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Grace inquiry must finish work by September

A Government minister has said an inquiry into the Grace foster care abuse case must be completed by the end of September.

Minister of State for Disabilities Anne Rabbitte was speaking after the Cabinet last week approved another extension to the investigation.

Figures obtained by RTÉ News show the Farrelly Commission of Investigation has cost at least €10 million, excluding legal costs.

The inquiry was announced in February 2016 into allegations of serious sexual and physical foster care abuse in the southeast of the country.

The allegations involve still unanswered questions over how a non-verbal woman with severe intellectual and physical disabilities, given the pseudonym Grace, was placed in a home between 1989 and 2009 and was not removed when 46 separate placements were ended due to concerns in the 1990s.

The commission began its work in March 2017 and was due to publish its final report the following year, in May 2018.

But it has made repeated extension requests over the subsequent period, with deadlines of May 2019, May 2020, July 2020, October 2021, October 2022 and this month resulting in further requests.

It has now been given until September to conclude its work.

The delays relate to the first stage of the commission’s work which is focused specifically on the Grace case.

However, it is also resulting in delays to the second stage of the inquiry’s work, which is due to examine 46 separate placements at the same home during the same period.

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Minister Rabbitte criticised the delays and said that no more extensions should be agreed.

“What needs to happen is that the final extension that has now been granted and signed off on by Minister [for Equality, Roderic] O’Gorman, that this is the final extension, that we cannot continue to be giving extension after extension.

“I think I and Minister O Gorman would certainly like to see the publication of the Farrelly Commission before I end my tenure as minister.

“It has gone on far too long.

“I suppose I have to couch that in the fact yes we did have Covid and yes it was difficult for the commission to engage with people.

“But still at the same time I’ve been nearly four years a minister and I still don’t have a full report of the Farrelly Commission. Do I find it acceptable? No I don’t.”

Asked if she believes the inquiry is close to completing its work, Ms Rabbitte said “They are close, but I feel I’ve been here a few times before”.

She added: “We’re very firm this time that we need to have the commission come to a conclusion, that’s just it.”

Inquiry cost at least double original figure

Meanwhile, new figures show the cost of the commission is now at least double what was originally planned.

When the inquiry began its work in 2017, it was expected to cost €5m, plus €2.5m in legal fees, for one year.

However, to date, the eight-year investigation has cost €9.5m, excluding legal fees, €475,000 in ward of court costs, and €17,000 per month for office accommodation.

When plans for the commission were announced in February 2016, then taoiseach Enda Kenny told the Dáil: “Those who left her [Grace] to her fate pressed the mute button on her young life and appalling experience.

“Above all, they pressed that mute button on her dignity, her humanity, on her civil and human rights.

“The question is, in ticking its boxes, 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?”

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