Dáil Contribution: Farrelly Commission of Investigation Substantive Interim Reports

Dáil Contribution: Farrelly Commission of Investigation Substantive Interim Reports

I am grateful to have the opportunity to speak on this second substantive interim report of the Farrelly commission of investigation. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, as well for her opening statement. These reports make for extremely difficult reading. They are long, detailed and harrowing in the extreme. Amid all this information, sometimes it is the smallest details that affect us emotionally and key us into the wider context.

Grace was born on 28 September 1978. She is just one year younger than me, and we would have spent a great deal of our lives not 50 miles from one another. We grew up in different Irelands though. By accident of birth, I was born into what was the socially acceptable family unit, with every advantage and in an Ireland that was slowly shaking off its repressive shackles and facing forward. Although Grace was younger than me, she was born into an Ireland of the past. It was an Ireland with an extraordinary and dark history of incarcerating its women and children and anyone who did not conform to the narrow and constricted mores predicated on a twisted version of Christianity, which I believe has little to do with the words of love and forgiveness that we find in the Gospel.

Grace’s life is linked by that dark thread to the industrial schools, to the Magdalen laundries and to all those repressive outworkings of an unhealthy relationship between church and State which existed from the foundation of the State. Prior to her birth, Grace’s mother lived in a mother and baby home in Cork for two months. Her birth was as traumatic as her later life was to be and the cause of her disability. She was delivered by forceps and suffered significant trauma to her brain and asphyxia, and she also required intubation. In May of the following year, she left the mother and baby home and entered into foster care, but that placement was not to last. Grace was then placed in a children’s home at the age of ten months, before being placed with a family in north Wicklow. That arrangement, which was a happy and stable placement, it seems, lasted until 1989. At that point, Grace was moved to live with family X on a temporary placement. That temporary placement lasted 20 years, despite all the concerns and all the warning signs.

We failed this child over two decades and it is that harrowing detail that makes up the body of these reports. I do not propose to go over those details, but I want to address the idea that perhaps this information was not known or that this was an isolated case that just fell through the cracks. The truth is that the Ireland of the time did not want to know. We were collectively content to turn a blind eye to what was happening behind closed doors. This is not an Ireland of ancient history that we are talking about. Grace was not removed from the home of family X until July 2009, after all the bruising and after she was brought to a sexual assault treatment unit. She was not removed from that situation until her mother, who had not been properly informed all along, was finally told about the bruising and demanded that action be taken.

We knew at the time. A local journalist in Waterford has shared with me a series of newspaper clippings from 1995 and 1996 detailing concerns raised again and again about the South-Eastern Health Board, as it was then, by Councillor Garry O’Halloran, although those concerns were not specific to the case we are discussing here. I do not know the man and I was not aware of his work at the time, but he took a brave stand, in the face of vocal opposition, to raise his concerns time and again. This makes me think of the Kenneally case, which was also in Waterford. Some of the survivors of that abuse are known to me personally. I admire their bravery, and I wish that I had a fraction of it. They deserve to get their full story told, just as the Farrelly commission has documented Grace’s. Again, this was an open secret, hiding in plain sight, and we decided as a society just to not see it.

That is the responsibility we bear here today. We cannot unpick Grace’s tragic history. While I acknowledge that an apology was finally made to her by the HSE and a financial settlement was agreed, I am not sure how much that means to her, although I hope it will at least ensure that the rest of her life is spent a little more comfortably. What we can do is to choose to not repeat that tragic history. I have taught children in foster care and met some wonderful foster parents, but our foster care system is not where it needs to be. My colleague, Deputy Costello, has a record of vocally advocating on this issue and it is a sector that he knows well from his previous working life.

As a teacher, I welcomed the changes in the child protection guidelines and the move to make those receiving a disclosure a mandated person in the eyes of law. None of us should abdicate our responsibilities to advocate for a child or vulnerable person in danger. As other Deputies said, this is about accountability. In that context and in my present role as a Deputy for Waterford, I ask the Minister of State whether other national independent review panels or look back reviews are in place in disability services. If some are in place, what community healthcare organisation, CHO, or CHOs, are they taking place in? I ask that because we have a responsibility to Grace and the other children so damaged by this State in the past not to repeat our mistakes. We also have a responsibility to shine a light on the systems and the culture that failed these children and to ensure that it never happens again.