Minister must devise administrative solution to Grace costs

The health minister must urgently devise an “administrative solution” to a problem confronting the commission investigating the treatment of the intellectually disabled woman known as Grace, lawyers for the commission have told the High Court.

The problem is, due to a lacuna in the relevant law, Grace cannot recover her legal costs of representation and of her involvement in the commission despite her being at the centre of it.

The President of the High Court, Mr Justice Peter Kelly, has directed a hearing tomorrow aimed at ensuring the problem is resolved. There was “no way to cut this Gordian knot” except to make the minister a party to a formal application, he said.

The commission was set up to carry out a function but, due to a lacuna in the law, that will be frustrated, he said. As an amendment to the law was unlikely to happen soon, an administrative solution would have to be fashioned.

The judge was told by Raymond Comyn SC, for the commission, correspondence received yesterday from the Department of Health about the matter has given “great comfort” to the commission and hopefully would address the concerns.

The judge, who last April approved a €6.3m HSE-funded settlement package for Grace to ensure lifelong care for her, said he had asked the commission to ask the minister for health to clarify the matter, as his anxiety was that Grace’s funds will be used only to provide for her needs.

He also noted, when approving the package, he had expressed the view a range of matters concerning her treatment required to be investigated. He described the treatment of the “literally voiceless” Grace, who was entrusted to HSE care as a child until aged in her early 30s, as “not just shocking, but a scandal”, particularly as it continued into the 21st century, and involved “abdication” of responsibility by the relevant health board and state agencies.

Grace was placed with a foster family in the South-East in 1989. Despite a 1996 health board decision that she and other children be removed from them after an allegation a child was sexually abused, evidence of physical abuse and neglect of Grace, as well as suggestions of sexual abuse, she was left there until 2009, the judge noted.

Because Grace is a ward of court, her case was before the judge arising from issues raised by Sara Moorhead SC, for the general solicitor of wards of court, concerning her representation before the commission, and by the commission itself.

Mr Comyn said the commission considers the only practical way of speedily addressing the issue of recovery of Grace’s legal costs is for the minister to fashion an administrative solution.

Ms Moorhead said the commission had identified a lacuna in the legislation — the Commission of Inquiry Act 2004 — which meant costs of work done on behalf of Grace and her representation before the commission were not recoverable for reasons including she is not a person whose good name or reputation will be affected.

She said the general solicitor is very concerned about this as the wards of court office had heard nothing about its costs being covered or about costs of Grace’s representation.

Mr Comyn said the commission concurred completely with what the judge had said about the use of Grace’s funds but thought the letter received yesterday from the minister would satisfy the court’s concerns.

The judge said, unless the problem is solved, the work of the commission will be brought to a halt.

The commission was also very concerned about matters referred to in an article in today’s Irish Examiner which are within the private investigative purview of the commission, counsel said. It was contemplating what to do about the article.


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