Michael Noonan’s handling of the case of ‘Grace’ while health minister and the role of his department in the 1990s will be the subject of commission of investigation hearings early in the new year, an interim report states.
Grace, who has an intellectual disability, was placed with a foster family in the South East in 1989. She remained in the home until 2009, despite repeated allegations of physical abuse being made known to health officials as far back as the early 1990s.
Mr Noonan has strongly denied acting in any way on behalf of the foster father following written representations seeking to have ‘Grace’ remain at the home.
The interim report, presented to Health Ministers Simon Harris and Finian McGrath yesterday, and obtained by the Irish Examiner, has completed all its preparation work into why a decision to remove Grace from the home was overturned.
The commission, chaired by Marjorie Farrelly SC, also says it is at “an advanced state of readiness” to look into the events in 1996 shortly after Christmas.
As previously revealed by the Irish Examiner, in early 1996, it was initially decided to remove Grace from the foster home. That decision was overturned after the foster father in the family at the centre of the allegations, and another individual, wrote to the then health ministers Michael Noonan and Austin Currie.
This correspondence is being examined by the commission to assertain whether this correspondence had the effect of keeping Grace in the foster home.
The interim report says significant progress has been made on its first module, which deals with how the family with whom Grace was placed came to be used. The commission is due to hear evidence on this shortly, the report states.
Documents and information relating to the care of Grace have been requested of 51 public bodies and individuals by the commission into her sexual abuse in a foster home.
The interim report is to be discussed by Cabinet next Tuesday.
Ms Farrelly, the sole member of the commission, travelled to the South-East in September and met with Grace, the report states.
“The commission was of the view that it was important to meet Grace. In September 2017, arrangements were made for the sole member and a legal team member to travel to the South East to meet with Grace at her residence,” the report states.
“The puropose of the visit was to meet the person behind the voluminous documentation and reports received by the commission pertaining to her care and protection over an extended period,” it states. “The meeting was successful and provided an opportunity to see Grace’s current residence and the care being provided to her.”
Grace, who is non-verbal, was left to languish in a foster home for 20 years until 2009 despite being the subject of physical and sexual abuse at the hands of the foster family. Several opportunities to remove her from the home following concerns being raised were either overruled or not taken.
In her report, Ms Farrelly says the commission has so far received an “enormous volume of documentation”.
“The commission has received approximately 270,000 pages of documentation between June 13, 2017, and November 14, 2017, with approximately 10,000 pages received in the last week.”
She remarked that she and members of her team had to use encryption keys in order to read earlier redacted reports into the scandal but said “in most cases there were no decoded versions of the reports available and it was necessary for the commission to read each report using an encryption key.”
“This was a time consuming but necessary process for the Commission at the commencement of its work,” the report states.
Earlier this year, the HSE was heavily criticised by Mr McGrath for its role in the Grace case, and for delaying the setting up of a commission of inquiry into the scandal.
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