The State Commission of Inquiry into serious allegations of physical and sexual abuse at a foster home in the southeast involving a woman known as Grace and 46 other vulnerable people is set to be delayed for a third time.

RTÉ has learned the Minister of State for Disabilities Finian McGrath and Minister for Health Simon Harris will confirm they have granted a third extension to the investigation after Cabinet today.

The extension to the Grace stage of the report, which was due to conclude on Friday 15 May, is likely to involve a further eight to 12-week delay when all legal issues are taken into account, sources have confirmed.

The commission was announced on 2 February, 2016, by then taoiseach Enda Kenny in response to serious concerns raised by a whistleblower.

These were repeatedly highlighted by the Dáil's Public Accounts Committee, and by a number of media outlets including RTÉ Investigates.

The serious concerns involved a non-verbal woman with severe intellectual and physical disabilities who has been given the pseudonym Grace, who was placed at the home at various times between 1989 and 2009.

During this period, Grace is alleged to have suffered significant physical and sexual abuse.

Concerns were first highlighted about the home as far back as 1992 and 1995.

However, for still unknown reasons which have led to health service and political responsibility questions, no action was taken at that time.

A number of internal HSE reports were commissioned to examine foster placing rules between the mid-1990s and mid-2000s, which led to 46 other placements of vulnerable young people at the home ending.

However, it remains unclear why Grace was still at the home until 2009, when a whistleblower began to raise concerns.

The commission, which is chaired by barrister Marjorie Farrelly, began its work in May 2017, and is tasked with examining the abuse allegations in two stages.

The first stage is based on the allegations involving Grace.

The second stage, which will only begin when the first stage concludes, involves further allegations involving the 46 other vulnerable people who were placed in the home in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s.

The commission was due to complete its first stage by May 2018, before beginning work on its second stage.

But, due to the scale of work involved, it was given two one-year extensions - to May 2019 and to 15 May, 2020 - a step which was deemed necessary but has delayed findings.

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The commission was expected to conclude its first stage by next Friday, 15 May.

However, in a statement to Morning Ireland, the Department of Health has confirmed the commission has now sought a third "preliminary extension to allow it to identify the time needed to complete its final report".

This is understood to be because of the Covid-19 pandemic, difficulties with interviewing and cross-examining witnesses in this situation, and other matters.

Government sources have confirmed the extension will be agreed by Cabinet today, and is likely to involve an eight to 12-week delay.

Speaking to RTE's Morning Ireland, Minister of State for Disabilities Finian McGrath said he would like the issues resolved as soon as possible.

"My personal view we need to get this commission wrapped up, we've already spent €4.67m on the commission of inquiry and we need this done in a matter of weeks rather than months," he said.

Fianna Fáil TD John McGuinness, who was key to highlighting the case while Dáil Public Accounts Committee chair between 2014 and 2016, told the same programme: "I think in the circumstances the extension should be granted, but we should insist at the end of the period in question the report should be made available. This has gone on for too long."

In a statement to RTÉ's Morning Ireland, the Department of Health said a request for a third extension has been made by the commission.

"The commission commenced its phase 1 investigation in May 2017. The first phase of the commission's work is to investigate the role of public authorities in the care and protection of 'Grace' (pseudonym), who resided with a former foster family in the South East of Ireland between 1989 and 2009.

"The commission was granted two extensions totalling 24 months to its initial phase 1 reporting deadline. It is due to submit its report to the Minister for Health by 15 May, 2020.

"The Minister has received correspondence from the commission seeking a preliminary extension to allow it to identify the time needed to complete it phase 1 final report. This has not yet been agreed by Ministers Harris and McGrath.

"The commission's phase 2 investigations will relate to the care of individuals who resided with the former foster family along with matters relating to protected disclosures and those who made them.

"Phase 2 cannot commence until after phase 1 is completed."

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