OPINION: Serious questions asked about abuse allegations

March 14th, 2016 12:02 PM

By Southern Star Team

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Critical scrutiny of how former Minister for Health Michael Noonan’s dealt with the matter in 1995

BECAUSE of the general election hullabaloo, public interest has waned in the dreadful affair concerning a non-verbal woman with an intellectual disability who allegedly suffered sexual abuse in a foster home for almost twenty years. 

That concern should be fading for the victim is a pity, if for no other reason than the fact Michael Noonan, former leader of Fine Gael, former Health Minister and current Minister for Finance is at the centre of the controversy. Noonan is an experienced politico with a reputation for taking uncompromising stances – such as his autocratic line on the Bridget McCole case and the scandal regarding blood products that were contaminated with the Hepatitis C virus. And who can forget his insistence that Spike Island be turned into a jail for young thugs (the thugs later burned down the place)?

But, now, serious questions are being asked as to whether Noonan dealt properly with allegations of abuse in the foster home when he was Health Minister in 1995. 

A critic of the Minister is former Fine Gael councillor and onetime South Eastern Health Board member, barrister Garrett O’Halloran. According to the website ‘Broadsheet,’ here is what Mr O’Halloran said last week about the abuse allegations: ‘In 1995, having received repeated evidence of complaints of child sex abuse in a particular foster care facility, it was decided to place no further children in that facility and to remove “Grace” (the name given to protect the victim’s identity) forthwith.  The foster parents had an entitlement to appeal that decision and they did appeal it. 


Proper decision

‘The appeal committee accepted that the original decision was a proper decision and that it was in the best interest of the child that she be removed forthwith from that facility. In response to that, the foster father wrote directly to the minister stating that they did not accept the decision and hence they were putting in a further appeal to him.

‘Notwithstanding the fact that he (the Minister) had no statutory function in the matter, he passed the matter on to his officials and his junior minister. He was notified by the Health Board the matter was governed by Section 43 of the Childcare Act, which meant that, if there were any ongoing concerns, a judge of the District Court should make the decision on the basis of what was in the best interest of the child.

‘Instead of the matter going to a judge, it ended with a further appeal committee – the composition of which remains unknown to this day – deciding that the child be left at this foster care facility, and there she remained for a further 13 years until a social worker recently appointed to her case, brought the matter to attention.’

Minister Noonan vigorously rejected any suggestion the matters were not properly investigated while he was health minister and the Department of Health said that Mr Noonan was not involved in the decision to allow ‘Grace’s’ placement to continue.

 ‘Grace’ subsequently remained in the home until 2009.


Ireland at fault

In an ensuing radio interview, Noonan said that, after reviewing Department records, he discovered that two pertinent letters relating to the case arrived during his time as Health Minister: ‘one to me and one to the junior minister of health, Austin Currie.’ He remarked that there was some kind of an appeal process and that the decision wasn’t implemented at that stage.

Austin Currie, in a corresponding statement, declared that as far as he was concerned, the matter had been handled appropriately.

For his part, Taoiseach Kenny announced the establishment of a Commission of Investigation, which, he said, was the right way to address ‘the enormity and the depravity of what has been uncovered.’

He was particularly forceful in expressing his revulsion at what had happened to ‘Grace’: ‘Those who left her to her fate pressed the mute button on her young life and appalling experience. Above all, they pressed the mute button on her dignity, her humanity, on her civil and human rights, on her innate worth as an innocent, precious, fragile life on this earth.’ 

‘Was the system blind, was the system deaf, did the system possess so little awareness, so little accountability, that it could become a stone to Grace, to her abject experience, to her desperate need?’ Kenny eloquently asked.

He concluded his flowery discourse by invoking WB Yeats: ‘If Ireland was declared by Yeats to be no country for old men, the legacy issues I have just mentioned suggest it was positively treacherous, and at times omnipotent, when it came to our girls and women.’  He vowed that his proposed Commission of Investigation would not just ask the questions; it would ‘get the answers we need.’   For guff about ‘legacy issues’ and ‘getting the answers we need,’ it bate Banagher! 

Interesting too, that in April 2014, Junior Health Minister Kathleen Lynch appointed a senior counsel to conduct a review of the case. Two reports were commissioned at a cost of €225,000, but they cannot be made public on account of an ongoing garda investigation.

In the meantime the question remains open as to who was responsible during all those years for leaving the poor child ‘Grace’ to what Kenny described as ‘her fate’?

And, considering the political chaos already resulting from the election, the question also must be asked if Kenny’s Commission of Investigation ever will see the light of day?


Back with a vengeance

And now for something different! We wonder if many of us plebs regard the sight of Mickey’s Fianna Fáilers re-establishing their political sovereignty as akin to the mummified bog-bodies of prehistoric Ireland invading Leinster House?

Gents like The Old Croghan Man or The Cashel Man, who were ritually sacrificed to the Gods and whose normal resting place is the National Museum of Ireland, right next door to Dáil Eireann!  These ancient people were decommissioned kings – strangled, stabbed and disembowelled when times turned bad under their reign – only to be dug up thousands of years later by startled Bord na Móna employees!  Could it be that in a new guise they’re back with a vengeance?

Question: what was the best excuse of any politico on failing to win a seat?  The prize goes to the disappointed wannabe deputy Mary Hannifin, formerly a militant in Don Berto’s Old Guard. Although the electorate trenchantly told her to get lost, she explained with keen discernment and without a shred of irony that there was a very big difference between losing and not winning! Whaaaa?


Nasty stuff

And here’s a definition of Irish politics (with apologies to JM Keynes who was talking about something else): Irish politics might be described as the extraordinary belief that the nastiest of men for the nastiest of reasons will somehow work for the benefit of us all! You’ve been warned!

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