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Sasko Lazarov
Sexual Abuse

Ministers met with Grace case inquiry to voice unhappiness with the pace of work and delays

Former minister says he is ‘horrified’ with the continuous delays of the inquiry.

MINISTERS HAVE TOLD the Grace case commission of inquiry they are “not happy” that it has sought another extension for its final report. 

Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman, in consultation with Minister of State for Disabilities Anne Rabbitte, received government approval yesterday to grant the Farrelly Commission an extension of another six months. 

The final report was due to be completed in May 2019.

The Grace case concerns a young woman with profound intellectual disabilities who was left in a foster home in the Waterford area for almost 20 years despite a succession of sexual and physical abuse allegations.

In 1995, on the back of these claims, the South Eastern Health Board decided not to place any further people in the home.

However, a decision to remove Grace was overturned in 1996. As a result she stayed in the home until a whistleblower’s complaint in 2009. One of two interim reports - running to a total of about 800 pages - said the “evidence on the rationale for the decision was weak and confused and remembered as some unarticulated impediment or obstacle to carrying through the decision to remove Grace from her foster placement”.

The controversy resulted in the then-HSE Director General Tony O’Brien apologising to the 47 families – including Grace’s – who were in the care of the home.

Ministers meet members of commission

Rabbitte told The Journal that she and O’Gorman met with members of the commission to voice their concerns at yet further delays in the final report being delivered.  

“Quite honestly, I am disappointed that the Commission of Investigation has not yet concluded its work on this Phase 1 report.

“I have met members of the Farrelly Commission along with Minister O’Gorman, and made it abundantly clear that I am not happy with the pace of work. I know the Commission recognises the importance of getting the report finished and produced as quickly as possible, and I really hope we’re not in this situation again,” she said. 

No scope to change direction

The minister said as part of the consideration of whether to grant an extension of a further six months, the department looked at all options on the table but, realistically, it was determined that there was no scope to change direction of the inquiry at this stage without derailing the work done to date.

“Nobody wants to end up in a situation of having no report, so an extension is the only option,” Rabbitte told The Journal.

Last year, O’Gorman told the Commission of Investigation that it was “imperative” it completed its work by March 2024.

The latest extension means the final report will now not be delivered until 12 September 2024, more than five years beyond its original deadline.

In April 2017, a €6.3 million settlement for Grace was approved by the High Court.

Following that, a Commission of Investigation was established by the government into the Grace case and a further 46 other children who passed through the home.

Speaking in the Dáil in 2021, Fianna Fáil TD John McGuinness said those who knew what was happening to ‘Grace’ should be “chased down” and held accountable. 

No accountability

Reacting to the news that the the commission has been granted yet another extension, McGuinness said this isn’t just about Grace, but the inquiry also involves the care of 46 other children who were in the same home. 

McGuinness said there has been no accountability, which is what he finds most shocking.

He said there has been a series of reports into what happened and accused the government of “dragging their feet” on the case.

“You couldn’t make it up,” he said, adding that he can only conclude that there is an effort to delay the process to avoid any accountability.

“It is the greatest scandal that this country has ever seen,” said McGuinness, adding that this is just another case of how the state handles cases of neglect and sexual abuse. 

2016 report recommended expeditious investigation 

Prior to the establishment of the inquiry, a report into the Grace scandal by senior counsel Conor Dignam was published in 2016.

Review of Certain Matters Relating to a Disability Service in the South East details the measures taken by members of the foster care home and the following actions by the HSE. 

In his assessment of the HSE’s reactions to the sexual abuse allegations, Dignam concluded that the HSE had failed to investigate properly, and that there were still aspects that had not been examined fully:

“These are all allegations of the most serious nature and it seems to me that they should have been required to have been inquired into fully and expeditiously in the interests of Grace, all of those other service users, the relationship between the HSE and the service provider and the persons against whom allegations were implicitly or expressly made.

Some of these matters have still not been inquired into.”

Following the Dignam report, the then Minister for Disabilities Finian McGrath established the inquiry.

Speaking to The Journal, McGrath, who is no longer a TD, said that after the Dignam report there was a push to set up an inquiry, stating that he believed the report by the commission would be returned within a year or two.

Although an extension was also sought by the commission while he was minister, he said his impression was that it would “done and dusted” relatively quickly.

“I am absolutely appalled there is another delay on a report on what are very, very serious allegations of abuse and neglect,” McGrath told The Journal.

The government “need to get a move on”, saying the victims are the people being forgotten.

“I am just appalled and horrified that we have another delay,” he said, adding that in his view the delay now constitutes a breach of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) given that it is an extremely vulnerable person at the centre of this case.

“I think the minister should take a strong line on this now and get it done,” said McGrath.

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