In 1983, a foster home in the south-east started being used by the State as a respite refuge for intellectually disabled children.
For some of the most vulnerable children in our State, who lacked the ability to speak for themselves, it turned out to be a place of absolute and continual horror. The vast majority of those who stayed there did so for short respite periods during the summer months.
As many as 47 children and young adults went through the home, which was the scene of the most savage rape, physical abuse, and neglect ever to emerge.
In 1995, concerns were raised about the goings-on at the home, and, as a result, no more children were sent. But it has since emerged that some of the children, mostly with intellectual disabilities, were emotionally, physically, sexually, and financially abused at the hands of their carers and others who lived on the site.
One victim, referred to by the HSE as ‘Service User 42’ was a girl with an intellectual disability. She was placed in the foster home on a full-time basis in 1989. She remained there until 2009, at which point she was removed to “an appropriate full-time resident placement”.
“The child, unable to speak, was removed from the home and was able to act out some of the sexual abuse she was subjected to,” said a source close to the case. “She was told her allegations couldn’t be prosecuted because she would not make a good witness because she can’t speak.”
In 2009, allegations were flagged by two whistle-blowers to the HSE into what happened to ‘Service User 42’ or ‘Grace’ — not her real name but one attributed to her by Fergus Finlay in this newspaper this week.
The case became the subject of the Conal Devine report, which cost over €100,000 and was completed in 2012. However, the report has not yet been published.
A second report into 46 other cases in the foster home was completed in 2015 and that too has not been published. This was on foot of Garda requests as investigations into the horrific allegations of abuse continue.
Before Christmas, the Information Commissioner forced the HSE to release some details of the Devine report to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). In that document, it was stated that an apology was given to the victim and her carers.
However, as first revealed by the Irish Examiner 10 days ago, the victim’s carers and birth mother denied any apology was given and have told the PAC that. After our story was published, the HSE insisted the apology was given and issued a rebuttal.
Then, in a letter to the PAC, the two whistleblowers again stated that no apology was given, and that HSE management knew no apology had been given when it issued the rebuttal to the PAC. The two local HSE representatives who were meant to have given the apology have “confirmed that they were never asked to apologise, that they did not apologise, and that they told the HSE chief officer that no apologies were given”.
At Thursday’s PAC meeting, the HSE was accused by chairman John McGuinness and vice-chairman John Deasy of “misleading” the committee and “concocting” the apology story.
For days, Health Minister Leo Varadkar and junior Health Minister Kathleen Lynch did not comment on the matter, despite repeated attempts by the Irish Examiner to seek an explanation or comment on the saga.
Ms Lynch yesterday claimed a full independent inquiry into the matter is the likely outcome and said she never ruled out such an independent inquiry. However, her department firmly ruled it out as an idea last year, when Mr Deasy and Mr McGuinness called for one.
So, what has changed — and will we ever get to the bottom of what happened to ‘Service User 42’?
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