Dismay expressed at decision not to prosecute HSE in ‘Grace’ case

Concern that decision will mark ‘end of the road’ for other cases connected to foster home

The DPP’s decision not to prosecute the HSE over the foster home care of an intellectually disabled woman known as Grace has dismayed the family of another intellectually disabled woman who spent time in the same home as a child.

“We have been left with more questions than answers,” according to Claire, a sister of Sara (not their real names).

She is concerned the decision in Grace’s case may mean “the end of the road” in terms of investigating what happened to Sara and other children in the foster home.

“My family want an acknowledgement of what happened to Sara, an apology, accountability from those in charge.”


Sara shared a bed with Grace when Sara was in the foster home in the south east for some two years in the early 1990s. Sara stayed there during the week to facilitate her daily attendance at a special needs school and returned home to her family, who lived some distance away, at weekends.

Her mother removed Sara from the foster home after becoming concerned when her daughter, who like Grace is non-verbal, exhibited sexualised behaviour one weekend at home.

Sara’s mother raised her concerns about the foster home with the South Eastern Health Board and others in the 1990s but, according to Claire, her mother was not listened to.

The family has since learned concerns were also raised by teachers at Sara’s school, nurses and social workers of alleged sexual abuse in the foster home, Claire told The Irish Times.

The High Court in 2017 approved a €6.3 million settlement for Grace in civil proceedings brought against the HSE by the general solicitor for wards of court after Grace was taken into wardship.

The HSE apologised in court for the failings in the care of Grace whose treatment the then High Court president, Mr Justice Peter Kelly, described as a “scandal”.

Sara’s mother has given evidence to the Farrelly Commission, which has been investigating the Grace case since 2017. It has published two interim reports and is due to publish its full report next July.

A Garda investigation was launched after a whistleblower made a formal complaint about the care of Grace, who was allowed to remain with the foster family for some 20 years despite physical abuse, neglect and possible sexual abuse.

Gardaí sent a file to the DPP recommending prosecutions for endangerment and negligence but it emerged last month the DPP has decided against prosecution.

Claire said her family is dismayed by the DPP’s decision not to prosecute in the Grace case.

“Sara was a beautiful, petite little girl going there [to the foster home]. She was there the same time as Grace. They shared a room, there’s a lovely photo of the two of them as children, hugging each other.”

After her mother removed Sara from the home, the family had a 10 year battle with the HSE to get adequate supports for her to live independently, Claire said.

“Sara was given all the labels, we were told she would never live independently but she’s thriving. It shows, if the right supports are provided in the right way, people like Sara can flourish and grow.”

‘Very respectful’

Her family worked very closely with gardaí investigating the Grace case and members of the force were “very respectful, very gentle in their approach”, Claire said.

“I could really see the gardaí were committed to working to honour Sara’s journey and I could see their frustration.”

She believes the nature of the HSE’s engagement with the commission means there is “no appetite” to bring the matter forward.

Claire agreed there are difficulties in prosecuting for reasons including that both Grace and Sara are non verbal and because of the deaths of certain HSE personnel. She said a whistleblower also had to leave his job and that she wonders: “Who is driving the agenda?”

Her concern is that what happened will be attributed to “systems failures”.

“The system is made up of individuals so where is the accountability for the individuals in charge?”

Claire says her mother had a very negative experience in testifying before the commission over some two and a half days. “The adversarial approach left my mother broken, it ripped her soul.”

She is very concerned the decision not to prosecute in the Grace case will mean the commission’s investigation will not extend to Sara and other children who spent time in the foster home.

“This is the longest running commission to date, it has run way over time, I doubt there will be an appetite for further chapters of it.”

“I don’t have a lot of faith something better will happen. We had to fight to get other family members into the terms of reference, that was down to our local TDs, John McGuinness and John Deasy. I fear this might be the end of the road.”

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan is the Legal Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Times