A whistleblower in the case of 'Grace' has told RTÉ that she looks forward to the Health Service Executive coming before the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to clarify what she described as "less-than-complete" and "less-than-accurate" evidence.
Last Thursday the PAC invited the HSE to provide a written response to questions submitted to it by committee members.
Issues relating to the care of Grace, an intellectually disabled woman who was left in a home at the centre of abuse allegations for 13 years after other residents were removed, first became public due to a protected disclosure by the whistleblower to the PAC in March 2015.
The whistleblower, who works in a private disability service, cannot be identified to protect the identity of Grace.
Speaking on RTÉ’s This Week, she said she believed there were several questions to be answered by the HSE: "I would rather see the HSE come back to PAC and choose to correct the record of their own accord, particularly in light of the Conor Dignam report and in light of revelations on RTÉ’s This Week last week regarding contact with gardaí about publication of the reports. Specifically, I think that the PAC needs to speak with the HSE about:
- the contacts with gardaí about the publication of the Conal Devine Report;
- They need to be asked why did it take the HSE three years to ask the gardaí for clearance to publish that report;
- Why was that clearance only sought the day after it had been made public that I had gone to the PAC with a protected disclosure about non-publication of the report?;
- And if, as the HSE has contended, that staff could only be disciplined once that report had been published: Why does it seem that there was no attempt to publish it for the three years after it had issued to them?"
The whistleblower also said she would like to know who drafted the original, more limited terms of reference for the commission of inquiry into Grace’s care to be chaired by Marjorie Farrelly SC.
The original terms of reference were put before the Dáil last week by Disability Minister Finian McGrath.
Mr McGrath’s first terms of reference were not as wide as those drafted last year by Conor Dignam SC, who was tasked with examining the scope of commission of inquiry into aspects of Grace's care, including the treatment of whistleblowers who had made protected disclosures.
"We were hugely concerned...and I would actually like to know whose decision it was to change ... the recommendations from what Dignam had put forward in his report last August to what was produced at cabinet last Tuesday," the whistleblower said.
The whistleblower also expressed her "full confidence" in Ms Farrelly’s ability to proceed on the basis of the new broader terms of reference agreed last week in the Dáil following opposition calls for the original terms to be withdrawn and amended.
Speaking on RTÉ’s The Week in Politics, Minister for Health Simon Harris said he understands that none of the people who made direct decisions about the care of Grace currently work in the health service. He said that this includes the HSE and Tusla.
Referring to media reports about Grace’s foster parent's lobbying of then-Health Minister Michael Noonan in 1996 to stop local health board staff from removing her from the home at the centre of the abuse allegations, the whistleblower said that she had seen "no evidence" of any role played by Mr Noonan: "I think there’s a lot of misinformation out there in relation to what actually occurred with the Department of Health in correspondence in 1996.
"I’ve seen a lot of the Health Board documentation and the Department of Health documentation for this time. I don’t think there’s much I haven’t seen. I can’t go into detail about what they contain: some of it has been published in the newspapers."
"But I can be clear that I have seen no evidence that Michael Noonan ever interfered or indeed that he ever sought to interfere in this case. I’ve seen no evidence, in fact, that he even knew of the nature or the extent of the concerns in relation to the foster home.
"I don’t think there’s any evidence there to suggest that Michael Noonan was responsible for these failures and what happened to Grace specifically. If I did, I would be the first person that would be calling for him to resign."
Also speaking on RTÉ's This Week, HIQA Chief Executive Phelim Quinn expressed his concern, in light of the Grace scandal, that vulnerable adults were not given the same kind of legal protection as that given to children in child protection legislation.
Describing such protection as "a critical priority for HIQA", Mr Quinn called for similar legislation to be put in place for adults at risk of abuse.
"There continues to be a deficit with regard to adult safeguarding legislation in Ireland. Certainly after the Áras Attracta exposé, there was a move to improve adult safeguarding policies and procedures in Ireland. They are currently being reviewed," said Mr Quinn.
"However, adult safeguarding is not on a statutory footing and, as such, we believe that continues to leave a very, very clear deficit for people who may be vulnerable or who may be at risk of harm, abuse or exploitation. So I think it is something that needs to be put in place," added Mr Quinn.