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26 Oct 2017
Parliamentary Questions - 25th October 2017

Below are questions asked in the Oireachtas, relating to Caranua and other areas relevant to survivors

Residential Institutions Redress Scheme

Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Education and Skills the qualifications of and training given to all Caranua staff, in particular to all application advisors in view of their particular role to offer support, information, advice and advocacy to those who have received awards from a court settlement or the redress board; and if he will make a statement on the matter. 

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Richard Bruton): Caranua, the Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Board, is an independent statutory body established pursuant to the Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Act 2012 to oversee the use of the cash contributions of up to €110 million, pledged by the religious congregations, to support the needs of survivors of institutional child abuse. The organisation is responsible for the day to day management of its own affairs including the recruitment of staff and the ongoing management of those staff, meeting their training and development needs, etc. 

I understand from enquiries made by my officials that the staff of Caranua bring a broad range of experiences and qualifications to their roles, and in particular the Application Advisors are expected to have a degree or equivalent professional qualification in a relevant field (e.g. social work, social care, psychology, counselling, psychotherapy, advice work, advocacy) and must have experience in carrying out assessments of needs and obtaining information from callers in a non intrusive and supportive way along with a sound knowledge and understanding of social disadvantage, social services and citizens rights, and the operation of health, housing and social services.

I understand also that the Board and Executive of Caranua are committed to providing an ongoing range of training and supports to the staff team so that they are able to understand and respond to the needs of survivors, manage their work and self-care, and uphold the organisation’s values. This is done through a programme of training, invited speakers, internal and external group support, individual supervision, performance appraisal and staff meetings. Training includes induction to Caranua and its systems and procedures, skills development and information and training on a range of areas including:

  - Understanding institutionalisation;

  - Effects of trauma and the needs of survivors;

  - Understanding the impact of traumatic experiences on people; 

  - Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training;

  - Overview of HSE systems, including pathway to services;

  - Use of the Remote Interpreting Service for Deaf Applicants; 

  - Origins Family Tracing Service; and

  - Introduction to citizensinformation.ie

Residential Institutions Redress Scheme

Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Education and Skills when the 2016 annual report of the appeals officer of Caranua will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Richard Bruton): The annual report of the outgoing independent appeals officer appointed to consider appeals against decisions of Caranua, the Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Board will shortly be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas in fulfilment of the requirement set out in section 21(5)(c) of the Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Act 2012. 

Residential Institutions Redress Scheme 

Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Education and Skills further to Parliamentary Question No. 424 of 20 June 2017, the number of outstanding appeals at Caranua; the length of time those appeals are outstanding; when it is expected that the backlog will be cleared; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Richard Bruton): Earlier this year I appointed two new appeals officers to consider appeals against decisions of Caranua. These appointments were made in accordance with the provisions of section 21 of the Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Act 2012. The appeals officers are entirely independent in the performance of their statutory functions. 

I am advised that there are currently 76 cases outstanding. There are 53 applicants waiting up to 6 months, 11 between 6 and 12 months and 12 over 12 months. Given the improved clearance rate, I would expect the backlog to be cleared by the end of this year.

Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Board 

Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Education and Skills the status of the review of Caranua; and if he will make a statement on the matter. 

Deputy Catherine Connolly: What is the status of the review of Caranua? Has it been completed and when is it to be published? When will it be discussed in the House? The Minister knows there is a background to the issue and that the Dáil debated having a full review, as was promised from the beginning. He is also aware of the upset among applicants to Caranua. While I will not dwell on it at this point, I certainly will return to it following the Minister's answer. 

Deputy Richard Bruton: The review under way is confined to the issue of eligibility to apply to the organisation for support. 

The terms of reference of the review of eligibility, a draft of which was published on my Department's website earlier this year, provided for an initial phase involving a review of Caranua's expenditure to date and an estimation of the projected expenditure, taking into account applications on hand and anticipated further applications together with an estimation of any possible underspend of the available funding. This initial phase of the review is now at an advanced stage and I hope to receive a report on it shortly. 

If the findings of this initial phase indicate that an underspend of the €110 million in funding available to Caranua is likely, a consultation process will then be initiated with stakeholders about an expansion of the eligibility criteria, including identification of the groups that could be considered for inclusion in any expansion. The consultation process would seek to identify possible arrangements for verifying eligibility, resource implications and related issues. If the findings indicate that an underspend was unlikely, the review will conclude at that point. It should be noted also that any proposal to widen eligibility would require legislation. 

It is worth noting that to date Caranua has received 6,000 applications and expended some €66 million in support of over 4,000 applicants. 

The Deputy will recall the debate in this House in May on a Private Members' motion in her name and that of others relating to Caranua's operations. The amended motion accepted by the House called on the Government to take a number of specific actions regarding Caranua. In response, Caranua has advised that it is reviewing its customer charter in consultation with stakeholders with a view to making data available on whether targets for responses to phone calls and correspondence are being met. Data on feedback and complaints received are also to be made available. Caranua is also working to increase the level of face-to-face engagement with applicants. It is doing this through scheduled face-to-face meetings in various venues in Dublin and in the regions. It should also be noted that the recent move by Caranua to new office accommodation will facilitate a greater level of face-to-face engagement with applicants than had previously been possible. Finally, I understand that Caranua is working to enhance the level of statistics it provides to my Department and to the public on waiting times for processing and communicating decisions. 

Deputy Catherine Connolly: That is the same reply I got over a month ago, at which stage the Minister told me in a written reply that the report was nearing completion. Over a month later he is telling me the same thing. I do not wish to argue with the Minister at all, but he must place this question and answer in the context of people who are extremely upset. My office is in constant receipt of urgent representation from applicants, as I am sure are other Deputies' offices. One applicant rang my office today to confirm that he is on hunger strike along with a number of other people, such is their dissatisfaction with the service. The reason I used my Private Members' time on this matter was to indicate to the Dáil the level of dissatisfaction with it, the lack of monitoring by the Department of Education and Skills over it, a list of contracts that had never been sanctioned - it looked like they were sanctioned retrospectively - and many other issues that we raised in the Dáil. We appealed to the Minister to carry out a full review. Not alone did he not do that, but the limited review he is carrying out still has not been completed. May I have a date? When will it be published, and when can we discuss it? 

Deputy Richard Bruton: When Caranua has completed its work, it will report to me. This is the latest that I have. The reply to the Deputy's question states that I hope to receive the report shortly. I presume that represents very considerable progress on the work but I am also pointing out that since our debate earlier, there have been significant efforts and work by Caranua with my Department to ensure that the procedures regarding customer service support are improved. The very issues that were raised here about delays, face-to-face time and the ways in which issues were being handled were issues of particular concern. The Department and Caranua have been taking steps to address these, and I hope people are seeing some improvement as a result. There is an appeal process. We will monitor the level of appeals and complaints that occur in an attempt to make sure that the changes being made are being reflected in better performance regarding those very sensitive areas. I hope there is improvement being reflected in the efforts being made in the experience of those dealing with Caranua. 

Acting Chairman (Deputy Declan Breathnach): I ask Deputy Connolly to be brief because I want to get----- 

Deputy Catherine Connolly: I appreciate that the Minister is referring to changes that have been brought in but I do not know whether he appreciates the seriousness of what I have just said about the representations to my office, and I am not alone in this regard. Someone has gone on hunger strike. I am only repeating what he has told my office and a number of other people, and for the second time we have passed that correspondence on to the Taoiseach's office today. 

Second, I understand that Caranua is functioning without a CEO. I have separately asked the Minister whether that is correct and I have also tabled a Dáil question on the matter. Perhaps the Minister could confirm, since he is referring to these changes, who is in charge pushing these changes. Is a CEO in place? I do not wish to stray into employment law or anything like that, but it is a matter of public concern whether a CEO is in place. If not, is someone else in place steering these changes, and may I have a precise date for the publication of the limited report? 

Acting Chairman (Deputy Declan Breathnach): I ask the Minister to be very brief. I want to accommodate Deputy Shortall----- 

Deputy Richard Bruton: To be fair to anyone who is employed under a contract and entitled if they are sick to be on sick leave, it is unfair to present the matter in the way in which the Deputy is presenting it. Of course during periods of leave the organisation is properly managed and has a proper board that is very attentive to its role. It is not holding up the work that is going on. I absolutely understand the sensitivity of the work that is involved. These are people who have suffered hugely at the hands of institutions and the State and we must deal with them very fairly. At the same time, I also realise the constraints on a board such as Caranua's, which must comply with what has been decided by the Legislature and the framework within which it must administer its decisions. This has been a source of friction, but I hope these new changes will help to ease those tensions. 

Residential Institutions Statutory Fund 

Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Education and Skills his views on the introduction by Caranua of new guidelines pertaining to obtaining support for funeral expenses, in particular, the requirement that service users divulge their personal circumstances to prospective funeral directors and in order to avail of support for funeral services the service users sign up to the new €15,000 limit; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Richard Bruton): Caranua, the Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Board, is an independent statutory body established pursuant to the Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Act 2012 to oversee the use of the cash contributions of up to €110 million, pledged by the religious congregations, to support the needs of survivors of institutional child abuse. Section 8 of that Act provides that the Board of Caranua may determine whether a particular service is an approved service while section 9 provides that Caranua may determine the criteria by reference to which it may make decisions in respect of applications to it. I have no role in either of those processes.

I understand that in 2016, and arising from feedback from former residents, Caranua decided to include the provision of a contribution towards funeral costs as an approved service. Since then Caranua has been working to put in place an appropriate scheme that will enable this important service to be provided. I understand that the scheme will provide a contribution towards the pre-payment of funeral costs. 

I am advised that in order to ensure the effective management of the scheme, Caranua is putting in place formal funding agreements with those former residents who wish to avail of this new support. This requires those applicants to agree to the terms and conditions of the agreement. I am further advised that there has been a significant level of interest shown by former residents in the new scheme. 

I welcome this important initiative which will address a need that has been identified by former residents.

Residential Institutions Redress Scheme 

Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Education and Skills when the review of the criteria into Caranua will be completed; and when the results of that review will be made available to the Houses of the Oireachtas.  

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Richard Bruton): The review that is currently under way is confined to the issue of eligibility to apply to Caranua for support. No other issues are being considered. 

The Terms of Reference of the review of eligibility, a draft of which was published on my Department’s website earlier this year, provided for an initial phase involving a review of Caranua’s expenditure to date and an estimation of the projected expenditure taking into account applications on hand and anticipated further applications together with an estimation of any possible underspend of the available funding. This initial phase of the review is now at an advanced stage and I hope to receive a report thereon shortly. 

If the findings of this initial phase indicate that an underspend of the €110 million in funding available to Caranua is likely, a consultation process would then be initiated with stakeholders about an expansion of the eligibility criteria, including identification of the groups that could be considered for inclusion in any expansion, and would seek to identify possible arrangements for verifying eligibility, resource implications and related issues. If the findings indicate that an underspend was unlikely, the review will conclude at that point. It should be noted also that any proposal to widen eligibility would require legislation. 

It would be my intention to make public the results of the review.