Thursday 22 March 2018

Noonan: I have no memory of lobbying by foster home

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan
Minister for Finance Michael Noonan
No recollection: former junior health minister Austin Currie. Photo: Tom Burke
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

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 health minister.

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

One of the letters was referred to the then junior health minister with responsibility for children, Austin Currie.

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

At the time it was decided the woman, known as Grace, would be removed.

But for reasons never revealed, this decision was reversed and she remained there until 2009. It is feared she suffered from horrific sexual abuse during that period.

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

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

In a statement, the department said 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.

"Information was requested from the health board which had statutory responsibility for the matter," it said.

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

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 RTÉ Radio One, Mr Noonan said: "I have no clear memory of it, but I did check the position with the Department of Health.

"Seemingly two letters arrived. One to me and one to the junior minister at health, 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," he said.

"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.

Backlog of 177 cases of child abuse at Tusla

Eilish O'Regan

A backlog of 177 cases of retrospective child abuse were found by inspectors who examined social services in the Dublin south-east and Wicklow areas last August.

The Hiqa inspectors, who examined services by Tusla - the child and family agency - warned this posed a significant risk.

They found there were significant staff shortages in the service.

Hiqa said that when retrospective disclosure of abuse was received, it was screened. If a specific child or children were identified, the allegation was assessed but if no particular child was found as being at risk, the file was transferred to the child protection team.

It was then either allocated for assessment and follow-up or placed on a waiting list. Cases on the waiting list were reviewed every three months.

A high number of referrals not yet allocated remained on a waiting list.

This meant these cases had not been assessed and the potential risk to children who may have contact with the alleged perpetrators was a cause of concern, Hiqa said.

Irish Independent

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