Finance Minister Michael Noonan “did a runner” from families of sex abuse victims who tried to speak to him about abuse allegations when he was minister for health.
Former Fine Gael councillor and chairman of the South East Health Board Garry O’Halloran said the minister “ran” from him as he tried to discuss the abuse allegations at a foster home in the South-East.
Noonan is at the heart of an ongoing controversy about the mishandling of sexual abuse allegations at a foster home in County Waterford by health officials as far back as 1995.
Recent reports have led to the establishment of a Commission of Investigation into the foster home at which a young intellectually disabled woman, referred to as Grace, was allegedly raped and subjected to horrific sexual abuse.
The health board were aware of the allegations, but failed to take action. Vulnerable youngsters continued to be placed in the care centre, including one victim who ended up being left there for almost twenty years.
A detailed letter outlining the allegation of sexual abuse suffered by one victim was sent to the South Eastern Health Board in 1996. However, she waited almost twenty years for an apology, which arrived in the post earlier this month.
At least 47 vulnerable youngsters, many with significant intellectual disabilities, were placed in the foster home between 1983 and 1995. At least three of them have resulted in complaints of serious sexual abuse. Grace was left in the foster placement even after a decision that no further children should be cared for there.
Mr Noonan confirmed he received representations from the foster father in 1996 when health minister around the time a decision to remove Grace from the home was overturned. He said the matter had been passed on to his junior minister, Austin Currie, to deal with.
Controversially, Mr Noonan continues to cast doubt on the veracity of the abuse allegations. This is despite his government deciding to establish a Commission of Inquiry into the goings on at the foster home, and the apology issued to the abuse victims.
He said: “As I understand it, what we have, at present, is a series of allegations that need to be inquired into. I understand there’s no proof on either side.
“And I don’t want to say anything that gets me into legal difficulty to satisfy your curiosity. I’ve given you an absolute straight answer on everything I know. I can’t be responsible for third-parties who make allegations about me which I refute.”
Reacting to Mr Noonan’s comments last night, Mr O’Halloran said he was shocked at “how bare-faced” the minister was in his denials.
“How can he deny it? Surely he can’t be so bare-faced? What about Phil Hogan, who was there telling me it would all be alright?” Mr O’Halloran said.
“Also he sought to deny he knew me. What about the time in 1991 when I ran for the Seanad when he canvassed with me and had his son drive me around.”
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said the abuse allegations were “the stuff of nightmares”.
He said that there was “a litany of failure and cover-up’’, adding that the Taoiseach should ensure the commission’s terms of reference were discussed with the Opposition spokespersons.
“This is particularly important given there have been a succession of damning reports about the treatment of women and children by the institutions of this State over many decades,” said Mr Adams.