Thursday 27 October 2016

I have no clear memory of being lobbied by 'Grace' foster home, says Noonan

Michael Noonan was minister for health when letters were sent to his department about abuse claims in the foster home (Collins)
Michael Noonan was minister for health when letters were sent to his department about abuse claims in the foster home (Collins)
Barnardos CEO Fergus Finlay (INM)

Finance Minister Michael Noonan has confirmed he was lobbied by the foster home at the centre of the "Grace" abuse scandal.

However, Mr Noonan insisted he had "no clear memory" of the letters he received from the home's operators in 1996 when he was minister for health.

According to a whistleblower dossier seen by the Herald, the operators of the foster home sought support from the Department of Health after the local health board decided to stop sending children there due to abuse fears.

One of the letters was referred to the then-junior health minister, Austin Currie.


The period in question is particularly controversial, as despite the fact further referrals to the home had ended, one young girl with a profound learning disability was allowed to remain there.

At the time it was initially decided the woman - known by the pseudonym Grace - would be removed. But for reasons never revealed, this decision was reversed and she remained there until 2009. It is feared she suffered horrific sexual abuse and neglect during that period.

According to the whistleblower, who had access to health service files on the foster home, both Mr Noonan and Mr Currie corresponded with the health board on the issue.

However, there is absolutely no suggestion they intervened on behalf of the home.

Last Friday, a spokesman for Mr Noonan was asked was the issue of the foster home brought to his attention while he was health minister. The Herald never received a reply.

Six days later, Mr Noonan's department confirmed that two individual representations were sent to Mr Noonan seeking that Grace should remain in the foster home, one of which was passed to Mr Currie.

"Neither minister sought to direct or influence the decision of the health board in any way," it said.

Earlier this week, the department's assistant secretary for social care, Frances Spillane, said the reply issued to the representations "indicated very clearly that this was a matter for the South Eastern Health Board".

Asked about the letters on RTE Radio One, Mr Noonan said: "I have no clear memory of it, but I did check the position with it with the Department of Health. Seemingly two letters arrived. One to me and one to Austin Currie."

Mr Noonan said his officials contacted the health board.

"My understanding of it was the person would be removed from foster care. But subsequently information came through that there was some kind of appeal and that didn't happen. And then after that - because it was a question of the possible abuse of a child - the matter was given to the minister of state who had responsibility for children. I am not sure what happened after that."

Mr Currie was not available for comment yesterday, but it is understood he had no recollection of receiving a letter.


Meanwhile, the chief executive of children's charity Barnardos has called for the terms of reference of a proposed investigation into matters relating to the foster home to be widened to include other cases.

Fergus Finlay said he had become aware of concerns from a number of families. He said those who raised concerns with authorities about possible physical, emotional and sexual abuse had been "fobbed off".

The investigation is set to run in parallel to a garda probe into how health service staff dealt with the abuse allegations in the Grace case.

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