Tuesday, 7 July 2009
Dáil Eireann Debate
Deputy Ruairí Quinn: Whatever about the previous debate, this is not a debate in which party division or rancour should inform our discourse because this is something for which we all bear some responsibility and for which we all have an obligation to the survivors and the victims and to their children. I cannot recall anything in recent times that had such an impact as the findings of the Ryan commission. It shocked a nation that thought it had got beyond being shocked.
The 43 conclusions in the executive summary are, frankly, quite unreal and horrific when one reads them in the cold light of day, but to hear the anguished voices of those people who are the subjects of the testimony that they gave and to listen to their stories makes us all ashamed. Therefore, it puts upon all of us an obligation to listen to, reach out and, where possible, respond to many of the concerns they expressed to us in the light of the findings of the report, its 43 conclusions, and the 21 recommendations it made at the end of five volumes of testimony and analysis.
The Labour Party has studied the Ryan report and its recommendations. We have listened to the survivors, and to the children of those who were sent to these institutions and who are no longer alive. There were some issues which were outside the scope of the original legislation, the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002, which now need to be addressed. It is for this reason that we have published our Bill, the Institutional Child Abuse Bill 2009, to make amends to the victims of abuse.
I welcome the Minister for Education and Science to the House. We earnestly hope the Bill will not be opposed by Fianna Fáil and the Green Party. We do not wish to divide the House on this issue. There are many ways in which the Bill can be taken on board. We all know the fate of Private Members’ Bills that are accepted on Second Stage; some of them surface in due course amended by the Government of the day and are enacted, others have to linger but at least they have the credibility of not being voted down. I know the vote will not take place until tomorrow evening but I understand that it is the intention of the Government as of now to vote it down. In the spirit of comradeship I earnestly ask the Minister to think again about that course of action. We owe it to ourselves and the victims throughout the country, some of whom are in the Gallery.
With regard to what the Bill proposes to do, we have identified seven areas in which we believe action is necessary. The first is that the Bill would expand the definitions of “child” and “institution” so that no victim of abuse is denied justice through the redress board. A small but substantial number of people were previously excluded from the redress board because of the wording of the 2002 Act. This change would ensure that this would no longer be the case.
The second is that the Bill would expand the definitions of “child” and “institution” which would necessitate a new time period for new applications to the redress board. It would change the definition of adult from the age of 21 to the age of 18. People were deemed to be children during the time they were incarcerated in these institutions because they were under the age of 21 but because we moved the voting age and other definitions of childhood and adulthood they were no longer retrospectively deemed to be children even though at that point in time they were so deemed. That is an anomaly that needs to be addressed and our Bill addresses it.
The third is that the Bill would abolish the obligation of secrecy which effectively prohibits applicants to the redress board from talking about their childhood and time in the institutions. My God, what type of a country does the Government think we live in that one cannot talk about one’s childhood or one’s experience in institutions? That is straight out of Tiananmen Square in the People’s Republic of China or Russia or another dictatorial state. That citizens of this republic are prohibited by law from talking about their childhood or their time in Irish institutions has no place in Irish legislation and it should be reformed.
The fourth is that the Bill proposes that persons who were detained in reformatory schools under criminal convictions must be treated for all purposes in law as not guilty of an offence and their records will be wiped clean. This is important for a variety of reasons and it is important that we understand what we are trying to do. We cannot, nor will we try to, rewrite history; the conclusions and records of the courts must stand for future generations to see what shame we brought upon ourselves in the name of the Irish republic. The Labour Party does not propose to retrospectively correct the historical record but we are stating that we would amend the impact of that historical record to the point that as and from the enactment of the Bill, no person so charged, so recorded, so convicted and so dispersed from a court to an institution would be deemed then or now to have been a criminal irrespective of what the historical record said. That is what we seek; it is a cultural change and not a factual change. It is a just change and we should do it without altering the historical record and that record is itself important.
I have not read all five volumes because, quite frankly, I do not know whether I have the courage or the capacity to do so, but the bits I have read are such that no matter how horrific they are, the last thing that should ever happen to them is that they be destroyed. The last thing that should ever occur to them is that they disappear as some files have disappeared in the Department of Education and Science. The last thing that this republic should ever be able to say is that not only did we abuse those victims but that we buried their past as well. Every record, testimony and word of anguish that carefully and painfully described the system that was constructed should in whatever way at least be preserved; let it be for other people and other generations to decide how best to convey them. No survivor or child of a survivor should be able to say that there is no record of what they said or experienced. It would be like having a relative with no grave or like having somebody among the disappeared because the Minister would allow the records of their testimony to be destroyed. It is the Minister who has that power and we want it to be shared with the House to ensure that no such destruction can take place unless the House agrees to it and I do not think it would. That is the fifth proposal.
The sixth proposal made by the Bill is to open up the 2002 indemnity deal to freedom of information requests. All legal privilege and confidentiality would be waived by the State if the Bill is passed. This was part of the sordid deal between contracting parties as it passed from Ms Justice Laffoy to Mr. Justice Ryan. It was a shoddy deal and it should be removed. If it is removed it would allow the records of the 2002 indemnity agreement with the 18 religious teaching orders to be published in full. The culture of deferment in the Department of Education and Science to which the third conclusion of the executive summary refers is a thing of the past. It is healthy that it should be buried in the past because it will not inform any citizen of the republic in the future of the State as we march into this century. It would guarantee that any proposed amendment to the indemnity deal would have to be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas and subject to their approval.
The seventh key proposal of the legislation will enable an audit of the assets of the religious orders. The Bill confers power on the Government to appoint an auditor to examine the financial affairs of the 18 religious orders who signed the 2002 indemnity agreement. This will allow the Government to assess the true wealth of the religious orders for future renegotiation of the 2002 agreement. It was, perhaps, my colleague, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, who, on behalf of the Labour Party and the citizens of this Republic, pioneered the questioning on the shoddy deal done in secret by former Minister, Deputy Michael Woods, and the then Secretary General of the Department of Education and Science, now since retired. I presume I can refer to him by name — Mr. Dennehy. If we can refer by name to T.K. Whitaker, we can refer to others.
That was a shoddy deal. While it was not easy to calculate what the approximate cost might be, the Department of Finance suggested the burden should be shared evenly, 50:50. However, we got a deal that allocated 10% of the burden to the religious orders and 90% to the taxpayer. That deal must be reopened. I understand the Taoiseach and the Minister for Education and Science met with the representatives of the 18 religious orders after the debate on the Ryan report some weeks ago and that a request has been made to reopen the deal. I hope the Minister will address that matter in his response to this debate and confirm to the House my understanding, as reported in the media, that the Taoiseach requested an audit to be undertaken by the religious congregations so as to see what contribution they can make from their own resources.
I wish to say something in this regard. I am the product of the religious teaching orders. I am a proud graduate of the wonderful education I got from the Holy Ghost Fathers in St. Michael’s School and Blackrock College. I have never resiled from that. To my dying days, I will be eternally grateful for the love, affection, erudition, leadership and education I got from those men. Neither I nor the Labour Party have any desire to impoverish the religious teaching orders. God knows, they are now at a stage in their lives, having made an incredible contribution to this country, where their major concern is the care of the elderly in their communities. They do not have children or grandchildren who can provide for their nursing home care and do not have the support we have in old age or that we give to our parents in old age. However, they are entitled to it.
In so far as they need resources for decent dignity in their declining years — such as we would want for our own parents, uncles and aunts — they should have them, but let them have them at the expense of the taxpayer and not through the sale and dispersal of the educational infrastructure and other institutions and buildings they have across the country. Let not the so-called financial and legal advisers advise them to dispose of their assets so that they can care for the sick and elderly in their communities to whom they have an obligation. Let that not be the outcome. If there are spare resources, let them come into the pot towards the 50:50 deal, but if there are not such resources — I am open on the question, but I suspect there are not — let us not allow the sale of infrastructure paid for by taxpayers and Catholic citizens, in the main, who contributed voluntarily to the construction of these edifices over the past 100 years or so. That is not what the Labour Party is about nor is it what I am about. This is public infrastructure that belongs to the community and should not be allowed disappear.
The reason I am so passionate about this — the Minister has heard me say this before — is that two secondary schools in the constituency of Dublin South-East under the control of religious teaching orders disappeared without any reference to the parents or anyone involved. There was minimal notice to the teachers and no forward planning for the parents of those children. One primary school under religious order control and two primary schools under diocesan control have also disappeared. They closed these schools for their own reasons. We understand the reasons, but such reasons are no longer sufficient when we have 500,000 primary school children in our system and another 100,000 expected within ten years. We cannot allow such infrastructure to disappear and that is the reason I have been so strong on this argument.
I want to repeat that I am the product of a fine education from those religious teaching orders. I salute them and am thankful for my education. This Bill is not about some kind of vindictive chase of the religious orders to try to impoverish them, but about enriching our community and celebrating the contribution the majority of them have made to our society.
Some issues have been brought to our attention, including the experience of women who were in the Magdalene laundries. The Bill does not address that issue and some of my colleagues will explain the technical and legal reasons for that later. That is not to say their experience was not horrendous. Theirs is a past that should not be buried, but there are reasons and explanations that time prevents me from elaborating upon as to why the Bill does not include them. It was not just the State and religious teaching orders who were involved. There was a culture in some of our families, from wherever it originated, that denied the existence of daughters who became pregnant outside of marriage. They were hunted out of their homes and, in some cases, out of the country. I am ashamed of that. We should all be ashamed of it. We have addressed it now, but that did not happen for some people born here and they suffered a great hurt as a result. We all know that. I do not know if legislation along the lines of the redress board legislation can deal with that. Nevertheless, we should recognise it did happen.
One of the first recommendations in the executive summary of the Ryan report was there should be a monument. That does not go far enough. There should be a museum. We should have a museum that will contain the records, the history, the experience, the voices and the sounds of the victims so that they can explain why, having lost their childhoods, they could never behave and live as full adults towards their own children. We should have a museum so that grandchildren can understand why their grandmother or grandfather were not as others were or why they had black days that were inexplicable to a young child. We need that permanent memory from the past to be kept in such a museum so that we never allow this abuse occur again, because forgetfulness is the enemy of such a surety for the future.
I have a suggestion for the House. As part of their contribution to the 10% contribution to the State, the Christian Brothers handed over the property of Coláiste Mhuire in Parnell Square. That property is currently under the management of the OPW, but no use has been found for it. The property is beside the Hugh Lane Gallery and across from the Garden of Remembrance — part of the cultural sector of Dublin city. There, between the splendour of the art collection of the Hugh Lane Gallery and the inspirational heroism and martyrdom of the 1916 insurrection, we should have a museum for ourselves about ourselves so that our future children will realise this was not some foreign invasion, these were not the Vikings nor some Anglo-Saxon invasion nor Cromwell, but us, you, me and every citizen in the country, who allowed these things to happen in our name and in our State. Never again must this be allowed to happen.
I would accept the proposal of a monument, but suggest it should be a museum. We should locate that museum not somewhere down the country where it would be difficult to access, like Letterfrack or Daingean, but in the centre of our capital city, within 500 m of that icon of insurrection, the GPO, to say that, yes, we did some glorious things in this Republic, but we also did things of which we should be ashamed and which we must ensure will never occur again.
Deputy Jan O’Sullivan: I commend my colleague, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, on presenting this motion. I support his request that the Government would consider not opposing this Bill in the House tomorrow when it comes to a vote. It is very important that we have consensus on this issue and that there is full agreement across the Chamber and across the country so that, in particular, we learn the very painful and hard lessons of the Ryan report.
I pay due respect to Mr. Justice Ryan and, before him, Ms Justice Laffoy, for the work they did. I accessed the entire series of volumes in the Oireachtas Library. We have a duty as Members of this House to read, in so far as we can, the Ryan report, although the extraordinary effect it has makes it very difficult to read. However, as a nation, we have to absorb it and take it in.
That Deputy Quinn referred so often in his contribution to the Republic is important. We are citizens of a Republic. This is about the voice of the people, and it is about allowing that voice to be heard and learning the lessons. I would endorse his proposal that we need a museum. We need to take in as a nation what actually happened in those institutions in the past, in our name. It was with the collusion of many of the most respected and prized institutions of our State that those things were done to those children, but these matters were left locked away in circles of darkness that nobody penetrated at that time. The door has now been thrown open and the information is out in the public arena. We have to learn from this and ensure this kind of thing can never happen in our names again.
I was not in this House a very long time when the initial apology was made by the then Taoiseach in May 1999, more than ten years ago. Right across the House and across the State, there was a sense that we had to work together to address what we were beginning to learn at that time. As a new Deputy, at the time I proposed on behalf of the Labour Party legislation to amend the Statute of Limitations in regard to the taking of civil cases for people who were victims of institutional abuse. The then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the current Ceann Comhairle, Deputy John O’Donoghue, accepted that legislation, an Opposition Bill, and the Government of the time took it on board. While the Government amended that Bill and we did not agree with everything it finally contained, at least there was at that time a spirit of generosity and of people working together on this issue.
The various parts of the Bill we put forward tonight on behalf of the Labour Party are put forward as part of the unfinished business of the work of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, the Residential Institutions Redress Board and the other elements that have gone with them. They concern omissions and areas which the people in the Visitors Gallery and others have told us were omissions in what has been done since 1999, and which need to be addressed. For example, the people now in England, who went away after they got out of those institutions did so because this country had no place for them and had ruined their lives. If those people did not know in time to apply to the redress board, surely they should not be excluded from whatever recompense is now belatedly available to them, which will never give them back their lives or their childhoods. There is also the issue of the people who were in other institutions not listed on the Schedule that was initially put forward and later amended, such as the Regina Coeli hostel, which was highlighted by Marie Therese O’Loughlin outside this House, and the Morning Star hostel. There is also Derek Linster, who highlighted the institutions that were not Catholic which were excluded, and there are others. People were excluded because of their age. There are many people who are currently excluded from redress who should not be excluded, including those from the Magdalene laundries. This should be an all-inclusive provision and whatever gaps exist must be filled. We cannot leave this as unfinished business. We must ensure we respond fully.
I spoke last week in a debate on Michael Shine, another case which has emerged in regard to abuse of children — there are others, such as the case of the Brothers of Charity in Galway, which have also not been fully investigated. I made the point in that debate that people must have the opportunity to make their cases, to be heard, to be listened to and to be believed as credible people when they are telling their stories. What happened in the past was that they were not believed because they were people of no power. There were very powerful people in our society who said they should not be believed and it was all swept under the carpet. We must ensure these people are listened to.
If he does not mind me using his name, I pointed last week to the difference in the way in which John Kelly spoke on television after he was invited to Áras an Uachtaráin to have a validation of what happened to the victims of abuse by the highest office in the land, ten years after all of this came about. We saw this also during the march that came to Leinster House some weeks ago. This was the final recognition that people were telling the truth, that these things did happen, that they were wrong and that the State acknowledges they were wrong. While I hope he will forgive me for saying it, the difference in what this has done for somebody who has gone through the process of fighting and ensuring there is finally an acceptance that this happened, including in the highest offices of the State, is huge. We owe it to every single citizen of our country, many of whom had to go outside the country to find lives for themselves, to include them in this process, which must have that all-inclusive nature. We should not divide on this very important issue in the House tomorrow, and I appeal to the Government not to do so.
With regard to the setting up of a trust and to the institutions providing appropriate recompense in terms of the balance between what the State pays and what the institutions pay, this is not about some kind of retribution on the institutions — it is about fairness. The proposal at the time from the Department of Finance that it should be apportioned roughly 50:50 between the State and the institutions where the abuse was perpetrated obviously did not come about because of the indemnity deal that was made, or the way in which it was made. That issue must be addressed and it must be done in an open and public way. Again, this is catered for in terms of ensuring matters of this nature are subject to freedom of information. I hope the Government will respond clearly about what it will do with regard to auditing the institutions, finding out what money is available and setting up a trust. It is very important to the victims and to the survivors that this process is at arm’s length from the institutions, and that it is operated by an independent trust into which the money is paid, so they have the dignity of using an independent trust as opposed to having to go again to the institutions looking for money.
I conclude by restating the importance of not leaving open ends in regard to this matter, which has gone on for ten years and more. There has been at times very brave journalism and very brave people have been willing to go out there, up front, to ensure this is brought to public attention. It needs to be fully embraced by all of the people of Ireland.
We must adopt these measures to put in place the knowledge and systems to ensure this will never happen again and that we fully embrace as a people the learning process that must continue regarding these matters.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I welcome the Institutional Child Abuse Bill 2009 and I commend the Labour Party on framing and introducing it under Private Members’ time. The measures in the Bill are a logical and necessary follow-up to the Ryan report. The Bill addresses a range of outstanding issues that were crystallized by the Ryan report and that have been clearly articulated by the survivors of institutional child abuse before and after that publication. These measures are essential if justice is to be done for those cruelly wronged by the State and the church.
All the recommendations of the Ryan report should be implemented, a matter on which the House is already agreed. The recommendations focus on alleviating the effects of abuse on those who suffered in the past and preventing abuse of children in care today and tomorrow. As I stated during the Dáil debate on the Ryan report, the Government must go further. It must address the need for truth and justice and recompense for those abused in institutions, residential, non-residential and those not covered by the Ryan report and this Bill attempts to do so.
Justice must be done for former residents of Finglas children’s centre, Scoil Ard Mhuire in Lusk, Trinity House, Trudder House and Madonna House. I also include the Magdalen laundries and institutions established after 1970. In the case of Trudder House, where many Traveller children were abused, there was one successful criminal prosecution. In the case of Madonna House, there was one prosecution and an inadequate investigation but no proper support for the victims. No survivor or victim should be left behind or left out in the cold as Marie Therese O’Loughlin was for many months outside the gates of this institution, Leinster House, on Kildare Street.
We should also acknowledge that abuse in institutions run by religious bodies was not confined to the Catholic church. Derek Leinster has highlighted the abuses he and others suffered in Bethany House, Rathgar, which was run by the Church of Ireland. As I mentioned during the Ryan report debate, a former civil servant, Loretta Byrne, who worked in the then Department of Education tried to blow the whistle on abuse in the Finglas children’s centre but was ignored. She stated that she brought these concerns to the attention of at least three prominent Members but nothing effective was done. I understand we know the identity of these three prominent Members. These are very serious allegations that need to be rigorously investigated.
I welcome especially section 1(f) which would lift the gagging clause contained in the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002. This attempts to prevent those whose cases have been before the redress board from speaking publicly about their experiences. It is deeply ironic that legislation supposed to aid the survivors and make recompense to them should prevent them from speaking out. For these survivors telling their story is a very important part of recovery. For some this may involve writing accounts of their experience, creative writing, film documentaries or other creative work. The attempt to gag these survivors should be abandoned now and the offending section should be deleted as proposed in the Bill. I hope in the Minister’s contribution this evening he will provide confirmation of the Government’s acceptance of that and all the component parts in the legislation on Second Stage before the House. The stigma of criminalisation has followed many of the survivors throughout their lives. All trace of this stigma and all doubt in respect of the law must be removed and, therefore, the Government should also accept section 1(g) which wipes the slate clean and also prevents discrimination against people on the basis of having been in an institution. It should not apply in respect of the record of any of these people, whose harrowing experiences are enough without adding further insult to the injury already suffered.
Another major element of the Bill relates to the records of the redress board and the need for their preservation. This is very important and in line with the resolution adopted unanimously by the Dáil in response to the Ryan report. The Bill seeks to ensure that any amendments to the indemnity deal between the Government and the 18 religious orders are subject to approval by the Houses of the Oireachtas. This is essential given the very underhand crafting of the original indemnity deal.
It cannot be stressed strongly enough that children in the care of the State and children denied care because of State neglect continue to be at risk today. Everyone here should read the minutes of the most recent meeting of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children on 30 June last which heard from the Ombudsman for Children and from the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. The Ombudsman for Children, Emily Logan, expressed concern that hundreds of children continue to be at risk of abuse due to the lack of independent inspections of residential centres and hostels which house vulnerable young people. She pointed out that the majority of almost 130 separated children seeking asylum stay in private hostels not subject to independent monitoring. These children do not have access to an independent guardian and many separated children did not have regular access to a social worker directly allocated to them. The Government must address this as a matter of urgency.
From among that cadre of children some have disappeared and there is no knowledge or indication whatsoever of what became of them. There are still hundreds of children with intellectual disabilities in residential centres not subject to any standards or inspections. At the meeting of the Joint Committee on Health and Children on 30 June I raised the issue of the deaths of at least 20 children in care during the past decade, which is now the subject of an internal Health Service Executive inquiry. The Ombudsman for Children has called for a child death review mechanism which I fully support. I urge the Minister and the Government to accept this recommendation as a vital component in establishing the truth in respect of the death of any child in care in future.
The Government must also implement the first recommendation of the Monageer report and establish a 24-seven social work service. Nothing less is acceptable or safe. It must continue to be of concern to Members that this first recommendation was so dismissed by the Minister of State with responsibility for children on the publication of that report.
I urge the Government not to oppose the passage of the Second Stage of this Bill. I appeal to the Minister to allow it go forward to Committee Stage and let the Government debate it in detail with all the other representatives of this House. We at least owe that to the people in the Gallery this evening and the countless thousands, tens of thousands generationally, who have yet to have truth and justice established in their name.
Deputy Batt O’Keeffe: Before I deal with the issues raised in the Labour Party’s proposed Bill, it is worthwhile reflecting on the progress we have made in recognising and admitting that children in institutions were not appropriately cared for and how the Government and indeed the entire State has addressed and responded to this matter. In 1999, the Taoiseach’s apology was an admission that the State had failed in its obligations to ensure appropriate standards of care for children in these institutions. At that time the Taoiseach also announced the establishment of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse; the establishment of a nationwide professional counselling service for the victims of childhood abuse; and legal changes relating to the taking of cases involving abuse.
The Residential Institutions Redress Board was then established under statute to provide redress to persons who had suffered abuse as children while resident in certain institutions that were subject to State inspection and regulation. More recently, the Education Finance Board was established to provide grants to former residents and their families to allow them to access educational programmes. The Government has accepted the 20 recommendations in the Ryan report. Sixteen of these recommendations relate in the main to the prevention of child abuse in the future. My colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews, has been given the responsibility of bringing an implementation plan to Government by the end of this month. The remaining four recommendations relate mainly to my Department and are placed under the heading of, to alleviate or otherwise address the effects of the abuse on those who suffered. The Government will implement these recommendations which relate to the provision of a memorial; a review of systems to avoid future failures; the availability of education and counselling services and the continued availability of family tracing services.
The Government is committed to the provision of funding to provide for a memorial. Counselling services are currently available through the national counselling service. Funding for education is currently available from the Education Finance Board. The board is funded through the allocation of €12.7 million from the cash contribution made by the religious orders. At the end of 2008, some €7.35 million of this remained to be expended on education for former survivors and their families. Barnardos is currently being funded to provide a family tracing service.
My Department has convened a working group which includes departmental representatives from my Department and other relevant Departments to consider and progress all of these recommendations. This working group will contribute to the overall implementation plan being prepared by the Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews.
Since the publication of the report, the Taoiseach and Cabinet colleagues and I have met with groups representing survivors of abuse. There have also been a number of written submissions from the survivor groups. The issues raised by the groups are similar to but not limited to those raised in the Labour Party Bill. The Taoiseach and Ministers have also met on two occasions with the religious congregations. At the first meeting the Taoiseach conveyed the view of the Government and that of the wider public that further substantial contributions are required from the congregations and that the contributions need to be capable of being assessed by the public. The Taoiseach asked the congregations to revert with proposals in this regard.
We met with the representatives of the various religious congregations again on Wednesday, 24 June 2009. The religious congregations reported on the progress they had made in compiling reports on their financial positions. The congregations have been requested and are expected to submit these financial reports to the Government by mid-July. A further meeting will be arranged with them at that stage. The Taoiseach has stated the Government will appoint a panel of three independent persons to assess the material submitted by the congregations and report on the adequacy of these statements as a basis for assessing the resources of the congregations.
I wish to express the Government’s regret that the Labour Party has chosen to act unilaterally by moving this Bill. I believed we had a unified approach when passing the all-party motion. I thought we would go forward together with the Dáil sitting in solidarity in the interest of the survivors. It is regrettable that this approach was not continued as we progress through our engagement with the survivor groups and the religious congregations.
The Government must oppose this Bill because the issues raised have not been fully considered and in some cases legal advice will need to be sought. In addition, while I realise that costing these measures is not a simple task, it is clear that the Labour Party has not made any attempt to cost them or even consider the cost implications. This is not to say that the Government’s future decisions will be totally dependent on the financial implications but we must at all times consider the implications for the taxpayers of this country.
The Government considers this Bill to be premature. We are surprised that the Labour Party has proposed expanding the remit of the redress board before we have completed our discussions with the congregations. The Labour Party had been particularly critical of the Government committing to the redress scheme in advance of settling contributions from the religious congregations and now this is exactly what it is asking the Government to do.
A number of the main elements of the Bill are focused on proposed amendments to the redress scheme. I will outline to the House the background to those elements of the redress legislation which the Labour Party proposes to amend. The redress scheme was an additional benefit which the Oireachtas thought appropriate for children of a particular age who attended specific institutions and the scheme did not affect the right of any individual to bring legal proceedings. It was never intended, nor would it be feasible, to cover all cases of abuse occurring in every institution in the country.
The Bill proposes an extension of the redress scheme to allow for late applications to be accepted. The original legislation allowed for applications over a period of three years from its introduction. The Labour Party now proposes a further three-year period from the date of passing of its proposed Bill. To date, the redress board has received 450 late applications since the closing date, with over 50 of these being received in the period since the publication of the commission’s report. The 450 late applications were dealt with as follows: a total of 109 submissions were accepted by the board; a total of 177 submissions were disallowed by the board; a total of 12 applications were invalid; ten submissions were withdrawn; in 121 cases the board is awaiting further information from the applicant and 21 submissions remain to be considered by the board.
It is worth noting that the existence of the scheme was extensively advertised prior to the closing date set by the current legislation. The redress board spent approximately €900,000 advertising the scheme on television and radio and in newspapers. The current Act makes provision for late applications in exceptional circumstances.
In terms of the proposal to extend the age restriction to allow persons who were in institutions between the ages of 18 and 21, many Members will be aware that this matter is currently the subject of a Supreme Court appeal. We believe it appropriate that this particular appeal be heard and adjudicated on.
In compiling the original Schedule of institutions which accompanies the Act, my Department had access to records in regard to the 59 industrial and reformatory schools listed on the original Schedule and was in a position to confirm that these institutions were eligible for inclusion on the Schedule.
We consider the Labour Party Bill to be premature and recommend it be opposed. We are mindful that survivors have called on all of us not to politicise what is a fundamental and therefore important issue for civic society. There is an onus on all of us to act collectively in all of their interests.
Deputy Seán Haughey: There are a few other outstanding issues I want to deal with. The Bill seeks to remove section 28(6) of the current legislation. Deputy Quinn, in a statement issued on Thursday, 18 June, and again tonight, suggested that this section effectively prohibited applicants from recounting the stories of their childhood. That is simply not the case. This provision was originally included in the legislation because of people’s constitutional entitlement to their good name and, without this provision the redress board would descend into a series of individual court cases with an adversarial approach and associated legal representation that would effectively collapse the redress board.
Legal advices received in my Department state that this section of the current Act does not prohibit applicants from recounting the stories of their childhood, as is suggested. All that it prohibits is mention of the fact that compensation was either applied for or paid as a result of the conditions they may have suffered during their childhood. We realise this is an issue of much concern to the victims and we will consider their views further in the context of legal advice.
Another issue of concern to survivors, and one which has also been raised by the Labour Party in the context of this Bill, is the maintenance of records of both the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse and the Residential Institutions Redress Board. It may be possible to respond positively regarding these recommendations, subject to safeguards. However, there are also likely to be cost implications of any process for safeguarding and providing access to records of the commission and the redress board.
Issues arise also relating to data protection which cannot be ignored. Further consideration will be given to this issue in consultation with the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse and the Residential Institutions Redress Board and subject to any legal advices which may need to be sought.
The issue of criminal records is one which has been raised many times and the Government has done everything possible to clarify the position. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform was called to give evidence on this module of the Ryan commission hearings in June 2006. During the course of that evidence, the question of the criminalisation of children detained in industrial schools pursuant to an application under section 58 of the Children Act 1908 was raised with the senior official of the Department. It was explained that the provisions of section 58 of the 1908 Act do not create a criminal offence and do not provide for a finding of guilt; and an order made pursuant to section 58 does not give rise to a criminal record.
The Ryan report does not make any recommendations for the introduction of any new measures to address this issue. However, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is conscious that individual survivors may still have concerns. He has undertaken that any such individual can write to him, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, attaching a copy of their court record and-or any other official documentation, and his officials will look into the concerns.
The Bill also contains proposals to allow the Government appoint an auditor to examine the financial affairs of the congregations to ascertain the true extent of the property available. The Government has already committed to a process whereby a group of three will access the veracity of financial reports produced by the congregations. It is better to await the outcome of the engagement with the religious congregations.
The other matters raised in the Bill also require further consideration and, in some cases, legal advice. It is clear that the Government is committed to addressing the needs of survivors into the future. However, I do not agree that the provisions of the Labour Party Bill are necessarily the way to go. They are all matters which require further consideration and it is for this reason that the Bill is being opposed by the Government.
Deputy Timmy Dooley: I welcome the opportunity to address the Bill. While I recognise what the Labour Party is doing by presenting this Bill, it is clearly an act of engagement in this debate. I hope the Labour Party Members will be able to agree among themselves in a manner that does not require the House to be divided on this issue. The legislation they seek to bring forward from their perspective is feeding into a debate which has found unanimity in the House to date. For the first time since I entered this House there has been a collegial approach to dealing with this issue, an issue which besmirches and damages the reputation of this State in a serious way. To some extent all political parties bear a responsibility for not dealing with this issue over previous generations and it is right that we would work collectively to seek to redress the serious hurt that has been caused to so many people and ensure we go forward in co-operation and bring about changes to the legislation, where necessary. Central to all of that, however, must be that the victim will remain our foremost concern in everything we do.
I appeal to the Labour Party not to divide the House tomorrow night but to put their concerns on the table. The Minister has indicated a willingness to review the contributions and the Bill that has been put forward and said directly that he will seek the appropriate legal advice. I am sure, when it is appropriate, necessary legislation can be brought forward to put the victims at the centre of our deliberations and ensure that whatever is necessary to protect and enhance what has been rightly done for them is done in a way that deals with all the issues.
On the history of what has been done since the former Taoiseach, Deputy Ahern, initially gave the apology and the various things that have happened since, I am aware from my discussion with many victims that the most important aspect for them was to put their views on the record and have somebody listen to them and believe them. For far too long those people, many of whom closeted themselves in their community, were afraid to come forward. In some cases they felt they would be stigmatised in their community and some of them felt guilty. It is wrong to think that the victims of this type of abuse felt guilty. The fact that they were able to go before the redress board, put their statements on the record and move forward has been hugely helpful to those I have had the opportunity to meet. It has been a humbling experience for me to hear the personal stories of so many people. It is helpful in terms of the work we do to hear the traumatic issues that befell these people and their capacity to deal with life thereafter.
The most important thing to happen following the publication of the report was to ensure that justice was not just done but was seen to be done. That is important in terms of the indication from the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform that he would deal with the issue by way of prosecution and that he had asked the gardaí to look into the files put forward by the Ryan report to ensure that, where possible, recognising that the passage of time would make it difficult, they will bring the perpetrators of these heinous crimes before the courts and seek to prosecute and punish to the greatest extent possible, regardless of the implications. I hope that will be done in as many cases as possible.
The Bill raises a number of issues, particularly the extension of the time limit. Notwithstanding the considerable advertising of the redress board, there have been some late applications. There was a further flurry of interest after the publication of the Ryan report. This proves that, regardless of what advertising one does, until it is published a report does not find its way into the public ether. Scarcely anyone in this State is unaware of the redress scheme, as a result of the media attention generated by the publication of the Ryan report.
Deputy Timmy Dooley: I am not sure the measure benefits people in the State but interest outside is beginning to be significant. Current legislation allows for some late applications. The Minister of State has outlined how some of the late applications have been dealt with to date. Perhaps an extension can be addressed when the Minister of State has considered the matter further. I would like to see such a measure included. I do not think it necessary to divide the House on this issue. I hope we can look at this issue in a co-operative way.
The Minister of State also mentioned financial implications. These should not blind us from doing what is right for those seeking redress. All victims must be treated equitably to the best extent possible and assisted through life. Financial implications must be considered. The religious institutions are working towards the resolution of these outstanding issues. I hope further resources will be made available in line with the transparent and audited way in which the religious institutions seek to further enhance the existing agreement.
The Bill, while well meant and well thought out with regard to the issues which need to be addressed, is premature. The legal advice is that it should not proceed. However, I hope it will feed into the debate. Labour Party Deputies have genuine concerns in this regard. That they have presented this Bill to the House is an indication of that. I hope they can find a way to avoid a division on an issue which evokes the same level of abhorrence in all of us and to which we are all equally resolved to find a solution.
It is important to keep the victims of institutional abuse, which was perpetrated under the guidance of the State by certain sections of religious orders, to the fore. Whatever measures we bring forward must keep victims centre stage. Nothing on the periphery should detract us from ensuring that they are given the best possible opportunity and whatever help and assistance they need as quickly as possible.
Deputy Beverley Flynn: I also welcome the opportunity to speak on the Labour Party Bill. A number of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to speak after the publication of the Ryan report. That is the most difficult report I have had to speak on in my 12 years in this House. We have had to confront a very difficult situation. For many years, we have been aware that abuse happened in institutions but to be confronted with the reality of five volumes and the horror stories they contained was a very black experience for anyone in public life and for the entire country. There is not a man, woman or child in Ireland who was not deeply affected by that report. That is certainly the feeling of everyone on this side of the House.
Since the Ryan report was published and debated in the House, the Government has accepted its 20 recommendations and pledged its commitment to implement them. That was not a hollow gesture but something tangible and solid. People are desperate to see that something is being done and that the issue is being treated with the seriousness it deserves. I welcome the Government’s commitment to accept and implement all 20 recommendations as a matter of priority.
I also welcome the Government’s admission that abuse of children occurred because of failures of systems, policy, management and administration and of senior personnel. It is important for victims that this admission has been made. In recent weeks, I have met victims of institutional abuse and listened to their stories. The story of abuse is a difficult one to tell to a stranger. It is not easy for someone like myself, who had such a happy upbringing, to listen to the horrors experienced by victims of abuse. It is extremely difficult to listen to the story and a thousand times more difficult to tell it.
The Labour Party Bill is well intentioned and I agree with many of the measures it contains. I hope something meaningful and long-lasting will result from this chapter in our history. The Government has entrusted Deputy Barry Andrews with the task of developing a plan for the implementation of the recommendations of the report. That plan is to be brought to Government by July and it is important that it be done quickly.
When I speak to victims of abuse, I am impressed by their desire to tell their story and to be believed and for the perpetrators to be brought to justice. The Minister for Education and Science has said he will give further consideration to the relaxation of the confidentiality clause. I would like to see him go further than that. It is important for victims, not merely to name the institution in which they were abused but to tell their stories in the fullest possible way. It is part of the healing process to tell one’s story truly, openly and transparently and that the story is believed. This is a central theme. I ask the Minister to consider this measure carefully and look closely at accepting it.
I cannot understand why the Ryan commission records cannot be retained. The Minister has also undertaken to consider this matter further. I am heartened by the Government’s response that an Assistant Garda Commissioner has been charged with examining the Ryan report and that the Garda Síochána and the DPP will have the Government’s fullest co-operation in pursuing any criminal investigation which may arise. No Member of this House wants to see any person who carried out these horrendous crimes being protected in any way. It is not in our interests, those of the victims or those of the Irish people. The people’s tolerance is at such a point that they want the persons in question exposed, brought before the courts and convicted. Everything we can do to make this a reality must be done.
Waiving the legal privilege over the details of the 2002 indemnity report has been discussed heavily in the House. I favour the details being revealed, as it is an important matter. We are discussing the contribution of the religious orders and a bill for the State of €1 billion. When one is discussing spending taxpayers’ money and——
Deputy Beverley Flynn: I meant to say €1 billion plus, but I hope that the bill will not be that large after the final contribution of the religious organisations has been factored in. I support the call for the orders to make a significant contribution.
I listened to Deputy Quinn. I attended a Convent of Mercy school and received a wonderful education under the Sisters of Mercy nuns. I have nothing against the orders’ individual members. In fact, I have met many members in recent days. They are carrying a heavy burden because the totality of the situation is falling on everyone and members are getting tarred with the same brush, which is unfair. I think——
Deputy Alan Shatter: Fine Gael fully supports the Labour Party Bill, which contains provisions that reflect issues detailed in the all-party motion passed by the Dáil on 12 June. Many of the issues addressed in the Bill are those that Fine Gael insisted be mentioned in the motion. They would not have been included had we not pursued the issue with the Government in the lead-in to the debate on the motion.
As I spoke at length on the Ryan commission report, I will confine myself to the Bill, events that have occurred since the report’s publication and issues that the Government has failed to address. Our party had been prepared to afford the Government some reasonable time to implement the motion’s provisions, but it is six weeks since the publication of the Ryan commission report.
Deputy Alan Shatter: It is an indictment of the Government and unacceptable that, despite promises made by the Taoiseach and Ministers following its publication, two all-party Dáil motions, the outpouring of hurt and anguish from victims of institutional child abuse and repetitive apologies from the church, State and religious organisations, nothing to date has visibly changed. Other than the Government meeting representatives of victim organisations and the religious congregations, it is impossible to identify any meaningful substantive action it has taken in the wake of the report’s publication.
Within four weeks of its publication, the State vigorously defended in the High Court a case taken by a victim of abuse, resident in England, seeking a time extension to apply to the redress board for compensation. Instead of wasting taxpayers’ resources on solicitors and counsel to defend the indefensible, the redress board and the Government should have allowed the man to apply for redress or, at a minimum in light of the all-party motion, sought to have the proceedings adjourned for a short period while they addressed the overall issue of extending time to potential applicants to apply to the board. The motion referred to this specific issue.
Deputy Alan Shatter: The Minister for Education and Science discussed the question of extending the age from 18 years to 21 years in respect of those who were victims in residential institutions, which is properly addressed in the Labour Party Bill. The Minister’s defence for not addressing the issue is that there is a case on appeal awaited in the Supreme Court. The State lost this case in the High Court. During the time when so many people suffered almost incomprehensible barbarity and abuse in our institutions, they were considered minors until they reached 21 years of age.
This is a political decision, a matter of judgment to be made in the House, not on the basis of some technical constitutional argument the Government has already lost in the High Court and to be repeated in the Supreme Court with all of the legal expense attached to that.
Deputy Alan Shatter: Deputy Quinn is right. There is no reason for the House to abdicate its role to the Supreme Court in this regard or for the Government to spend more taxpayers’ money defending an issue that does not deserve defending.
In the context of extra money being provided by religious organisations towards the overall compensation sum payable by the redress board, the Minister referred to discussions that have been held. The Government is engaging in secret ongoing discussions with the religious congregations which, to date, have failed to give any meaningful commitment to contribute extra money to the redress fund and have only publicly committed themselves to making an unspecified contribution towards some form of trust fund to be established for the benefit of victims of abuse. Fine Gael supports the establishment of the trust fund, but the congregations should contribute 50% of the redress funds being paid out. It is of serious concern and contrary to the public interest that no definitive timeframe has been set for these matters to be resolved. The congregations have given no firm commitment.
It is vital that there be published a full credible audit of the property ownerships of the congregations so that the Government and the general public can assess their capacity to make the contribution required to meet their moral obligations to the victims of abuse. The Minister stated that the information produced by the religious orders will be reviewed by three people, but we need to know more than this. Who are the three people, how will they review the information, will the review be published, how will they assess the credibility of the orders’ statements about their property ownerships and will the audit of ownerships extend to extensive properties owned outside the State? All of these matters need greater clarification than we have had to date.
I called on the Government to conduct an inquiry into institutions where it was alleged children were the victims of either physical or sexual abuse and that have not been investigated by the Ryan commission. These include St. Laurence’s in Finglas, Trudder House, Trinity House, Scoil Ard Mhuire in Lusk and Madonna House. Former residents of these institutions have the same rights and entitlements as those of institutions investigated by the Ryan commission. These are issues that the Government should address, but is failing to.
There is no indication that the Government has learned from the report the essential need for accountability and transparency in our child protection services. Despite previous promises made in the Dáil, portions of the report on the Monageer tragedy published almost two months ago remain censored and seven of its recommendations made to improve child protection and family services remain a mystery. These recommendations have only been read by Ministers and Professor Drumm who, incredibly, cannot communicate the exact recommendations to those involved in the provision of such services. Even more incredibly, Members of Dáil Éireann have no knowledge of the seven recommendations and cannot, therefore, hold the Government or the HSE to account for their implementation. So much for the Government taking the Ryan commission’s message of the need for transparency and accountability.
It is widely known that there are three internal HSE reports on the deaths of three children in recent years in the care of health boards or the HSE, namely, Kim Donovan aged 15 years, Tracy Fay aged 18 years and David Foley aged 17 years. The Minister for Health and Children and the HSE continue to suppress these reports and are conducting themselves in a manner only seen in totalitarian dictatorships where governments have no accountability to a properly elected parliament. It is scandalous that, as a Member of the Dáil and Fine Gael’s spokesperson on children, I have found it impossible to gain access to any of the reports detailing what happened to these children for whom the State had responsibility.
I have been seeking information from the HSE on 20 children in the care of the State who have lost their lives in the past decade. Four months after raising the issue by way of a Dáil question, all I have managed to learn comes from a report in The Irish Times, which states that the HSE has set up some internal review group to examine what occurred, identify key issues common to the children’s deaths and make recommendations to the HSE’s national director.  I understand that, of the 20 deaths, key questions relate to the deaths of 11 children who died as a result of drug overdoses, assaults or suicide. What is now needed is not an internal review group, but an independent inquiry into the deaths of children in care.
Have no lessons been learned from the Ryan commission report? Why do the Government, the State and the HSE continue to conduct themselves in the manner of years gone by, which is to suppress information and bring no light to bear on the inadequacies of our child care systems? In no other EU democracy would there be such continuing and obsessive secrecy relating to the deaths of children for whom the state has responsibility, nor would there be a failure of government to account to parliament for what occurred. It is absolutely clear that neither the Government nor the HSE, despite all the verbiage and apologies, has yet truly learned the lessons from the Ryan commission’s report. A radical change of attitude and approach, and new insight, are badly required.
In light of the Government’s conduct in recent weeks, Fine Gael is concerned that it will not deal properly with matters arising from the report. We support the principles of the Labour Party’s Bill and believe each issue contained therein deserves to be addressed properly. The Government should support the Bill’s provisions.
The Minister spoke tonight about politicising the issue. This is a parliamentary assembly, the purpose of which is to introduce legislation to address injustice and issues that require to be addressed. It is the Government that, this evening, is politicising a Bill that should not be politicised.
It is obvious from the Minister’s speech that there is a broad range of issues he agrees need to be examined. He is not rejecting what is proposed in the Bill. Most of the issues derive from the all-party motion passed in this House and all the Bill aims to do is give substantive legislative form to them. If the Government does not want to play politics with this, it should show some decency, humility and insight. Tomorrow evening it should not divide the House but accept the principles of the Bill and allow, in the context of whatever work the Minister, Deputy Batt O’Keeffe, and the Minister of State, Deputy Andrews, are doing, for its consideration on Committee Stage next September. This would allow for the consideration of the conclusions the Government reaches at the end of July. It would also allow for the badly needed reforms, required to benefit the survivors of institutional abuse, to be put on the Statute Book sooner rather than later, that is, by the autumn. Consequently, those who should acquire rights under the legislation will be afforded the opportunity to do so. By agreeing to the Bill, we will not find ourselves in a legislative morass whereby, this time next year, the Government will have failed to publish legislation promised this July, thereby requiring the survivors of institutional abuse to wait for justice yet again.
Deputy James Reilly: I welcome the Labour Party’s Bill and congratulate Deputy Quinn on introducing it. As Deputy Shatter stated, it is six week since the Ryan report was published and three since the Dáil debate, in which many Members on all sides promised to cherish all our children equally. The Bill sets out to do this.
All State activity should be underpinned by three principles: transparency, accountability and fairness. When we spoke on this issue three weeks ago, I pointed out, as I had pointed out heretofore, that we still have no independent inspectorate for 450 children with disabilities who are in institutional care. How can this be? Will we have another scandal in five to ten years?
The Minister criticised this Bill as divisive, yet it is he who seeks to divide the House. All the Bill seeks to do is give reality to the promises made by the House and to ensure no victim will lose out through a technicality. It will be sad if, at the first time of asking, the Government is found wanting, despite its promises. Yet again, it is consumed with financial consequences rather than with achieving justice for the victims, some of whom are present tonight. What an insult this will be to them.
As Deputy Shatter pointed out, and as Deputy Quinn will probably do when making his concluding remarks, there is no need to oppose this Bill. It is only on Second Stage and we have the entire summer to address the various legal issues that some believe might arise. The people have waited long enough.
Since I have become a Member of this House, the recurrent theme is the Government’s contention that legal opinion is required; this is the great fig leaf it uses time and again. For too long we have listened to the mantra about mysterious law. We are not even told what the legal issues are; they are alluded to in a vague fashion.
The congregations also hid behind the law. I despair that the Government is doing so to frustrate the rights of victims. This is how it will appear to the people. All the outpourings of shame, indignation and sorrow will mean nothing if we do not follow up our words with action. This is what Deputy Quinn is trying to do through this Bill. He is trying to ensure that, by extending the definition of “child” to encompass individuals aged up to 21, people will not lose out. This would get rid of the gagging clause, which must clearly set alarm bells ringing in this House and around the country.
The adversarial approach, mentioned by many victims who attended hearings of the Residential Institutions Redress Board, must be abolished. They are re-victimised at the hearings, having already suffered at the hands of the State and congregations throughout their childhood. We must not allow this to continue.
The Bill seeks to broaden the term “institution” so it will not be confined to a list of institutions but to a list of categories thereof such that victims will not be excluded. The Bill seeks to accommodate those who might have been excluded through not being aware of the procedures they should have followed. As Deputy Quinn suggested, such people may have been out of the State or may be illiterate. I met one such man outside the Dáil during the previous debate. He missed out and, in his desire to press charges, he must go from Garda station to Garda station. He lives in town, does not have transport and has limited means but is told he must go to the Garda station nearest to the institution he attended. This is nonsense and is certainly not suggestive of a State trying to make amends or atone what happened under its jurisdiction.
We need to ensure the Taoiseach’s promise — that those who attended the institutions will have their slates wiped clean of criminal history — will be honoured. The individuals concerned were children after all and many committed no crime. Some were merely found playing in a derelict building and were accused of breaking windows, on foot of which they were institutionalised. We need all these people’s slates wiped clean and that is what this Bill seeks to do.
If we want transparency, accountability and fairness, we must have a full audit of the assets of the orders who ran the institutions. The Bill only seeks to put into action the many words spoken on all sides of this House.
Deputy James Reilly: There are no real legal issues that cannot be addressed over the course of the summer months to the satisfaction of all. The greatest legal wrangles occur when people wish to obstruct and frustrate. The old saying, “where there is a will, there is a way”, could not be more true than it is tonight. If there truly is a will to make amends on the part of the congregations, they will not seek cover behind legalese and technicalities. If there is a will on the part of the State, as expressed by the Taoiseach, it will not seek to hide behind legal niceties either. Compromise can be reached and a settlement can be made; there is no need for delay or to oppose this Bill. If it is opposed, it will send a stark reminder to the people that they will hear nothing from the Government in this House but weasel words that have no meaning or intent and that it will not really set about addressing the issues it pretends to address.
Our intention is to honour the promises of this House to compensate the victims of institutional abuse, which was widespread, extensive, physical, psychological and sexual. I see no reason we cannot agree to Second Stage of this Bill tomorrow night. I commend it to the House.
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