That Dáil Éireann:
bearing in mind the specific matters considered by Government to be of significant public concern arising from the case of Grace (pseudonym), who resided in a former foster home in the South East which is the subject of abuse allegations, as detailed in the following reports:
(a) Report of Conal Devine and Associates – Inquiry into Protected Disclosures, SU1 (2012);
(b) Report of Resilience Ireland Ltd. – Disability Foster Care Report HSE South East (2015); and
(c) Report of Conor Dignam SC – Review of Certain Matters relating to a Disability Service in the South East (2016);
noting that the matter raises serious issues about the role of public authorities involved in the care and protection of Grace;
noting that it is the opinion of the Government that a Commission of Investigation represents the best method of addressing the concerns raised;
further noting that a draft Order which the Government proposes to make under the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004 (No. 23 of 2004) has been laid before Dáil Éireann on 7th March, 2017, in respect of the matters referred to, together with a statement of reasons for establishing a Commission under that Act; and
approves the draft Commission of Investigation (Certain matters relative to a disability service in the South East and related matters) Order 2017, and the statement of reasons for establishing a Commission of Investigation.
The House will, by now, be fully aware of the historical abuse allegations which have been raised about a foster care home in the south east and, in particular, about a young woman known as Grace. I wish to reiterate the words of the Taoiseach when he said in this House recently that the very least we can do is apologise to Grace and her family for what was done to her. I wholeheartedly agree with him when he says that Grace’s treatment is a disgrace to us as a country. I cannot emphasise too strongly how angered I am about the serious allegations addressed in both the Conal Devine and Resilience Ireland reports published last week and the need to establish the facts of the matter for once and for all. This is the least that the individuals at the centre of this case, and their families, deserve.
The Commission of Investigation Act 2004 provides an effective, prompt and transparent mechanism to investigate complex matters of public concern, while also respecting fair procedures and natural justice. I am pleased to bring to the House the draft order and statement of reasons for establishing a commission in accordance with the legislation. The draft order enables the Minister for Health to set the terms of reference for the commission. The terms of reference, which were drafted in the context of the recommendations in chapter 4 of the report by Conor Dignam SC were approved by the Cabinet this morning. As the draft order has been laid before the House for the purposes of the motion, I propose to focus on its principal objectives and, in particular, the key provisions within the terms of reference.
The draft order contains a number of preliminary recitals and four main provisions. The recitals provide details of the statutory powers under which the commission of investigation is being established by the Government and confirm the date of the Government decision as 7 March 2017. They acknowledge that the Government order may be signed by the Taoiseach when a draft of the proposed order and a statement of the reasons for establishing the commission have been laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas and a resolution approving the draft has been passed by each House. Articles 1 to 3, inclusive, provide for the Short Title, define the relevant enabling legislation, establish the commission and task it with investigating and reporting on matters which the Government considers to be of significant public concern. This is the threshold for establishing a statutory commission of investigation.
Article 4 designates the Minister for Health as the Minister responsible for overseeing administrative matters relating to the establishment of the commission. The Minister for Health will also receive the reports and discharge related functions under the Act. In addition, the order authorises the Minister for Health to appoint members to the commission. In this regard, I wish to inform the House that the Minister has decided to appoint an eminent senior counsel, Marjorie Farrelly, to be the chair and sole member of the commission. I believe these terms of reference reflect the range of questions which require to be answered in the case of the young woman we refer to as Grace, to protect her identity, and represent our best efforts at allowing the facts surrounding Grace’s care to be established within a reasonable timeframe.
To accomplish this as effectively as possible within the required timeframe, the commission is asked, in so far as it considers appropriate, to take account of and, where appropriate, adopt relevant information and findings from previous investigations, in particular those investigations already undertaken in the completion of the reports identified in this motion. The commission is also asked to adopt and implement an appropriate working methodology or framework to ensure the report is delivered within the required timeframe. One of the advantages of a commission of investigation is that it is mandated to take oral testimony. While it is essential that all those affected by the matters under investigation get the chance to tell their story, this has never been more important than in the case of vulnerable people who are at the centre of this matter. Establishing an effective dialogue with people who have complex needs and who face communications challenges may be difficult, but it is achievable. Not only is it achievable, but to my mind it is absolutely essential that giving a voice to Grace, after years of acknowledged neglect and abandonment, is central to this whole investigation.
The terms of reference of the commission are focused on a combination of seven distinct headings under which it will be asked to consider Grace’s care. First is clarifying the context, in particular the statutory, non-statutory, administrative and governance context which applied in respect of the care and protection of children and vulnerable adults who were in the care of the State. Second is monitoring and review of the care provided by the foster family to Grace. Third is the care and decision-making in respect of Grace from 1989 until before her 18th birthday in 1996. Fourth is the decisions made regarding Grace on reaching adulthood in 1996. Fifth is representations by the male foster carer and another party in 1996. Sixth is the care and decision-making in respect of Grace from her 18th birthday in 1996 up to 17 July 2009. Finally there are other matters, including whether there was any deliberate suppression or attempted suppression of information in Grace’s case as well as alleged threats by the HSE to the funding of the agency whose staff made protected disclosures.
Having regard to the facts established through the investigations detailed above, more importantly the commission is also asked to specify the scope of any further investigations which the commission considers warranted in the public interest having regard to the facts established and information in its possession, including the report by Conor Dignam SC and the recommendations in chapter 4 of that report. This includes the recommendations which relate to the care of the 46 other individuals who resided with the former foster family.
I have listened to the views of my Opposition colleagues over recent days, including those of Deputy Margaret Murphy O’Mahony, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Róisín Shortall, Catherine Murphy and other spokespersons on disability and have taken on board their views as it is important to us all that an explicit reference is made in the terms of reference to other individuals who resided at this foster home and their care and decision-making. I also welcome the chance for Members of this House to put their views on the record in this debate. I believe that the terms of reference provide a fair and equitable balance between establishing the facts relating to Grace as quickly and effectively as possible while acknowledging and providing for the investigation of the care of the other individuals involved.
The terms of reference require the commission to provide an interim report to me within six months of commencing its work and a final report within a year of its commencement. Given the length of time to be investigated and the depth and breadth of the issues to be considered, I believe this timescale will be challenging but achievable. On the basis that the commission will complete the matters set out in parts 1 to 10 of the terms of reference and will report within a year, the Government has noted that costs, with the exclusion of any third party legal costs which may be approved, are estimated to be in the region of €2.5 million.