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07 Dec 2017
Parliamentary Questions - 6th December 2017

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

Schools Property

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Education and Skills his views on whether it is acceptable that seven members of the board of a school (details supplied) had to go to court in order to protect the school's playing pitches and the public investment in the school; the actions he will take in regard to same; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: I have raised with the Minister on several occasions, including by way of meeting, the fate of the playing pitches at Clonkeen College. As the Minister is aware, the Christian Brothers are planning to sell 7.5 acres of land used as playing pitches by Clonkeen College. Seven members of the board of management have been forced to take High Court proceedings to prevent this sale, which will rob the current 500 students and future generations of students of playing fields, from proceeding. Will the Minister help to secure the future of these pitches or will he take a hands-off attitude and force the board of management members to take very expensive legal proceedings, with uncertain outcomes, to save them? 

Deputy Richard Bruton: I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. The Minister of State, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, organised the deputation of which Deputy Boyd Barrett was a member. The Deputy and I have had frequent conversations about the issue since.

The difficulty is that the fields in question are owned by the Congregation of Christian Brothers. The decision by the Congregation of Christian Brothers, which is a private entity, to dispose of land owned by the congregation is a matter for it. 

My Department understands that the board of management or members of the board of management are taking legal proceedings against the Congregation of Christian Brothers relating to the sale of the fields. My Department has no role in such proceedings. 

I wish to clarify for the Deputy that the Congregation of the Christian Brothers wrote to my Department in early May in regard to the disposal of part of the lands at Clonkeen College and it stated that this disposal was the subject of contractual arrangements between the congregation and a builder. The Brothers indicated that 7.5 acres of land currently licensed to Clonkeen College, together with the Edmund Rice School Trust, ERST, head offices, which borders Clonkeen College, are involved in the sale. 

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: I have tabled several parliamentary questions to the Minister on this issue. In the most recent parliamentary question I asked the Minister for the details of the so-called binding agreement referenced by the Christian Brothers and recycled by him in various responses. The Minister's response was that the Department has not seen the contacts for sale. In regard to the case being taken to the courts, the details of which I cannot comment on, the Christian Brothers have indicated that this will delay the sale which suggests there is no binding contract and the sale is not complete. There is time to intervene. The members of the board of management and the wider Clonkeen College community cannot afford to raise the type of money necessary to take a case to the High Court to secure these pitches. What they and I want to know is how the Minister can say a school in which there has been massive public investment is not his business but is a private matter for the Christian Brothers. It is bizarre that facilities in which there has been major public investment are going to be substantially degraded to the detriment of 570 students. 

Deputy Richard Bruton: The congregation has informed the Department that the lands concerned have been sold, that it has signed and exchanged legally binding contracts with the purchasers and that it cannot reverse this transaction. If a legal challenge is made to those contracts, which like the Deputy I am not in a position to comment on, it will be for the courts to determine the matter. Where my Department invests in property, there is a lean on those properties to ensure they are used for the educational purpose. This is true of anything the State has invested in these properties and they are protected. In this instance, we are speaking about land adjacent to Clonkeen College which has been in the use of students. The Christian Brothers as the legal owners of that land have the right to dispose of it. That is the legal position that I cannot alter. 

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: The Minister could alter it, for example, by subjecting it to compulsory purchase order. When I previously suggested this to the Minister his response was that the Department cannot do that but it can and does do so by asking local authorities to compulsorily purchase land for school building. I would suggest that the Minister do that in this instance and thus save the board of management and the wider Clonkeen College community the hardship of having to raise vast amounts of money to take a case to the High Court to save these pitches. The Department has invested in these pitches. They were upgraded and fenced with departmental funding. The sale of this land will impact on the capacity of the school to deliver recreational and sports facilities which matter. This provision is not an optional extra in education: it is critical in the context of the proper development of young people and in terms of tackling obesity by encouraging healthy exercise and so on. For these pitches to be sold and the Minister to stand idly by is unconscionable in terms of his responsibilities as Minister for Education and Skills for the education of these young people. 

Deputy Richard Bruton: The patron, which in this case is ERST, has, of course, the responsibility to provide for the students in the school. It is making provision and I understand the Christian Brothers have made arrangements for the transfer of some of the land. However, they own other land which they have made a decision to dispose of. I am not in a position to purchase it from them or to block the sale. This is a decision they have made and we have no role in the proceedings being taken by an entity to challenge the sale. I regret that this is the situation and that I cannot give the Deputy more reassurance.

Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Board

Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Education and Skills  further to Parliamentary Question No. 132 of 25 October 2017, the number of outstanding appeals at Caranua; the length of time those appeals are outstanding; if the delay involves cases being held up by an appeals officer awaiting a decision of the High Court, cases determined and either upheld by the appeals office or referred back to Caranua for further consideration, new cases in response to which Caranua has advised the appeals office that they will not take part in the appeals process until the High Court Case or another reason; the correspondence procedure in place to notify applicants of the delays; when it is expected the backlog will be cleared; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  

Deputy Catherine Connolly: I am afraid I have no choice but to follow up on the Caranua situation. My specific question is on the number of outstanding appeals at Caranua, the length of time they have been outstanding and clarification on the nature of the delay in relation to the High Court action. Is the delay because Caranua is not dealing with appeals while a High Court action on a specific issue? Is it because the appeals officer has refused to deal with them or is it because the decisions have been made and Caranua is using a blanket decision not to deal with this? Can the Minister clarify what correspondence exists to tell the clients of Caranua what is happening, in particular in relation to the appeals process?

Deputy Richard Bruton: The Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Act 2012 provides for the appointment of suitably qualified persons who will consider appeals made by persons against decisions of Caranua. As I explained to the Deputy in response to her question of 25 October, I appointed two new appeals officers earlier this year, there having been one appeals officer prior to then. The 2012 Act provides that appeals officers shall be independent in the performance of their functions. While my Department provides administrative support to the appeals officers, I have no role in relation to individual appeals or the management of appeals generally. It is a matter for the appeals officers to plan their work as they see fit having regard to all relevant considerations. 

I am advised that there are currently 57 cases outstanding with the appeals officers, which is half as many as there were when I appointed them. There are seven cases which have been active for less than one month, 22 cases which have been active for between one and three months, 17 cases which have been active for between three and six months, one case which has been active for between nine and 12 months and four cases which have been active for over 12 months. I am aware that the initiation of legal action by Caranua has meant a number of cases have been held by the appeals officers pending resolution of the matter. I understand that some 12 cases are involved. I understand also that a number of new appeals cases that raise similar issues are awaiting responses from Caranua. The 2012 Act provides that a person affected by a decision of an appeals officer, including Caranua itself, may appeal that decision to the High Court on a point of law. I am aware that one such case has been initiated by Caranua and is currently before the High Court. In the circumstances, it would not be appropriate for me to comment further. 

Deputy Catherine Connolly: I thank the Minister for the clarification and for confirming that the number of outstanding cases has reduced. In fact, there were 148 cases outstanding in June. By October, it was 76 and it is now 57. However, I ask the Minister to clarify what is happening in the High Court. I am not asking for details but about the status of the proceedings and, more particularly, how they are affecting the outstanding appeals. Significantly, there has been no report from the appeals officer. In response to a question, the Minister said it would be published shortly. We have no report to look at in relation to the 2016 appeals. Can the Minister clarify why that has not been published? I have the 2015 report before me. All the appeals were dealt with in that year and no case went to the High Court. Specifically, the appeals officer pointed out that there was a serious deficit in the notification of decisions. I asked in my question today what notification has been provided to the clients of Caranua on their cases and the High Court action. How has what is happening been spelt out for them? 

Deputy Richard Bruton: As I said in the reply, I understand both an individual and Caranua have the right to appeal a decision of an appeals officer. An appeals officer made a decision challenging the approach Caranua had taken and I understand an appeal was lodged this year. Obviously, the outcome of the decision of the High Court is awaited. I am told the 2016 annual report was laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas on 10 November in fulfilment of the requirement laid down in the Act. 

Deputy Catherine Connolly: There are two distinct matters. There is the annual report from Caranua and there is the annual report from the appeals officer. Is the Minister saying the appeals officer's report has been laid before the Oireachtas and is now available for us? I have not seen it. 

I would like some clarity on the High Court action. At this point, I do not know if Caranua is bringing the case or if it is the independent appeals officer. It is a sorry state of affairs which reflects on Caranua and the Department. While I welcome the appointment of two appeals officers and the fact the number of outstanding appeals has reduced, we have appeals which have been waiting an extraordinary length of time. Where there is a huge defect is that decisions are not being notified in writing. In his 2015 report, the appeals officer said he could not deal with an appeal if there was no written decision. We highlighted this at the Committee of Public Accounts and it was highlighted at the education committee also. How many times must it be highlighted to ensure that the most basic and fundamental requirement of due process, namely, a written letter on a decision, is observed? 

Deputy Richard Bruton: I understand the report of the outgoing appeals officer, Mr. Patrick Whelan, was lodged, as I said, on 10 November. Since then, I have appointed two appeals officers and, as the Deputy has acknowledged, it has helped to clear the backlog. The appeal to the High Court is, as I understand it, an appeal by Caranua on a point of law, which it is entitled to bring. Caranua is entirely independent and I am not party to the reasons it made that decision. It has meant 12 cases are held up while other cases challenging the same point are potentially held up also. 

Deputy Catherine Connolly: What about written decisions? 

Deputy Richard Bruton: I do not have a supplementary on the issue of written decisions, but I will get back to the Deputy on that.

 Schools Facilities 

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Education and Skills the efforts he has made to ensure that the playing pitches at a school (details supplied) will be available for the children of that school into the future; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: To continue on the question of Clonkeen College, I find the Minister's hands-off approach on this matter somewhat difficult to understand. I remind him that the Christian Brothers is selling Clonkeen's lands in order to pay redress for child abuse. I ask the Minister if he thinks that it is acceptable that the Christian Brothers discharges its debt for historic child abuse by taking pitches from current and future generations of children, compounding the crimes against young people. If the Minister believes it is wrong, is he seriously suggesting that there is nothing he can do? 

Deputy Richard Bruton: The position is, as I said in the previous reply, that a decision has been taken by the Congregation of Christian Brothers to dispose of land. That is a matter for the Christian Brothers. It has entered into an agreement to sell that land and that is a legally binding contract. I am not in a position to alter that. Separately the Christian Brothers has indicated that the proceeds of that sale will supplement the €21.2 million it has already paid to Caranua to date by the tune of some €8.8 million. Caranua, as Deputy Connolly said, is providing for a very vulnerable group of people. This means that we will have the full €110 million that was committed.

However, that is an entirely separate process from the decision of the Christian Brothers to do what they have done in this case. As Deputy Boyd Barrett knows, they have made an arrangement with the Edmund Rice Schools Trust, ERST, which will continue to run the school, and they have made a decision to dispose of lands to which the school previously had access. That is the position, there is a legal challenge to that position and I, like the Deputy, will await the outcome of that legal challenge.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: The first point is that it is not about waiting, but doing. The Christian Brothers claim the contract is legally binding; the school disputes that. Second, whether it is legally binding or not, there are things the Minister could do. Has he told the Christian Brothers that what they are doing is wrong? Of course they should pay their debts, but this sale will raise €18 million, while their debt is only €8 million. How is that fair? They will make money out of the sale. Has the Minister told them it is wrong to steal the pitches of a school and the 500 pupils in that school? Furthermore, the Minister has not answered the question. Why can he not put a compulsory purchase order on the land or tell the Christian Brothers to bestow the land in lieu of the money and tell the Christian Brothers the sale is not acceptable? One could only get this in Ireland: the Minister for Education and Skills says the fate of a school and its pitches is nothing to do with him and that it is up to the Christian Brothers. That is bizarre. That this could be the case just shows what a dysfunctional education system we have. For the Minister to just stand by and say there is nothing he can do about the matter, that the Christian Brothers own the land and are going to sell it, is really shocking.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Eugene Murphy): The Deputy will have another minute.

Deputy Richard Bruton:  We have developed our schools, as the Deputy knows, according to a patronage model whereby patrons provide the land and the Department builds the school, often with some support from the patron, often without. The Department has a lien on the property in which we invest and the patron has an obligation to ensure that the school continues to operate and to meet needs. However, the owner of the land, in this case the Christian Brothers, has a right under the Constitution to dispose of the land. The Christian Brothers have done so and have entered a binding contract-----

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: So they say.

Deputy Richard Bruton: -----and that has been conveyed to us. The question the Deputy raises, whether this issue can be challenged in the courts, will be adjudicated on in the courts. In meeting their responsibilities to Caranua, the position is that the Christian Brothers have an obligation and they are meeting that obligation. That is a separate responsibility. We expect more from the Christian Brothers, as from other religious institutions. The State has said repeatedly that we believe a fair share of the €1.5 billion paid to date would be 50:50. We are a long way short of that and the State continues to pursue that but we do not have a legal lever over the Christian Brothers or any other congregation. As the Deputy knows, when the Ryan report was published, the Christian Brothers entered a voluntary agreement to pay sums, not all of which has yet been fulfilled. Unfortunately, in 2002 an agreement was made that indemnified the religious orders and limited the amount they were to pay. That is the legal position and we are working within its parameters. However, like I think most Members of the House, I believe the religious congregations should be paying more in this situation to meet the legacy issues that are so real for so many people.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: God almighty, if ever there were an argument for separation of church and State, we really have it here. That the Christian Brothers can do this to school students to pay a debt for the crimes they committed against previous generations of school students and the Minister says there is nothing he can do is pathetic. The Minister has not answered the question why he could not put a compulsory purchase order on the land. He should request the local authority to do so in order to secure the land. As I said to the Minister, of course the Christian Brothers should pay their debts for historic child abuse, and the school understands that, but they do not need to sell €18 million worth of land in order to pay an €8 million debt they owe in their "voluntary pledge" over historic child abuse. They have vast amounts of land and assets all over the country, so why is it acceptable for them to flog off this land for €18 million to a private developer and rob this school of all its pitches and why do we just stand by while they do so and say there is nothing we can do? They do not need to sell that much land to pay their debt to the redress scheme.  

Deputy Richard Bruton: The position is that the Christian Brothers have the same constitutional rights and are protected in the same way as any other group. They have a right to dispose of their land in the way in which they have done so and there is not an opportunity to alter that. The route of compulsory purchase order, CPO, as the Deputy knows, can only be taken in certain circumstances and still involves 100% compensation of those involved for any loss they would incur, so that is not a case of "with one leap our hero is free". The reality is that the Christian Brothers have made a decision to dispose of this land for the enormous sum the Deputy mentioned and it is their legal right to do so. They have a binding legal contract and that is being challenged in the courts and we await the outcome of that challenge.

Residential Institutions Redress Scheme Eligibility

Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Education and Skills if a person (details supplied) is entitled to compensation after years of abuse in an industrial school.  

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Richard Bruton): The legacy of abuse against children and young people, whether in residential institutions, in day schools, or in any other setting, is appalling. It is impossible to even imagine what some people endured.  In recognition that survivors may need the help of counsellors, there is a National Counselling Service, run by the Health Service Executive which provides counselling services to those who have been abused in childhood, with priority given to those abused in residential institutional care.   Perhaps, this service may be of assistance.

While there was a redress scheme in place for people who had suffered abuse in a number of scheduled institutions, it is no longer open to new applicants.   The Residential Institutions Redress Amendment Act, 2011 removed the Board's power to accept late applications.

The legislation removing the Board's power to consider late applications also required the Board to advertise this fact.  Given Ireland's pattern of immigration to the UK, the Board advertised in the Daily Mail and the Sun in the UK.  The Board also wrote to all solicitors on record and placed a notice on its website as well as advising the survivor groups and outreach centres in the UK. It also arranged for the Irish embassies to be advised of the closing date. 

Since 17th September 2011, the Redress Board has been closed for applications. 

Residential Institutions Data

Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Education and Skills the number of persons who have applied to Caranua for support; the number of applications that have been granted each year since its establishment to date in 2017; the number and value of awards given in each year, in tabular form; and if he will make a statement on the matter. 

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Richard Bruton): Caranua is an independent statutory body established under the Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Act 2012. The legislation provides that €110 million in contributions from religious congregations will be made available to Caranua to help meet the needs of persons who, as children, were abused in residential institutions. To date some €101million, comprising contributions and associated interest, has been received from congregations and deposited in the special investment account opened by the National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA) in accordance with section 29 of the 2012 Act. 

Caranua’s annual reports which may be accessed on its website (www.caranua.ie)   provide extensive details regarding the organisation’s activities including information regarding the number of applications received and the number of persons in receipt of supports and various related matters. Caranua also provides regular updates on its website in regard to these matters. The most recent published update, which provides figures to 30 September 2017, indicates that in the period from its establishment in March 2013 to that date Caranua had received 6,024 applications and had expended some €66.2 million in support of 4,886 applicants.

Questions Nos. 117 to 119, inclusive, answered with Question No. 104. 

Residential Institutions Redress Scheme 

Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Education and Skills further to Parliamentary Question No. 131 of 25 October 2017, if his attention has been drawn to the 2016 report of the appeals officer of Caranua; if so, the differences in the numbers of appeals granted by the former appeals officer compared with the new appeals officers; if such a difference exists, the reason therefore; his plans to review the decisions of the former appeals officer to ensure that those decisions were fair and reasonable in all circumstances; the date on which the report will be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Richard Bruton): The 2016 annual report of the outgoing independent appeals officer appointed to consider appeals against decisions of Caranua, the Residential Institutions Statutory Fund, covering the period from February 2016 to April 2017, was submitted to me and subsequently laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas on 10 November in fulfilment of the requirement laid down in section 21 of the Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Act 2012. The new appeals officers appointed by me in May 2017 will, in due course, provide me with an annual report covering their first year’s work.  

The appeals officers are entirely independent in the performance of their functions under the 2012 Act. Persons who are dissatisfied with decisions of an appeals officer may appeal that decision to the High Court on a point of law. There is no power available to me which would enable me to reopen closed appeals cases and I have no plans to do so. 

Residential Institutions 

Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Education and Skills his plans to facilitate requests for consultation talks with survivors of residential industrial schools in order to develop a survivor lead strategy to provide support for those survivors who are looking for more help; and if he will make a statement on the matter.   

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Richard Bruton): At a recent meeting with survivors, I expressed a willingness to have a series of consultation meetings around the country, led by and for survivors of institutional abuse.  The purpose of these meetings will be to enable survivors to reflect on their experiences, the State’s response to the issue of institutional abuse and to make any recommendations they wish to make.  The detail of how this can happen is being worked out and Department officials are in contact with survivors.