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Department of Health says Michael Noonan never sought to influence Grace decision

TheJournal.ie asked other former health ministers when they were made aware of the case.
Feb 24th 2016, 4:56 PM 12,205 62

THE DEPARTMENT OF Health has said that Michael Noonan was not successfully lobbied by the family of a non-verbal, intellectually disabled woman who lived with them for 20 years despite allegations of sexual assault.

Yesterday, the Irish Examiner published details of correspondence that indicated Grace’s foster father wrote to Noonan in August 1996 about the decision to remove her, appealing for her to remain in the home.

The newspaper – after seeing a copy of the letter – said that the family breached the rules when they asked for Noonan’s intervention. It also reported that a return letter from Noonan’s secretary was sent after the health board’s decision to not remove Grace until after the summer.

Today, the Department of Health has denied any direct involvement of the minister, telling TheJournal.ie that all representations made to him were passed onto the South Eastern Health Board.

Its statement said:

There is no suggestion that in 1996 the Minister for Health or the Minister of State at the Department of Health were involved in the decision making in this case.
Representations made to the Minister in 1996 were passed to the organisation with statutory responsibility at that time, i.e. the South Eastern Health Board, requesting material to enable the Minister to respond. Neither Minister sought to direct or influence the decision of the Health Board in any way.

In 1995, a former resident came forward with allegations of sexual abuse taking place. but Grace remained there until 2009.

Following the allegations, a decision was made by the health authorities not to place any more children in the home.

It was recommended that Grace be removed, but a three-person panel decided against this.

At the time, Michael Noonan the current Minister for Finance was the Minister for Health.

There have been calls from Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald for matters in relation to the Waterford foster care abuse scandal to be put on the record by Minister Noonan.

Today, The Irish Times reports that Fine Gael Councillor Garrett O’Halloran, a former member of of the South Eastern Health Board has written to the Garda Commissioner calling on her to investigate the minister’s actions in the case.

An exclusive by TheJournal.ie revealed yesterday that Grace’s case was not an isolated one. Another victim ‘Karen’ – not her real name – spent two years and 11 months living with her abusers while the Eastern Health Board (EHB) dealt with her case.

During that time, gardaí were never notified of her claims.

1996: Minister Noonan told about foster home 

Earlier this month, Noonan said he had received a letter written by the foster father in the controversy directly to himself in 1996.

He told RTE News At One he ”had no clear memory of it” but said he reviewed the records and found he did receive the correspondence.
I did check the position with the Department of Health and seemingly two letters arrived – one to me and one to the junior minister of health Austin Currie.

He went on to say his “understanding of it was the person would be removed from foster care”. However, subsequently, he said information came through that there was “some kind of appeal and that that didn’t happen”.

Following this, he said data was given to the minister of state who had responsibility for children as it involved possible abuse of a child.

“And I’m not sure what happened after that,” said Noonan.

The Director of the Health Service Executive (HSE) Tony O’Brien told the Public Accounts Committee a three-person panel of health board employees overturned the decision to remove Grace from the home.

Grace remained in the foster home for 14 years. Another woman, Anne, placed there in a private capacity, also remained there until 2013.

Since 1995, there have been a number of Ministers for Health, whose remit was overseeing the health boards and later the Health Service Executive (set up in 2005).

Ministers for Health

  • Michael Noonan December 1994 – June 1997 Fine Gael
  • Brian Cowen June 1997 –  July 1997 Fianna Fáil
  • James Reilly March 2011 – July 2014 Fine Gael
  • Leo Varadkar July 2014 – present Fine Gael

Ministers for Health and Children

  • Brian Cowen July 1997 –  January 2000 Fianna Fáil
  • Micheál Martin January 2000 – September 2004 Fianna Fáil
  • Mary Harney September 2004 – January 2011 FF/PDs/Independent
  • Mary Coughlan January 2011 – March 2011 Fianna Fáil

Following the allegations being brought to the attention of Michael Noonan, Fianna Fáil entered government and stayed there until 2011.

No subsequent health minister has come forward to say the matter was brought to their attention following Noonan’s initial flagging.

The only former Fianna Fáil health minister that still holds office is Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin.

2000-2004: Micheál Martin, Minister for Health 

Martin was Minister for Health from 2000-2004 and the South Eastern Health Board was under his remit. TheJournal.ie asked Martin, what, if anything, he knew about the case and was anything brought to his attention while he was in office.

In a statement, he said: 

I learned for the first time about this horrific case when, like people across the country, I read about it and listened to testimony in the media. As a country we need to make sure that a proper mechanism is put in place to get to the bottom of this appalling saga – unfortunately, it is far from clear that what the Government is proposing will do that.
Grace and her family have suffered terribly – right up to and including the botched apology she received. This needs to be dealt with properly once and for all.

In addition, the statement added that during his time holding office, statutory responsibility for childcare sat with the Minister of State for Children. At this time, the Minister of State for Children was Mary Hanafin.

TheJournal.ie asked the current election candidate what, if anything, was brought to her attention about this case. She said in a statement:

I had absolutely no knowledge of this horrific case until it was in the media recently.

A spokesperson for the party added:

I am happy to confirm neither Micheál Martin nor Mary Hanafin were aware of the case while serving the Department.

Grace turned 18 years of age in 1996, meaning she was no longer a child, but an adult with a disability in care.

Therefore, the Minister of State for Children would not have been responsible for Grace in 2000, as she would have been 22 years old at the time.

Mary Harney and Mary Coughlan both held the office of the Minister for Health subsequently during the years in which Grace and Anne remained in the foster home.

However a spokesperson for Fianna Fáil said they were not in a position to comment on Harney and Coughlan as they have both retired from public office.

While the HSE said it is not in a position to comment on the case of the Waterford foster home as it is subject to a garda investigation and two unpublished reports, a spokesperson confirmed that matters relating to the care of adults with disabilities in care, fell under the remit of the Department of Health and the minister at the time.

2011: Minister Kathleen Lynch appoints review of the case

The Minister of State for Disability, Equality and Mental Health in 2011 was Kathleen Lynch (2011–2014). This was the year Anne left the care of the foster family.

Subsequently, Lynch became the Minister of State for Mental Health, Primary Care and Social Care (Disabilities and Older People) in 2014.

She became aware of the case in April of 2014 and appointed a Senior Counsel, Conor Dignam, to conduct a review of the case, said Minister Lynch.

The government has indicated that a Commission of Investigation is to be set up into the case.

Minister James Reilly (who was the Minister for Health from 2011-2014) became aware of the issue at the same time as Minister Lynch. Two reports on the matter were commissioned at a cost of €225,000.

The HSE states the Conal Devine Report and the Resilience Ireland Report, can not be published due to the ongoing investigation by the gardaí.

Read full report on Waterford foster home abuse here>

Read: Health Board knew girl was being sexually abused in her home but didn’t tell gardaí>

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Christina Finn

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