I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to update the House on the work being carried out by the commission of investigation into certain matters relevant to disability services in the south east, and related matters, also known as the Farrelly commission. At the outset, it is important to note that I am mindful this is an active commission of investigation and that the commission is entirely independent in the conduct of its investigations, and it would not be appropriate for me to comment on the substance of reports at this time as I do not wish to interfere with or prejudice the commission's ongoing investigation.
By way of context, the commission of investigation was established, in May 2017, to investigate the care and protection of "Grace" and others in a former foster home in the south east which has been the subject of abuse allegations. The commission was given two bodies of work - phase 1 and phase 2 - to be carried out over a 12-month period. Phase 1, which began on 15 May 2017, concerned the investigation of the role of public authorities in the care and protection of Grace, who resided with a foster family in the south east of Ireland between 1989 and 1995. Phase 2 will take into account the facts established through phase 1 of its work and consider the scope for further investigations. As Members of the House will be aware, four 12-month extensions have been granted to allow phase 1 to be completed in accordance with the terms of reference.
Since taking up the role of the Minister of State with responsibility for disability, I have met the commission on two occasions, most recently in May 2021. Having followed this investigation from the Opposition benches in the last Dáil, it was important to proactively engage with the commission, insofar as possible, which is why I sought these meetings. I needed to understand fully the reason the commission's work is taking as long as it has and to hear from the commission directly on the matters concerned. It will not be to the surprise of anyone that both the Minister for Health and I were disappointed to learn the commission needed more time to conclude its work. All options were considered. Let me be honest with the House. Were the commission scrapped, we would have spent €7 million and not have a final report to show for it. This would be of no use to anyone; no lessons would be learned. We must ensure the final report can be drafted and submitted to Government in order that we can obtain a true understanding of the events that occurred and exactly where there were failures in Grace's care. There must be accountability. We must know exactly what happened and who was responsible for any failures that may be uncovered by the commission. I hope, when full details of the commission's findings are eventually published, we will have answers to these important questions, including recommendations for the future. When granting the most recent 12-month extension, in July 2021, an account of the progress made to date, the provision of the two substantive interim reports, and an outline of work still to be carried out were considered.
Phase 1 has, without doubt, taken longer than anyone could have anticipated. From what I was told when I met the commission, there have been a substantial number of interviews, agencies and correspondence to be considered by the commission. I note from my discussion with the commission, it is also aware of the length of time the work is taking. Of course, the current public health emergency has had an effect on the ability to conduct investigations and this too has had a knock-on effect.
The first substantive interim report covers the period 1989 to 1996, at which point Grace reached adulthood. During this time, State childcare policies governed the responsibility of public authorities regarding her care. It also informed us of the methodology in the context of the commission's investigation. The first interim report also includes details of the role of public authorities in Grace's care and protection; the arrangements whereby her foster home was identified and used; statutory checks and duties of care and responsibilities; and how the relevant public authorities interacted on her care during this period. The second substantive interim report represents the commission's findings on a range of matters on the role of public authorities in the care and protection of Grace over the period 1997 to 2007.
The substantive interim reports represent the first findings by the Farrelly commission. There is now an opportunity to engage with the relevant organisations and care providers to discuss the findings, the evolution of care in the interim and to confirm that we have addressed the circumstances that enabled this situation to arise in the first place.
However, the work of the commission has yet to conclude on a number of important issues relating to Grace. In particular, we await its findings regarding the care provided to Grace by the foster family and whether she suffered abuse. This is one of the most important issues to be considered by the commission and there is a significant interest in its resolution. The Minister for Health and I are continuing to consider the two substantive reports and are keeping the work of the commission under review. It is also important to note that the regular progress updates on the completion of phase 1 are ongoing within the Department of Health.
In discussing this issue here today, I cannot ignore the fact that I have, in recent months, raised the issue of failures in care in a HSE-run service in Donegal. In that instance, the HSE's own national independent review panel, NIRP, carried out a review of allegations of abuse at a facility. Its findings are detailed in the so-called Brandon report. This was discussed earlier, during Leaders' Questions, so it is timely in that regard. The NIRP report identified 108 occurrences of sexually inappropriate behaviour by one resident, referred to by the pseudonym "Brandon", towards 18 other residents in the facility between 2003 and 2011. The purpose of this review panel was to review the governance arrangements in the facility and to understand why this situation has continued over a period of four years without any effective measures having been taken by management during Brandon's residency to stop and prevent these highly traumatic assaults. I mention this again, having read the full Brandon report. It appears to contain echoes of the failures in care being discussed today that cannot be overlooked. The report itself notes that these incidents occurred with the full knowledge of the staff and management of the facility at that time. The full Brandon report provides a detailed overview of what happened, where the processes failed and how these incidents occurred. The NIRP process provides clear answers but its full findings need to made public as the Minister, Deputy Coveney, mentioned earlier.
The safety and protection of vulnerable people in the care of the State is paramount. When issues such as these arise, we need to approach them will the fullest sense of openness and transparency. The Government's first concern is to ensure that the needs of current service users are being prioritised and addressed. Whether having regard to the matters being investigated by the Farrelly commission or those detailed in the Brandon report, it is imperative that lessons are learned and timely improvements made where needed in the system.
I will also use this opportunity to once again ask the HSE to reconsider its position on the Brandon report and to publish it in full rather than just publishing the executive summary. Why it will not shift its position is beyond me. I hope it will reconsider. Some Deputies present here today and some former Members of this House have been closely involved in bringing these events into the public domain and are keen to see the commission's work progress and its ultimate findings published. I look forward to listening to other contributions here today. I am acutely aware of the sensitivities involved and the need for timely action on this.