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'Nobody will be excluded': Govt promises answers in Grace inquiry within 6 months

The terms of reference for the commission of investigation was agreed at cabinet today.

MINISTER FINIAN MCGRATH has defended the terms of reference for the inquiry into the handling of the Grace case.

These terms were agreed at cabinet today and, while McGrath says that the inquiry will provide answers for everybody concerned, others have criticised the scope of the investigation as not going far enough.

The commission of investigation will seek to establish how Grace was placed with her foster family in the first instance, the decisions made that saw her left there, and what monitoring was undertaken.

It is understood that the first module of the investigation will focus on Grace, alone.

Speaking on RTÉ’s News at One, Disabilities Minister Finian McGrath said that tackling this issue was the most important of his political career.

“Any question of allegations of abuse against people with disabilities or vulnerable people in society has to be a priority,” he said.

He stressed repeatedly that he wanted to ensure that the Grace case was dealt with in the first instance, but added that the inquiry would be broader in scope than just her case.

He said: “Not only do I want to give reassurance, I also want to give a commitment, that decisive action will be taken on these issues.

Nobody will be excluded, all voices will be heard.

Minister McGrath said that he wanted to focus on the Grace case first because “her family deserve answers”.

He said that Marjorie Farrelly SC would head up the commission of inquiry and would quickly get to the truth of the matter.

An interim report from this investigation will be published in six months, while the full report will take a year to complete.

The Dublin Bay North TD added that he hoped that the answers people wanted would be made available at this six month point.

He added: “Some of those answers will emerge within six months. We need to ensure that protections are put in place, and that work has already begun.”

Speaking in the Dáil today, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said that the commission “will also allow for the specification of the scope of any further investigations which the commission considers are warranted in the public interest”.

“Too narrow”

Reacting to the terms of reference, Barnardos said it was “outraged” at the “narrow” scope of the investigation.

CEO Fergus Finlay said: “As hurt and abused as she was, Grace was not alone. The families of others who were placed in the same foster home, families who were among the first to report deep concerns about their children, are effectively being excluded from these terms of reference.

It is inexplicable that the Government and the Minister would seek to limit the terms of reference in this way.

Sinn Féin TD Mary Lou McDonald said that questions needed to be asked outside of Grace, “about the HSE, about placement, processes and policies in the State” and to ask if others were failed in the same way Grace was.

Labour leader Brendan Howlin was critical of the decision to not put the terms of reference before the Dáil ahead of a debate on the issue which is due to take place at 6pm this evening.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission met with Minister McGrath and said that they conveyed significant concerns about the “culture and treatment of individuals with intellectual disabilities in the care system have been raised”.

Grace Case

As the reports into the Grace case showed, authorities had at least four opportunities over 13 years to make the girl at the centre of an abuse scandal safe.

The Conal Devine report also identified at least four opportunities where action could have been taken and Grace could have been removed from the home. However, an absence of supervision and adherence of protocols meant that Grace was allowed to remain there.

The report found that Grace moved in with the foster family in 1989 – a time when foster carers were paid by the health services.

It outlines concerns raised by staff regarding bruises and disturbing behaviour by Grace. In one case, it is reported that she stripped her clothes off for no reason. Other concerns related to bruising, poor hygiene and bad behaviour.

It says that the authors of the report “think that she (Grace) suffered abuse while living with this family”.

“These two reports speak for themselves and they are shocking,” said the Taoiseach.

Yesterday, the HSE said it “regrets but understands” why Grace’s mother would not accept an apology from them.

Grace’s mother gave an interview to Claire Byrne Live where she said that said that the “reports were very harrowing” and she couldn’t “look at in any detail”.

Read: HSE ‘regrets but understands’ why Grace’s mother won’t accept their apology

Read: Grace: The four missed opportunities to make her safe

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Sean Murray

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