Grace inquiry terms not good enough, says Howlin
The legal ground rules for an inquiry into the 'Grace' foster home abuse scandal risk failing the abused young woman yet again, Labour leader Brendan Howlin has warned.
Mr Howlin accused the Government of being "misleading, reticent and wrong" about the terms of reference for a new inquiry headed by a senior counsel expected to cost €2.5m.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny had earlier assured the Dáil the inquiry would cover the 47 other cases of alleged abuse at the same foster home, while it would mainly focus on the case of the young woman known only as 'Grace'.
But the Labour leader said he had taken preliminary legal advice which told him the Commission of Investigation, to be headed by senior counsel Ms Marjorie Farrelly, can only "scope out" the other cases involved with a view to future investigations.
Mr Howlin said Grace was the longest resident of the notorious foster "home X" and probably least able to complain due to her disabilities. This made the testimony of the other 47 residents vital.
"It makes no sense to postpone consideration of their cases. They're eyewitnesses to what happened in real time," Mr Howlin insisted.
The Labour leader said the country had become used to official apologies for historic abuses. He said they were styled as though a completely different country and people were involved in past events.
Mr Howlin said the State, Catholic Church and other powerful institutions had systematically abused women and children. "But this is not historic but relates to the modern era. We failed a young woman who needed us," he said.
Disability Issues Minister Finian McGrath said the inquiry would produce an interim report to him within six months and a full report inside a year.
He described the timetable as "challenging but achievable".
Mr McGrath endorsed the Taoiseach's apology previously in the Dáil to Grace and her family. He said he was unable to express the level of his own anger at the young woman's ill-treatment and suffering.
The minister argued the aim of this investigation was to give a voice to Grace after years of neglect and abuse.
He said he had taken on board Opposition spokesperson's views in framing the inquiry terms of reference and believed it struck a good balance and would encompass the cases of other individuals concerned.
"The Government is confident the terms of reference are adequate," he said.
Mr McGrath said the €2.5m budget did not include the prospect of legal costs to third parties. But he did hope it would be adequate for Ms Farrelly and her team to complete their work in good order and on time.
Sinn Féin's Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said the case was utterly deplorable. He said that those found responsible for what happened must face what he called "due process".