Thursday 26 April 2018

Former minister defends handling of foster home sex abuse concerns

Austin Currie, former Fine Gael minister for children. Photo: Tom Burke
Austin Currie, former Fine Gael minister for children. Photo: Tom Burke
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

A former minister for children has defended his handling of concerns about the foster home at the centre of a child sex abuse scandal.

Retired Fine Gael politician Austin Currie said he had believed the matter was "satisfactorily concluded" after it was brought to his attention in 1996.

Mr Currie's involvement in the case only emerged in recent weeks when it was disclosed he and the then health minister, Michael Noonan, received letters about 'Grace', a young intellectually disabled girl attending the foster home.

The South Eastern Health Board was seeking to remove her from the home at the time due to concerns of sexual abuse.

But for reasons never revealed, she was not removed and remained there until 2009.

It is feared she suffered horrific sexual abuse and neglect.

Gardaí are now investigating if health service officials involved were negligent.

A fortnight ago the Department of Health confirmed that Mr Noonan and Mr Currie received representations from the operator of the home in 1996, seeking that Grace remain there. Mr Noonan, who is now Finance Minister, said that as the issue related to "the possible abuse of a child", it was referred to Mr Currie, the then junior health minister with responsibility for children.

However, he said he did not know what happened after that.

Breaking his silence last night, Mr Currie defended his handling of the situation, but declined to go into specific detail about what transpired.

"All I know is that as far as I was concerned, the matter was satisfactorily concluded 20 years ago. I think that is all I want to say," he told the Irish Independent.

"I can't remember all the details. It was satisfactory from my point of view in that the situation was clarified at that point in time."

The one-time presidential election candidate, who retired from politics in 2002, declined to elaborate further.

Last month, a senior Department of Health official said a reply issued to the foster home operator at the time indicated it was a matter for the health board. Separately, the department issued a statement saying neither minister sought to direct or influence the decision of the health board in any way.

The care of Grace and 46 other children placed in the home between 1983 and 1995 has been the subject of two HSE-commissioned reviews and a number of Garda investigations.

A fresh investigation, launched last autumn, is focussing on how health service staff handled sexual abuse concerns.

A number of staff named in the HSE reviews are either working for the HSE or Tusla, the child and family agency.

None has been subjected to a disciplinary inquiry due to the ongoing Garda probe.

Tusla's new chief executive Fred McBride received copies of the HSE review reports late last week. In a statement, the agency said these were "in the process of being reviewed".

It declined to say whether any action would be taken against Tusla staff members as a result of the findings.

Tusla also declined to say whether or not any of the people named currently have direct responsibility for the care of children.

Irish Independent

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