Finance Minister Michael Noonan has strongly rejected claims that he “did a runner” from families of sex abuse victims who tried to speak to him about abuse allegations when he was minister for health.
Mr Noonan yesterday dismissed a claim from a former Fine Gael councillor and chairman of the South East Health Board Garry O’Halloran that the minister “ran” from him as he tried to discuss the abuse allegations in the South-East.
The veteran Fine Gael minister is under fire amid the ongoing controversy about the mishandling of sexual abuse allegations at a foster home in Co Waterford by health officials as far back as 1995.
Recent reports in the Irish Examiner have led to the establishment of a Commission of Investigation into the foster home at which a young intellectually disabled woman, referred to as Grace, was allegedly raped and subjected to horrific sexual abuse.
“I understand Cllr O’Halloran, whom I don’t know — I mean I’m sure I met him when I was minister because I met a lot of councillors — I’m not sure whether he was Waterford or Wexford but he was on in the South-East anyway and I reject his versions of events,” Mr Noonan told the Irish Examiner yesterday.
Mr Noonan confirmed he received representations from the foster father in 1996 when health minister around the time a decision to remove Grace from the home was overturned.
“We were told that the young woman in question, or young child in question, had been removed from the foster home,” he said.
“Some weeks later, it transpired that the South Eastern Health Board officials, who had made the decision, had reversed the decision for some reason.”
Mr Noonan said the matter was ultimately passed on to his junior minister, Austin Currie, to deal with.
“Austin Currie was the junior minister with responsibility to children at the Department of Health at that time and we referred it on to him,” he said.
Mr Noonan also sought to cast doubt on the veracity of the abuse allegations. This is despite the Government deciding to establish a Commission of Inquiry into the goings on at the foster home, and the HSE apologising to the abuse victims.
He said: “As I understand it, what we have, at present, is a series of allegations that need to be inquired into. I understand there’s no proof on either side.
“And I don’t want to say anything that gets me into legal difficulty to satisfy your curiosity. I’ve given you an absolute straight answer on everything I know. I can’t be responsible for third-parties who make allegations about me which I refute.”
Mr O’Halloran said that, at the 1997 Fine Gael ard fheis, Mr Noonan had arranged to meet him and some abuse victims. He has said he resigned from Fine Gael because of Mr Noonan’s actions.
“We arrived, he kept us waiting for hours,” said Mr Halloran. “Eventually I spotted him leaving the stage and heading for a door about 40m away, I was about 60m away and started to follow him in the direction of the door.
“He spotted me and ran. I then ran but he got to the door and when I arrived I was met with a cloud of black smoke as his garda driver sped away.”
Reacting to Mr Noonan’s comments last night, Mr O’Halloran said he was shocked at “how bare-faced” the minister was in his denials.
“How can he deny it? Surely he can’t be so bare- faced? What about Phil Hogan, who was there telling me it would all be alright?” Mr O’Halloran said.
“Also he sought to deny he knew me. What about the time in 1991 when I ran for the Seanad when he canvassed with me and had his son drive me around.”
After an initial query about Mr O’Halloran’s allegations on Monday, a Fine Gael spokesperson responded on Tuesday by referencing an interview the finance minister conducted with RTÉ before the claims were made, adding that “no additional information” is available.