Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Bill 2012: Second Stage

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 764 No. 3

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Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn): Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  I move: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

Almost three years ago, this House passed a unanimous motion following the publication of the Ryan report, sincerely apologising to the victims of childhood abuse for the failure to intervene, detect their pain and come to their rescue. It accepted all the recommendations of the Ryan report and supported their full implementation, recognising that the victims of these appalling abuses must be consulted on the forms of support they need and that supporting the victims and survivors must be the priority for all concerned. The House called on the congregations to commit to making further substantial contributions by way of reparation, including towards a trust to be set up and managed by the State for the support of victims and for other education and welfare purposes.

The primary aim of the Bill now before the House is to establish the residential institutions statutory fund which was proposed in the motion adopted after the publication of the Ryan report. The statutory fund is a significant additional response to address the horrendous abuse of children that took place in residential institutions under the supervision of the State and run, in the main, by religious congregations. It will fund the provision of counselling, health, education, housing and other services for victims of abuse in residential institutions.

The publication of the Ryan report, with its catalogue of systemic abuse, shocked a nation that thought it was beyond being shocked. The litany and scale of the abuse recounted by anguished voices caused us, as a people, to be ashamed and to apologise to those whose child[463]hoods were stolen and who, in many instances, could not live full lives as adults. The commission’s conclusions were unequivocal and damning, detailing the failures of those who managed the institutions and the failure of the State to protect its vulnerable children. Its report justified the decision to establish the residential institutions redress board to compensate survivors outside the court system. The report’s findings are an indictment of us all and it is our duty to ensure that the lessons of the past are learned and that such abuse is never repeated. The scourge of abuse and the failure to deal with it promptly and adequately continues to afflict us in a variety of settings.

The Government is committed to implementing the Ryan report’s recommendations fully. Significant progress has been achieved and is detailed in the progress reports on 99 individual actions. For example, the new Department of Children and Youth Affairs has been established and will be complemented by the new child and family support agency. The new Children First national guidance was published last year; the heads of the Bill to put Children First on a statutory basis have been published recently along with the Criminal Justice (Withholding of Information on Offences Against Children and Vulnerable Persons) Bill 2012, and preparations for the children’s rights referendum are on target. Together these initiatives will help protect our children and ensure that the horrendous abuses suffered by so many are a thing of the past. We all have a duty to protect children and to act when we know that children are at risk.

A comprehensive response has been put in place to address the abuse suffered by so many in residential institutions. The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse afforded those who wanted an opportunity to tell their story to do so. The Residential Institutions Redress Board provided financial awards. While the board continues to process the remaining applications received, it is likely that some 15,000 former residents will receive awards. The national counselling service and the family tracing service provided by Barnardos are other important elements of the State’s response.

As recommended in the Ryan report, the provision of a memorial to survivors is being pursued and I understand that the selection committee expects to announce the competition winner in June. As I stated in the House during the debate three years ago, I believe the memorial should be a place of solace and reflection as well a significant reference back to a very different Ireland to which we must never return.

Many former residents continue to suffer the effects of the abuse they suffered as innocent children, even though this abuse may have taken place many years ago. The establishment of the statutory fund is a further important element in the State’s response. While the redress scheme deals with the financial compensation for victims of institutional abuse, the statutory fund will focus on meeting the ongoing needs of victims by funding the provision of a range of services. This fund will be financed from the contributions offered by the congregations.

As Deputies will be aware, the Government believes that the cost of the response to residential institutional abuse, now estimated to exceed €1.36 billion, should be shared on a 50:50 basis between the State and those who were responsible for the management of institutions. Under the 2002 indemnity agreement, the 18 congregations contributed €128 million, in cash, property and counselling services. Following the publication of the Ryan report, this House called on the congregations to provide further substantial contributions by way of reparation. In their responses, the congregations offered cash of some €110 million and offered to transfer properties, mainly in the health and education sectors and which they valued at €235.5 million, to various State agencies and voluntary organisations. With a 50:50 sharing requiring a contribution of €680 million, the congregations’ offers fell short by some €200 million, even had all properties been acceptable and their values confirmed. The Government identified 12 property [464]offers, valued at some €60 million, to be of potential immediate benefit to the State and the transfer of these properties is being pursued.

This House will be aware both of my disappointment at the offers made to date and that I continue to pursue the 50:50 division with the management bodies involved. I have proposed the transfer of the ownership of the school infrastructure they possess, at no cost to the State, as one mechanism to allow those involved the opportunity to shoulder their share of the costs. I reiterate in the House what I have stated many times outside it, namely, the schools that would be transferred into the ownership of the State would continue in their own ethos until the operators of the schools decide otherwise.

I renew the call I have made to congregations to deal with the issue of contributions in a generous and open manner.

I have made clear to them that I have no wish to bankrupt them and I acknowledge the important, positive role they have played in the development of Irish life and society, particularly in the area of education. I also recognise the aging nature of those teaching communities. That should not mean, however, that they do not have to face up to their responsibilities for their congregations’ involvement in abuse.

Returning to the statutory fund, which will be funded from the cash contributions received of up to €110 million, contributions of €21.05 million have been received and are held in an interest bearing account in the Central Bank of Ireland. The Bill confirms the charitable status of these contributions and will facilitate the congregations’ contributions. While I expect that most congregations will forward their contributions on the establishment of the fund, I am engaging with some to clarify the exact timing of their contribution and expect to be in a position to confirm the position to the House as the Bill proceeds.

The Bill provides that former residents who received awards from the redress board or who received an award or settlement in court proceedings and who would otherwise have received an award from the redress board will be eligible to apply for assistance from the fund. It is expected that some 15,000 former residents, whether living in Ireland or abroad, will successfully complete the redress process and be eligible to apply for services they need.

  6 o’clock

I am aware of demands to widen eligibility to include all former residents of scheduled institutions and to include relatives of former residents. If eligibility were significantly widened to include, for example, all former residents of scheduled institutions, the amounts available to fund services for individuals could be greatly reduced and the effectiveness of the statutory fund would be put at risk. Having regard to the maximum funds available, €110 million, and the potential pool of 15,000 applicants, our approach is correct. The question of reviewing the eligibility under the statutory fund could, however, be considered following the establishment of the fund in the event of applications not resulting in a significant expenditure of the fund.

Part 2 deals with the establishment of the residential institutions statutory fund board, which will operate the fund. I will appoint the board, which will comprise nine members, four of whom will be former residents of scheduled institutions. The other members must include people who have knowledge of, and expertise on, the keeping of financial accounts and disbursement of funds, the management and administration of an organisation, or the provision of an approved service. I intend to seek expressions of interest from suitably qualified and experienced persons for positions on the board and will ensure that the board is gender balanced, in so far as practical. There is no provision for the payment of remuneration to members of the board although reasonable expenses may be approved.

[465]The board will serve a maximum term or four years and individual members can be re-appointed but may not serve more than two consecutive terms. As set out in section 7, the board will, in a manner that promotes the principles of equity, consistency and transparency, use the resources available to it to make arrangements for the provision of approved services to support the needs of former residents, and pay grants to former residents in order that they may avail of approved services. The classes of services from which the board can determine the approved services to be provided are set out in section 8 and comprise mental health, counselling and psychological support services; health and personal social services; educational services; and housing support services, including adaptation or improvement of real property but not including financial aid for the purchase, mortgage or charge of real property.

Many of these services are already publicly available and eligible former residents may have an existing entitlement to receive them, whether living here or in other jurisdictions. If a publicly funded service is already available, there is no need for the fund to be used. If, however, there are restrictions on the availability of public services, for example where there are lengthy waiting lists or limits on grants, the fund may arrange for services to be provided. The board will be conscious of the need to secure the most beneficial, effective and efficient use of the resources available to it. It will provide information regarding its functions and will evaluate the effectiveness of approved services.

Section 9 provides that the board will set out the criteria by reference to which it will make decisions on applications to it. In determining criteria, the board will take account of the individual circumstances, including personal and financial circumstances, of eligible former residents. It will also assess the likely effects of the provision of the service on the health and general well-being, personal and social development, educational development or the living conditions of former residents. The board can apply financial limits to services or grants provided. It can specify minimum standards to be met by service providers and the supporting evidence to be provided by applicants.

The board can also determine criteria for exceptional cases where the standard criteria may be disregarded in order to address cases of hardship. All criteria determined by the board must be freely available. In response to applications made to it by eligible former residents, the board may make an arrangement with a person, whether or not the person is resident in the State, for the provision of an approved service to support the needs of a former resident; and pay a grant to a former resident, to assist them to avail of an approved service.

The board will set out the procedures to be followed when making applications, when considering applications and when communicating with applicants of decisions. Decisions on individual applications will be made by the chief executive or delegated staff member of the board. An independent appeals process is provided for in sections 21 and 22. The appeals officer will be appointed by the Minister and the right of a person, including the board, to appeal a decision to the High Court on a point of law is provided for.

The normal provisions relating to the conditions of employment for the staff of the board and the appeals officer are set out in the Bill and the chief executive is accountable to the board and can be called before the Committee of Public Accounts or Oireachtas committees. Standard accounting and reporting arrangements will apply to the board. As the administration costs of the board will be met from the investment account, every effort is being made to minimise the administration overhead.

Section 24 provides that the residential institutions redress board will furnish the board with the name, address and date of birth of recipients of awards. The board can only use this information to determine if a person is eligible to make an application to the board. This is a critically important feature of the Bill as it means that eligible persons will not be required to [466]submit proofs of residency and abuse in an institution. This measure reflects the wishes of many former residents to have an easy to use application process. They do not have to go through the journey again.

The unauthorised disclosure of confidential information relating to a former resident is prohibited and constitutes an offence. Similarly, the making of a false statement or provision of false information to avail of a grant or service is an offence. Section 25 provides that public authorities will co-ordinate their activities with those of the board. Provision is made that when requested to do so by the board, a public authority will nominate liaison officers.

Part 3 deals with financial matters. An investment account will be established by the National Treasury Management Agency from which the board will be funded. The contributions already received, together with any accrued interest, will be transferred to this account as well as further contributions received lodged thereto, up to a maximum of €110 million, excluding any associated interest. The agency will advance to the board the sums needed to meet its expenditure and the expenses associated with the appeals process. Any costs incurred by the agency will be met out of the investment account.

Standard provisions regarding accounts and audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General are provided for.

Part 4 dissolves the Education Finance Board and transfers its functions to the residential institutions statutory fund board in respect of the moneys remaining from the €12.7 million contribution provided by the congregations under the 2002 indemnity agreement. The Education Finance Board advised me late last year that it expected its funds would be fully allocated on applications received by the end of November, 2011. It publicised that it was not therefore in a position to process any applications received after that date and it continues to process its backlog of applications. The current staff of the Education Finance Board will transfer to become employees of the new board. The statutory fund will prepare final reports and accounts of the Education Finance Board which will be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas.

The Bill does not include provisions in respect of the winding up of the new statutory fund board. While it is envisaged that the board will be dissolved when the moneys at its disposal are expended, the precise timing cannot be predicted and accordingly it would be preferable to introduce amending primary legislation to dissolve the board in due course.

Part 5 deals with two issues. Section 42 addresses the charitable status of contributions by charities which administered ran scheduled institutions. It allows those charities to make cash contributions either to the residential institutions statutory fund or as contributions towards the costs of the response to residential abuse and to transfer property to the Minister. Such contributions and transfers are charitable gifts and as Minster, I can receive same, with the approval of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and may direct that properties be transferred to other Ministers, to the HSE or to a VEC. The charities require the approval of the Commissioners for Charitable Donations and Bequests for Ireland to sell properties and to use the proceeds to make contributions or to transfer properties. The Commissioners are empowered to authorise property transfers as contributions towards the costs of redress. They are also empowered to authorise the sale of properties to realise cash contributions towards the residential institutions statutory fund or as contributions towards the costs of the response to residential institutional abuse.

As Deputies will be aware, it is intended that cash contributions, in addition to those for the statutory fund, towards the costs of the response will be used for the national children’s hospital. I am satisfied that the provisions of this section will facilitate the making of contributions and the transfer of properties by congregations.

[467]Section 43 amends the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002 to allow the redress board to strike out applications and requests to accept late applications where directions of the board are not complied with. The board is required to give at least 28 days notice of its intention to strike out such applications or requests. Provision is also made to allow an applicant appeal to the review committee a decision of the board to strike out an application under section 13. These provisions will allow the redress board to finalise cases currently on hand and it will assist in the planning for the winding-up of the board. Every effort has been made to design an accessible scheme while operating in an efficient and effective manner. This Bill is an important initiative to support victims of residential institutional abuse and I commend it to the House.

Deputy Brendan Smith: Information on Brendan Smith  Zoom on Brendan Smith  I welcome the introduction of this Bill, the importance of which has been outlined in detail by the Minister. The Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Bill 2012, provides for the establishment of a statutory fund to support the survivors of residential institutional child abuse, the residential institutions statutory fund board. As the Minister said, this initiative follows on from the unanimous motion of this House approximately two years ago, following publication of the Ryan report.

It is proposed that the board will oversee applications for assistance and make arrangements for the provision of approved services or grants to former residents. The fund will be entirely financed by contributions from the religious congregations. Eligibility for assistance from the fund is confined to those who received an award from the Residential Institutions Redress Board or who received an equivalent court settlement. As outlined by the Minister, the Bill also provides for the dissolution of the Education Finance Board and the transfer of its functions to the residential institutions statutory fund board.

However, I have some difficulties with some provisions of the Bill as currently proposed and to which I will refer in detail on Committee Stage, notwithstanding my overall welcome for it. This legislation is a further and necessary element in a number of State response initiatives to the very serious issues of abuse in residential institutions. It provides for the establishment of a fund to support the victims of abuse in residential institutions. As has been indicated for some time, the fund is to be financed by contributions agreed with the religious congregations. Supporting the education, health and welfare needs of the survivors of residential child abuse is the remit of the fund and it will provide very important services.

In May 1999, the then Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, on behalf of the State, stated that the Government wished to make a sincere and long overdue apology to the victims of child abuse. He stated at that time that too many children had been denied the love, care and security to which they were entitled. He also said that abuse had ruined their childhood and had been an ever-present part of their adult lives. He emphasised that the Government believed they had been gravely wronged and that the State must do all it could to overcome the lasting effects of their ordeals. During a debate in the House last July, in which we discussed the legislation regarding the Residential Institutions Redress Board, the view was expressed that those statements by the Taoiseach on the part of the Irish State were long overdue.

Significant work was carried out by the Residential Institutions Redress Board. The provision in the original Act to enable the board to accept late applications was clearly a good and prudent one. Years after the original deadline, a substantial number of applications were submitted and approved.

The Bill setting up that board was published by the then Department of Education and Science in June 2001, two years after the then Taoiseach apologised to victims of physical and sexual abuse in reformatories and industrial schools for which the State had responsibility. Its purpose was to provide fair and reasonable financial awards to victims of institutional child abuse. That apology on May 9 1999 followed the broadcast of a television series dealing with [468]these important and very distressing issues. So many innocent people were admitted to dark and grey institutions and many suffered for years. The compulsory admission of so many people to those institutions was absolutely shocking.

At that time, a constituent of mine, whom I have known for more than 20 years, a man who has become a friend of mine, spoke to me and outlined his experiences as a former resident of an institution in our capital city. He recalled the horrors to which he was also subjected when he was employed by private employers at Easter, Christmas and during the summertime. Not alone was that young man abused in the institution, but sadly abuse was also perpetrated in the private sector and in the community by heartless and terrible employers.

In the meantime the Ryan and Murphy reports also revealed the horror of child abuse. Last year in this House, when we discussed the Residential Institutions Redress (Amendment) Bill 2011, I expressed my concern about the cut-off date of 16 September 2011. During debates on Second, Committee and Report Stages, I requested the Minister and Minister of State to provide some mechanism within the legislation that would enable the acceptance of a genuine application post-16 September 2011.

On this side of the House we urged the Minister and his Department to ensure that the decision to have a close-off date should be publicised as much as possible. We urged that the various voluntary organisations and sporting organisations, particularly those working in the Irish community abroad, should be encouraged to do their level best to ensure that people would know of that particular close-off date. We requested the best possible and appropriate information campaign. I spoke to some of the advocacy groups working abroad and they are still concerned that some potential applicants will not have an opportunity to apply for the assistance that was available under the redress board.

None of us in this House would like to see any individual deprived of his or her rights. During the discussion on the Residential Institutions Redress (Amendment) Bill 2011, I asked if it would be possible for the Government to incorporate in the Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Bill the residual functions of the redress board. That would enable the work of the redress board to be activated again should applications that meet the criteria applied by the redress board arise. A small number of eminent people could constitute that board and eliminate unnecessary costs, while dealing with genuine applications.

To my knowledge, when statutory agencies previously ceased to exist, residual functions were transferred back to the parent Government Department and, when necessary, the legislation could be invoked to deal with issues arising. When so much good work has been done under the auspices of the redress board, it would be unfortunate and regrettable if any individual, or a small number of people, were deprived of the right to avail of the support that was there under the redress scheme. Such a measure as I have mentioned could be incorporated in this particular legislation. Hopefully, it would not need to be activated at any time but it would be a safeguard to ensure that nobody, through illness or some other situation, who is not in a position to be advised or to know of the existence of the scheme, would be left out. It would be a source of disappointment to all of us if in a number of months time or later, some people became aware of the scheme, would meet with the relevant criteria, but were not able to avail of those supports.

As each year passes there is, by definition, a smaller and smaller cohort of potential applicants. This is a cause of concern to some of the advocacy groups in Britain, in particular, and further afield. I am familiar with one particular advocacy group in London with which I have met to discuss this matter.

[469]On Committee Stage I would like to have this proposal revisited. Perhaps at the conclusion of this debate the Minister might be able to update us on the best advices available to his Department in respect of potential applicants having missed last September’s deadline.

I wish to put on the record of the House a communication I received from an advocacy group that does its work in a diligent, thorough and committed manner. I quote from the document, as follows:

Eligibility to receive assistance from the fund is being confined to those who received an award from the redress board or those who received awards pursuant to court actions, and who would otherwise have received awards from the board. However, this definition will exclude many of these who have suffered most from institutional abuse. Just over 1,000 individuals presented evidence to the CICA — less than 1% of the estimated number of children to have been admitted to residential institutions between 1936 and 1970. There is strong evidence of high levels of institutional abuse among people who are homeless, in places of detention and in mental health services, and who were therefore not in a position to make claims. Therefore people who have not come to terms with their abuse, have not heard of the redress initiative and/or are so damaged that they did not have the financial or psychological resources to attend, will be unable to receive assistance from the fund. In other words, some of those who have suffered most and are most in need of help will be unable to benefit from a scheme designed to help survivors, because of Government legislation. The State will have failed them not once, but twice.

The advocacy group went on to suggest some amendments that I can submit to the House for consideration on Committee Stage. What has been clearly emphasised to me through these representative groups is that we need to amend the definition to ensure that the most marginalised survivors of institutional abuse will not be left behind in some instances.

I welcome the Government’s commitment to put the Children First guidelines on a statutory basis. All State agencies must work together with clarity in following and implementing the guidelines. There must be consistency and uniformity across the State and the guidelines must be implemented throughout the country in the best interests of all children.

In April 2010, the then Government announced proposals to use €110 million of the offers of contributions to be made by the religious congregations to establish this fund. A wide-ranging consultation process was undertaken with survivor groups and congregations with views on the scope of the fund widely sought. Understandably, a diverse range of proposals were put forward by the different groups. In recent months, together with other Members of the Oireachtas, I have received numerous representations and proposals from different groups and many individuals in regard to the disbursement of this funding, the type of service to be provided and the mechanism for providing such necessary services.

Through parliamentary questions in this House on a number of occasions I requested the Minister to ensure that the various proposals and submissions made by different group be given the detailed consideration and analysis to ensure that the best possible proposals are adopted and put to use in the best interests of those who are entitled to such support and assistance.

We need to ensure that the maximum level of funding is put into the delivery of services to these individuals and that whatever costs are incurred in rolling out the programmes are minimised and kept to the lowest possible level. We want to see effective and beneficial supports in place for those former residents. The costs of providing some architecture of delivery must be minimised. I hope the structures outlined in the legislation will not be over-bureaucratic or costly.

[470]Over the past decade and more, many individuals and groups have worked very hard in dealing with difficult situations in being effective advocates for so many individuals who suffered so much. I compliment those individuals and those groups on what is, understandably, a difficult situation. They have been consistent and diligent in their representations. I want to place on the record of the House my admiration for the huge amount of work they have put in over the past decade and longer. I have been familiar with their work over the past 12 months since becoming my party’s spokesperson on education and skills.

I wish to refer a few issues to the Minister to which he might respond when replying to the debate. The Minister stated that €21 million of the €110 million that would be made available through the fund, and which represents that cash portion of the offers made by the religious congregations, is already in the Central Bank. I presume he is satisfied that the remaining commitment will be honoured in a timely manner. I hope he will able to provide clarity as to when it is expected those contributions will be made. The commitment has been made and it must be honoured. A further question I had regarding charitable status has been answered by the Minister in his script in regard to the transfer of property.

The Minister said he will not be opening up eligibility to all former residents of institutions as the amount available would be greatly reduced along with the effectiveness of the fund if that were to be the case. It is only open to those who applied for compensation through the redress board. I have already outlined, at some length, my concern about some individuals, who met the criteria to have been given support by the redress board, who may be excluded. Am I correct in thinking that people who went before the Ryan commission are also excluded? I may not be clear on that but we may get confirmation at the end of the debate.

The Minister stated in a reply to a parliamentary question that he would consider reviewing who is eligible to apply for assistance following the establishment of the statutory fund in the event that applications to the fund not resulting in a significant expenditure of the fund. I tabled a number of parliamentary questions during recent months encouraging and urging the early publication of this legislation. The Minister in a reply to a recent parliamentary question stated, “I would suggest that the issue of who is eligible to apply for assistance could be reviewed following the establishment of the statutory fund in the event of the applications to the fund not resulting in a significant expenditure of the fund”.

A further issue that keeps cropping up is that of the residents of the Magdalene Laundries and the difficulties they endured. Two or three further issues have also been brought to my attention. When the redress board was established I understood a firm commitment was given by the Government that there would be no means testing of the provision of services or means testing or taxation of the awards that were given. That has been honoured to date but there is a change in the legislation in regard to means testing of the provision of services. My reading of the provision in that respect may be incorrect and I hope it is.

On the issue of the national memorial, to which the Minister also referred, I understand a number of the representatives groups met Mr. Benton and the OPW at the time and they put a number of issues to the OPW regarding the timing of the provision of the memorial when all the other issues have been dealt with. That was my understanding in that respect.

On the issue of data and documentation held by the redress board, the Minister has rightly stated that the application process will be as practicable and as least bureaucratic as is possible in respect of the transfer of the basic amount of essential data. There is also the question of the storage of the documentation, which is absolutely confidential, on which the redress board worked. The Minister might give us some indication at the end of the Second Stage debate as to the long-term plans for ensuring the absolute confidentiality of the data that has been collected.

[471]I wish to mention one or two further issues briefly. On the children’s rights referendum, when I was Minister of State with responsibility for children I brought a proposal to Government in late 2007 or early 2008 to establish the all-party Oireachtas committee. Excellent work was done by all the participants of all parties on that legislation.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  The Deputy’s time is up.

Deputy Brendan Smith: Information on Brendan Smith  Zoom on Brendan Smith  It was suggested here a few months ago that the children’s rights referendum might be run alongside another referendum. I said in this House that under no circumstances should that happen. I gather the Taoiseach said today, when following the proceedings on the monitor in my office, that it would be a stand-alone referendum, and that is what it should be. It is an extremely important referendum.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  The Deputy has gone over his time.

Deputy Brendan Smith: Information on Brendan Smith  Zoom on Brendan Smith  The Minister has renewed his call to the congregations to ensure that they deal with the issue of contributions in a generous manner. I echo that call. They must face up to their responsibilities in that regard.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  Thank you, Deputy.

Deputy Brendan Smith: Information on Brendan Smith  Zoom on Brendan Smith  Overall, I welcome the legislation. I have flagged a number of issues I will raise for further discussion and on which I may table some amendments on Committee Stage.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  Thank you, Deputy.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  The next speaker is Deputy Mary Lou McDonald who I understand is sharing her time.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald  Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald  I wish to share my time with Deputy Sandra McLellan.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  It is Deputy Stanley I have listed here — I will note the change.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald  Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald  It was changed.

It is important to say at the outset that the State and the Government continue to fail the women and children of the Magdalene Laundries and Bethany Home. It is to the great shame of the Fine Gael Party and the Labour Party that they have done nothing to right the wrong perpetrated against these women and children despite having been so critical of the previous Government’s inaction when in opposition.

The current Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, said in 2010 that former residents of the Magdalene Laundries and Bethany Home must be included in the redress scheme. She went on to criticise the then Minister for Education and Science for failing to allow these institutions to be included in the list of qualifying institutions for redress. She went on to say that for her, and I quote, it “was becoming clearer and clearer that these institutions were, to all intents and purposes places of detention, and that as such, “residents” were effectively sentenced by servants of the state, to periods of confinement therein”. The Labour Party Minister of State, when in opposition at the time, concluded her outrage with a demand for Government to do the right thing. She was correct to do so.

If we go further back to 2005, the Minister’s party colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O’Sullivan, rightly described the scandal surrounding Bethany Home as a matter of national importance. In the same year the Minister of State, Deputy Joe Costello, called on the Govern[472]ment to include Bethany Home in the redress scheme. All three of those Labour Party Deputies are now Ministers of State — they are part and parcel of this Government. During their years on the Opposition benches they all shouted loudly against the decision by the Fianna Fáil-led Government to exclude the Magdalene Laundries and Bethany Home from the redress scheme. They were right to do so, but I have to ask where are they today? What is the point of being in Government if one does not act against the very injustices that so exercised one when in opposition?

Just yesterday the Justice for Magdalenes group released new evidence of 38 women and children having been committed to the Magdalene Laundries by the State. In one case, a girl — a child — of just 14 years of age was sent to High Park for two years in 1930 for perjury. As recently as 1983 an unnamed girl — a child — of 15 years of age was committed to the Good Shepherd Convent in Cork for theft. I could go on.

Over the last week criticism has been correctly levelled at the Roman Catholic Church by people on Government and Opposition benches. It is important in the course of this debate to remind ourselves that the State equally has a case to answer. The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, said when in opposition that there was irrefutable evidence that the State was, as he put it, “directly complicit” in the confinement of these women and children. The evidence is there — we all know this — and it should not be the case that groups like Justice for Magdalenes or Bethany Home survivor, Derek Leinster, have to keep fighting this fight. Religious orders fundamentally abused their position within Irish society but the State was culpable too. Both must step up, accept responsibility and provide survivors and their families with the redress, supports and services that they now need.

The Bill legislates for the provision of support to people who suffered the most grievous abuse within State and church-run institutions. These institutions, instead of providing a safe haven and secure environment for children and young people, were often places where the most sadistic cruelty was inflicted. The legacy of the religious orders in these institutions is one of sexual, physical and mental abuse. The State compounded the pain and damage to our most vulnerable children by its decision to turn a blind eye to what was happening.

There are differing views on what are the best ways to compensate and support victims of church and State institutional abuse. Each opinion must be listened to and considered. The State must be humble in its response. It failed these people before and it cannot do so again. The Government needs to do much more than provide a sympathetic ear for those who have raised concerns about aspects of the Bill. Everything possible must be done to ensure the victims of abuse receive just recompense.

It seems wrong to have to reduce this debate so quickly to pennies and pence. I do not know that any of us can put a price on assisting survivors and their families to put their lives back together. Last week, a gentleman on the radio spoke about the need to move on. He spoke of wanting to apologise to his former partners for the difficulties in their relationships due to the abuse perpetrated against him as a child while in State care. My heart broke for this man. How can we put a price on giving him whatever support or redress he needs to move on?

The cost of redress is expected to reach €1.36 billion, and the religious orders need to pay up. Holding back on these moneys is creating additional hurt among victims and this is a situation the Government must address firmly and clearly. I have very serious concerns about the fund’s eligibility criteria, which is to be confined to those who received an award from the redress board or compensation following a court decision or settlement. Those who have not received redress to date will be blocked from accessing the fund and as a consequence the State will have failed them yet again.

[473]It is important to note that 40% of the applications made to the redress scheme were by former residents living outside the State. The implications of the abuse they suffered impacted on their education, leaving many illiterate and some destitute. Far too often we hear of now elderly former residents of these institutions who have struggled to integrate themselves into their communities and now live a life of poverty, some in Britain or the US. All they want in life is to return home to Ireland to live out what remains of their lives. However, no provision has been made for them. In this context we are concerned about the Government’s intention to end funding outreach services once the statutory fund is established. I appeal to the Minister to reconsider this. Medical insurance is a real problem for survivors living in the US and Canada, as are nursing and residential care. In what way does the Government and the State intend to support their needs? Consideration must also be given to the views of some former residents who believe the distribution of the available money should be paid directly to survivors in lump sums.

Campaigner Paddy Doyle has noted the vast majority of former residents posting comments on his website are opposed to the statutory fund. Unlike the redress scheme, which provided financial compensation, the new fund will provide for a range of services instead. When we consider how the State failed survivors as children it is understandable they would now not trust the Government to decide on their behalf what their wants and needs are. It cannot go unsaid that the redress scheme itself was for many a truly awful experience. Sean Leonard of Justice and Healing for Institutional Abuse has noted the legal fraternity made a fortune out of the redress scheme. He states survivors were poorly treated when interacting with Departments. We must learn from this.

There has been, rightly, collective outrage against Cardinal Seán Brady’s failure to tell parents that their children were being abused by, or in danger of being abused by, Fr. Brendan Smyth. Many of us have read with horror the questioning by the church that survivor Brendan Boland had to endure at just 14 years of age. For many the redress board process was an equally cold and harsh experience. Lessons must be learned from this.

Councillor Sally Mulready, chair of the London Irish Women’s Survivors Support Group has said applicants to the redress board who were rejected on the grounds of being late should not be excluded and I agree with her. We have been told the funds supports will include access to counselling services, health care provision, housing needs and education. We need to ensure these services and supports will be adequately resourced and delivered. The Minister has also said the fund will promote understanding of the effects of abuse on former residents among service providers and will evaluate the effectiveness of the approved services in meeting the needs of former residents. In all honesty I question the capacity of the Government to deliver on this commitment, and I feel very sure that many survivors equally question it.

Child victims of sexual abuse whose cases have been taken up by the State can wait several months before even the most basic counselling services are provided. Often their families receive no counselling whatsoever. Last month the HSE revealed that approximately 178,000 people are on outpatient waiting lists to be seen by a consultant after referral by a GP. Tens of thousands of citizens have been waiting years for housing and may never in their lifetime move off the housing waiting list. The Government plans to cut a further 37,000 public sector jobs, so how can we guarantee and reassure victims and survivors that their needs will be met?

Christine Buckley of the Aislinn Centre has noted enhanced access to counselling services and education have greatly reduced recidivism but so much more is needed. Access is important but, in equal measure, so also is the time involved in accessing the supports and services. In many instances we are dealing with very elderly people who require urgent assistance. There is the reasonably held view that many of these services are already available to people as a [474]matter of right, meaning the benefits of the statutory fund will be minimal. This is a point that should be made. Paddy Doyle, whom I mentioned earlier, has also noted that as survivors get older, their needs change, particularly when their levels of mental health and mobility deteriorate. As a result, some survivors will have greater needs than others yet it is unclear how the board will deal with these changing needs and, in some cases, imbalances.

The fund should have provision to pay for the education requirements of children whose parents were the victims of abuse. This can be an important step in breaking the cycle of inter-generation hardship that can be directly attributed to institutionalised abuse. John Kelly of the Irish branch of Survivors of Child Abuse, SOCA, has suggested the introduction of a universal card scheme whereby each survivor would get credits and these could be conferred to a family member.

The legislation must also examine how the awarding of assistance will affect residents of the Six Counties and Britain whose benefits are means tested and must be protected. Children of survivors will be excluded from accessing services as provided for in the Bill. This is a mistake. Full access to education and counselling are critical components to breaking a cycle that began with the State’s failure to protect our vulnerable children.

A former resident of an industrial school in County Kerry wrote last month in a letter to The Irish Times of wanting to give her children what she had been denied, an education. This woman’s right to education was denied by the State. Her father was also a survivor of an industrial school and both her parents were illiterate. She described how her son has achieved 11 honours in his junior certificate — a bright lad — but now she worries that the family will not be in a financial position to send him to college. Perhaps, in an even worse indictment against this Government, the young lad is considering leaving school so he can help support his family, as his mother’s community employment scheme will end in November and the family’s income will be reduced. The letter concluded by saying that education is the passport to ensuring that the family’s cycle of deprivation and social welfare dependency does not continue. This is a position of common sense and dignity, and I urge the Government to adopt it and listen to the words and needs of this woman.

Speaking in the Dáil in 2009, the Minister, Deputy Quinn, said:

He went on to charge the then Fianna Fáil Government for having “let free the horrendous record of the Department of Education and Science that continues to the present day”. He put it to the Minister that there was a continuing culture of deferment and obedience to the Roman Catholic Church and its religious orders in the then Department of Education and Science that had frustrated getting answers to the most simple questions.

I believe the Minister spoke with integrity on that occasion. Now, he is in charge and is making the decisions. He cannot afford to get it wrong. Of all the matters raised in the course of this debate and on Committee Stage, the issues of eligibility and ensuring the State, in the most fulsome way, recognises the damage done to victims and survivors and compensates them in the fullest way must be clearly guaranteed and underwritten in the legislation. I do not believe that is yet the case. The issue of means testing the provision of services to any of the victims or survivors must be clarified. Survivors must have the comfort of knowing that they will have access to properly resourced services, with no impediment put in their way by the State.

[475]Now that he is in the Government, does the Minister have the same courage he displayed when he was in the Opposition? I hope he does. The victims, survivors, their families and their communities need a full resolution from the Minister. That is the least all of us owe them. I commend them for their efforts. I hope the Minister has listened to our words and that we can constructively fashion the legislation to meet all those needs.

Deputy Sandra McLellan: Information on Sandra McLellan  Zoom on Sandra McLellan  First, I offer my heartfelt sympathy and support to the survivors of abuse in institutions in this State. Some are in the Visitors Gallery this evening, and I salute their courage and determination. Only for them this issue would never have reached the light of day. Only for the survivors, their families, friends and campaigners the cosy cartel of church and State would have continued.

Citizens of this State have been done a service by those who have campaigned for justice and compensation for the survivors of abuse in institutions. For too long their voices went unheard. In fact, for decades they were simply silenced by the crozier and by those in positions of power. Unfortunately, some of those people sat in the seats we sit in today. They chose not to see, hear or do anything to address the massive abuse that was taking place in institutions in this State. Over the years and after many column inches, documentaries and reports, a Bill is finally before the House. Unfortunately, however, the Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Bill has serious shortcomings. Many people had great hopes that the new Government of Fine Gael and the Labour Party would listen and act in the survivors’ best interests, but that does not appear to be the case.

Having met with some of the survivors’ campaigning groups I agree with their analysis that this Bill must be amended if it is to meet the need of survivors and their families. There are a number of key issues. First, the compensation available must be expanded to include children and grandchildren of survivors, for many of them have suffered because of the abuse visited upon their fathers, mothers and grandparents. They have had to live with and endure pain and suffering for crimes committed against their loved ones and they deserve adequate compensation.

Second, survivors who have not received compensation from the current redress board must be covered by this Bill. People who did not put their case before the current redress board suffered no less than those who did. Many did not put their cases forward for genuine, personal reasons. In some cases it caused too much pain; in others they simply did not want their families to know about the pain and suffering they had gone through. Some were resident outside this jurisdiction at the time. These are all sound, genuine reasons and the Minster must amend the Bill to take account of them. If the Bill excludes one person, it is fundamentally flawed and must be amended. The Bill must be as inclusive and humane as possible.

Third, in the case of survivors who have passed away, their next of kin must be allowed to apply for compensation for the reasons I have just outlined. The abuse that was suffered did not simply end once somebody was buried. Abuse of this nature can affect families for generations if it is not addressed properly.

Another serious concern is the length of time it will take to administer the fund. Many people eligible for this fund are already in their latter years. The fund must be distributed with minimum bureaucracy. A timeframe must be agreed to ensure applications are processed with ease and speed and the compensation is distributed as quickly as possible. The fear for many is that the bureaucracy surrounding the fund will become more important than the survivors. That cannot be allowed happen. There should be no gravy trains for the lawyers or administrators of the fund.

[476]Finally, it is my understanding that of the €110 million being made available only €17 million is available in cash. The rest is in the form of land and buildings. If this is a fact, I urge the Government to front-load the remaining €93 million into the fund so the full compensation is available. In conclusion, I appeal to the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, to redraft the Bill to make it more inclusive, robust and accessible for the people it is meant to support.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  I now call on Deputy Joan Collins, who is sharing time with Deputies John Halligan, Richard Boyd Barrett and Seamus Healy.

Deputy Joan Collins: Information on Joan Collins  Zoom on Joan Collins  The first time I had an opportunity to speak about survivors of clerical sexual abuse was a number of months ago, on the closing date for people to access the redress board. I opposed that for all the reasons outlined in the Dáil tonight. It must be seriously re-examined to see how the date can be extended to accommodate people who, for reasons we do not understand but which they understand, cannot or will not or find it impossible to come forward. Their genuine fear of coming forward should be taken into account. That should be the first port of call in the discussion on the Bill that has been introduced by the Minister.

  7 o’clock

On first reading through the Bill, I thought it appeared to be quite reasonable. I noted how it provided for four survivors on the board of nine members, which also included the chief executive officer and chairperson, as well as having accountability linked in with it. I also noted the provision for an appeals process and so on. However, on reading through it a second time and examining it in greater detail, I noted how the staff of the Education Finance Board is to move over to the new residential institutions statutory fund and will be paid therefrom. Moreover, their pensions will be paid from the €110 million allocated to that fund. In addition, board members will receive expenses, to which they are entitled, but I note they also will be drawn from the fund, as will the salary and pension of the chief executive officer. Similarly, the appeals officer will be paid from the fund, as will the staff he or she takes on. Finally, any committees that are established will have their expenses and allowances paid for from out of the fund.

I then read through the Bill a third time to better grasp its impact. The point that has been made forcefully to me by various groups is this fund has the potential to become a bureaucratic quango. Moreover, it does not address the needs of the survivors. As the legislation will allow the board to give money to the Minister for the appeals officer, wages, expenses and so on, what proportion of these costs will be taken out of the €110 million? I believe that 99% of the fund must be given to survivors, which is the purpose of setting up the fund, not to create a position whereby money must be drawn out of the amount allocated to the fund to pay people. This point will be important and the legislation must be amended to effect this change.

However, this can only be done in the context of the necessity to reconsider the Bill in its entirety. The point has been made to me by survivors that their experience of the Education Finance Board was it was extremely difficult for families and individuals to gain access to the fund. They were obliged to go through hoops to gain access to it by filling out application forms, proving identities, etc. For example, one of my constituents is pursuing a VEC course comprising four modules. She started off with two modules and has submitted applications for funding in this regard but has received no response. Moreover, I read in the Bill that it will be closed from November and I am unsure how this will link in with the new board that is being established. In addition, I refer to the experiences recounted by people from organisations such as Survivors of Child Abuse, SOCA, regarding efforts their families had made to gain access to funding from the Education Finance Board. It took nearly 18 months for their families to [477]try to access it and they gave up. They simply stopped as it was not worth their while. They walked away, stating that getting such funding was too difficult. I am particularly fearful in respect of this Bill that people will encounter similar difficulties in respect of the applications and hoops through which they must jump to get access to its provisions pertaining to health, housing, education, etc. and amendments must be made in this regard.

In addition, I note that unlike the Education Finance Board provisions, families are being excluded from access to the new fund. This also is a matter of concern among the survivors of abuse because, as has been observed in this Chamber, many of the aforementioned survivors are extremely elderly. I spoke to one such survivor today, who left Daingean in 1967 and who now is 61 years old and who probably is one of the youngest survivors. The survivors’ groups seek a time limit as to when this money will be spent, as it should not be available for ten years. The Education Finance Board had access to €12.7 million and took ten years to distribute that amount. The sum of €100 million is being provided for under this Bill and the question arises as to how to disburse it. A time limit must be imposed to avoid timeframes of 12, 13 or 15 years, by which time those who need it most will not be able to avail properly of it.

I also wish to raise the question of the bureaucracy this legislation will entail. Would it be possible to put in place a system similar to the HAA positive action medical cards provided to hepatitis C sufferers to provide access to health services? People should be considered according to the quantum of money they received from the redress board and an appropriate percentage could be given to them. I note all the names, addresses and contact numbers are available and a card could be used to allocate medical care, health, housing applications or whatever. Credits on such a card could be used by survivors for to access such funds for housing, were they in need of an extension or if they needed to build a flat or toilet downstairs in their houses. I propose a mechanism whereby people receive funds directly and rapidly to be used for their best benefit. Such amendments must be considered, rather than people being obliged to apply, make applications and so on, in what can be extremely difficult and bureaucratic procedures, to gain access to redress from that perspective.

I will conclude by noting many people had thought this issue was behind us and which they would not be obliged to consider again. However, there has been another outbreak on foot of Cardinal Brady not handing over the names or telling the families of the young boys who were being sexually abused by Brendan Smyth all those years ago. Memorials are good and I acknowledge a number of people seek the creation of a memorial in recognition of what happened. However, unless the institutions are brought to account and to book in respect of their past and present by recognising what happened and then taking responsibility for it, there still is a long way to go to address these issues.

Deputy John Halligan: Information on John Halligan  Zoom on John Halligan  First, I remind Members that a recent Amnesty International report described the violations against children that have taken place in this country as some of the greatest human rights violations in the history of this State, which satisfy the definitions of torture, slavery and cruel and inhumane treatment as laid down under international law. At the outset, I welcome any move the State makes to acknowledge and face up to the terrible suffering and trauma endured by so many at the hands of church officials. For instance, the provision of counselling and education could be of great help and comfort and the tracing service provided by Barnardos has made a real difference to many people. However, like many other Members, I am concerned the Minister has not adequately ironed out all of the concerns of the representative groups prior to bringing forward this legislation.

This new fund will replace the Education Finance Board, which was founded at the time of the 2002 agreement. A number of survivors who have been in contact with me — I note some from my constituency are present today — are concerned that the framework will not cater [478]adequately for the needs of children and grandchildren who have been availing of assistance through the education system. This is a source of great worry for many people and must be addressed.

In addition, research by the National Suicide Research Foundation has noted that interaction with family members is a key factor in ensuring survivors do not commit suicide, which is a huge issue for many of those who have been affected by such horrendous crimes. Moreover, front line workers will confirm the great significance of the inter-generational effect institutional abuse has had on many families in Ireland. Consequently, it is deeply regrettable that the Government has decided to remove family members from access to the education fund and this decision should be reviewed. It is a poor decision to make because many family members who were not directly affected by abuse are now affected because of what has happened. Last year, just under 22% of the applicants in receipt of grants were former residents and almost 74% were relatives, of whom 47.6% were children and a further 26.2% were grandchildren of former residents. The previous arrangement allowed these victims to at least provide their children or grandchildren with what they themselves were denied, namely, an education of choice. The Government should reconsider this provision.

In addition, there has been significant recent media attention on the massive shortfall in the compensation fund since the 2009 Ryan report revealed the shocking extent of decades-long sexual, physical and psychological abuse of the most vulnerable in institutions. It is scandalous that the church still is not shouldering its share of the costs of responding to the horrendous wrongs suffered by these children. While I compliment the Tánaiste on his decision to close the Vatican embassy, it is regrettable it was closed for cost cutting reasons. As I stated previously when the Tánaiste announced the closure of this embassy, it should have been closed and the Papal Nuncio sent packing because of the Vatican’s interference in this State.

It adds insult to injury to those affected by institutional abuse that under one fifth of the promised amount, €21.05 million, has been received to date. A number of congregations previously advised that they would make their contributions once they had sight of the proposals for the fund. Have further moneys been forthcoming since this Bill was published? Is the €21 million paid thus far sufficient to enable establishment of the fund and to commence its work of supporting survivors? Will the Government be making an annual supplement to the fund to ensure its longevity for as long as the survivors need it? It is important that there is continuous funding available to the families and survivors for the remainder of their lives. The Government needs to put some thought into this.

The deferential treatment shown by members of the Garda Síochána to priests and bishops accused of abuse in Irish institutions is one of the most shameful incidents of criminality in the history of our State. Every file referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions alleging abuse by clergy and the religious needs be re-opened and re-examined to ensure no incident of clerical child abuse goes unaddressed. The Government should prior to the passage of this Bill give a commitment that this will be done. State reluctance to prosecute those who turned a blind eye to abuse is one of the reasons child abuse remains a serious threat in this country, despite over a decade of inquiries and reports revealing the suffering of tens of thousands of children at the hands of church and State.

I congratulate all those people around the country who have spoken out about the horrendous effects of abuse on their lives. It is traumatic for these people to have to speak about what happened to them and they should be treated with compassion and dignity by the Government, as promised by both parties prior to taking up office. There should be no arguing or haggling over funds. The congregations should be called to account to pay over every cent they [479]promised. Also, the Government should over the next couple of months publicly call to account the congregations refusing to adhere to what they promised to do.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett  Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett  As stated by other speakers, the scandal of thousands of children being abused in church-run institutions, which children the State failed for decades to protect, is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, shames of this State’s relatively short history. Many heinous crimes were perpetrated against thousands of children. We must, in trying to deal with this issue, ensure we do everything in our power to provide whatever redress, support and compensation we can to those people whose lives were ruined. Nothing we or this Bill can do can ever fully compensate people for the suffering they endured. In so far as we have a duty and obligation to help victims of abuse and their families to cope for the rest of their lives with the consequences of the crimes committed against them, we must ensure we do so as well as we possibly can. It is of the utmost importance that nothing we do results in further stress, difficulty, anxiety, humiliation or suffering for people who have already suffered far too much. We must in the first instance listen to their view on how we can address the issues affecting them. Whatever we then put in place must result in no further trauma, suffering or stress for them and their families. It is vital we get this right.

The church, whose role in visiting this suffering on so many people, must end its shameful foot-dragging and instinct for self-preservation and self-protection whether of the institution of the church or of particular individuals within it who believe their self-preservation is of greater priority than are the victims of this terrible abuse, their concerns and needs. In this regard, it is disgraceful that the church has still not put up all of the money to meet its obligations on this matter. As far as I am concerned, the State has a responsibility to force it to do so and to seize its assets if required. Whatever needs to be done should be done to ensure the church comes up with the funds and supports required. The institution and individuals within it matter not a whit compared to our obligation to the victims of child abuse. To my mind it is equally shameful — this is out of our power — that Cardinal Brady, given his failure to discharge his responsibility to the victims of Fr. Brendan Smyth, will not resign.

In so far as we in this House have the authority to do something for the victims, we must ensure we get this right and, critically, with an ear to what the victims and their families say they need. I do not pretend to be an expert on this issue. I met this morning, as I have done on other occasions, with two victims representing other victims who have major concerns about this Bill. When I asked them at the end of the meeting if they believed this Bill as currently drafted should be scrapped, they said it should because it does not deal as it should with the issue.

As regards eligibility, there should be no question of limiting eligibility to those given awards from the Residential Institutions Redress Board. Anyone who was a victim or resident in one of the relevant institutions should be eligible to access this fund and services provided therefrom. As stated by Deputy Joan Collins, the victims’ organisations raised with us their fear that significant resources that should be going to help victims will be squandered on administration, salaries, expenses and so on.

That must not happen. They propose a much simpler system where we do not need large boards, a large staff and so on and that we just give the money directly to the people who are eligible for it in the form of some sort of universal credit card, as Deputy Joan Collins said. We could work out the proportion of the available fund to be given to each individual on the basis of much of the information we already have from awards given by the Residential Institutions Redress Board. This could be done and it would save on the necessity for administration and would not waste funds which should be going to the victims.

[480]They also expressed deep concern that we are just talking about transferring over the administration and infrastructure from the Education Finance Board because they reported real problems with, as has been described, people spending months trying to gain access to this fund but giving up such was the onerous nature of the process and the difficulty of making an application with all the documentation, proof and so on that they had to provide. People literally gave up. That cannot happen. What they propose is a much simpler system where we simply give them the resources in the form of a universal credit card, so we do not have to deal with all of that.

The key point for them is that the State already has most of the information it needs to adequately disburse the resources, supports and funds via the Residential Institutions Redress Board and the awards. Anybody who came in after that could be looked at. They also stressed the need for it to be independent. In so far as any administration of this is required, it must be completely independent but there is a problem if the Minister is appointing the chief executive. There may be a conflict or a tension in regard to a Government which has concerns about cutting back on services while at the same time having an influence on a board whose priority should be not a concern about the Government’s concerns about services but about what the victims and their families need and providing for that. It should be separate from the Government and the Minister and completely independent and funding should be provided in a much more simplified form and in a much more direct way than this Bill proposes.

Deputy Seamus Healy: Information on Seamus Healy  Zoom on Seamus Healy  I commend the survivors of child abuse, many of whom are in the Visitors Gallery, and in particular those who spoke out. But for that, we still might not be aware of the horrendous situation. It may not have come to light were it not for those people who were courageous enough to speak out at a cost to themselves. They were criticised as being dishonest and as having an agenda against the church, the State, or both. They are very important people and I commend them on speaking out and making this horrendous situation known to the public.

The Ryan report detailed the huge failures of the State to protect its children and the scandal of the congregations which managed the institutions. We now know that at least 15,000 children were abused in those institutions and it is something we must sort out once and for all. I welcome the creation of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, the Family Support Agency and the publication of the Children First guidelines and the Criminal Justice (Withholding Information on Offences Against Children and Vulnerable Persons) Bill 2012. I am disappointed we have not had a children’s rights referendum. It is urgent and necessary and I hope it will take place before the end of this year. There is an indisputable case for the inclusion of the Magdalene laundries and the Bethany Home in the institutions covered and I urge the Minister, even at this late stage, to include them.

I understand the cost to the State will be €1.36 billion overall and I support the proposal that it be shared 50:50 by the congregations and the State. I note the church is still short approximately €200 million in this regard and I support the Minister’s proposal that school infrastructure be transferred at no cost to the State.

A number of issues have arisen in regard to the Bill. We have heard what many of the survivors have said from other Deputies but there is a widespread belief among the survivors that the €110 million, which has been painfully recovered from the orders and the congregations concerned, should be distributed to the victims through an adjustment mechanism by the Residential Institutions Redress Board before it is dissolved. There is concern about the age profile of many of the survivors. There is no doubt the age profile is the high 60s, 70s and even 80s and individuals of that age require different supports from younger people. The question of universal care has been mentioned, which I support.

[481]There is a huge concern among the survivors about the cost of this new board, the chief executive officer, the staff and legal advisers. They believe those costs should be borne by the Minister’s Department and not the fund. That turned up in the previous legislation in 2005. Section 11(4) of the legislation is silent on who pays. The Minister makes the appointments and sets the conditions and the expenses referred to are paid from the Minister’s Department and not from the fund. This is currently the case with the Education Finance Board but was not for the first three years of its operation because the 2005 Act was also silent on this point.

There is considerable worry about possible means testing. Section 9 seems to suggest there will be means testing. It states that the board, in determining criteria under section 1, shall have regard to the need to take account of the individual circumstances, including personal and financial circumstances of former residents. That is a worry and I urge the Minister to withdraw that section. The question of eligibility is another worry for survivors. The situation should be open-ended with applications being accepted whenever they are submitted. The question of children and grandchildren should be considered in regard to the eligibility criteria.

I commend the Sunlight Housing Foundation which is run by volunteers, many of whom are survivors. It has already housed ten persons in Midleton and there are 14 more on a waiting list. There is no public funding for this facility and I urge the Minister to meet the board of the foundation with a view to providing funding for it.

Debate adjourned.


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