial-led inquiry when it is finally launched in the coming days, after a year of repeated delays.
The commission will also examine the role of HSE and Tusla officials who previously worked in the then- South Eastern Health Board, and allegations that officials covered up the scandal.
The news comes ahead of the expected publication tomorrow of two internal HSE reports into allegations of the rape and abuse of intellectually disabled children at the foster home.
The publication of the 2012 Conal Devine report into Grace’s case and the 2015 Resilience Ireland report into another 46 young people who went through the home between 1993 and 2013 will take place after gardaí confirmed last month there is no legal reason to further delay their release.
Independent Alliance Minister Finian McGrath is also expected to bring terms of reference to Cabinet tomorrow, should clearance from the Attorney General Máire Whelan be secured.
The establishment of the commission was delayed by more than a year, leading to criticism by TDs John Deasy and John McGuinness, who led the calls for an inquiry.
As revealed by the Irish Examiner last year, a decision to remove Grace from the foster home was overturned after Mr Noonan received communications from the foster father in the home.
According to sources familiar with the drafting of the terms of reference, there is “little or no evidence” that Mr Noonan directly caused her to remain in the home for 14 years after allegations of abuse first arose. But the terms of reference of the commission are expected to examine how the matter was handled by all parties, including Mr Noonan and junior minister Austin Currie.
“The terms of reference will have to include the minister and the minister for children of the day, and there is not to be any surprise at that,” said one senior source.
“The reports themselves are going to be critical of process but not necessarily of the minister, but certainly there will be questions raised as to how the process, the department, the minister of the day, dealt with the issue. The terms of reference will have to include how the department, the minister of the day, the junior minister of the day dealt with these things,” the source added.
At the insistence of ministers McGrath and Simon Harris, the victims’ families are to be briefed about the contents of the two reports ahead of publication. It is understood the reports’ publication will allow the HSE to begin disciplinary proceedings against staff involved.
“You couldn’t have started them earlier because staff have to have a right of reply,” a well-placed source told the Irish Examiner.
Mr Noonan has always strenuously denied any wrongdoing in the case.
It was recommended that Grace be removed from the home, but after communication from the foster father, a three-person panel decided against this, and she remained there until 2009.
“There is no suggestion that in 1996 the minister for health or the minister of state at the Department of Health were involved in the decision-making in this case.
“Representations made to the minister in 1996 were passed to the organisation with statutory responsibility at that time, ie the South Eastern Health Board, requesting material to enable the minister to respond.
“Neither minister sought to direct or influence the decision of the health board in any way,” said a statement.
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