News & Events

Parliamentary Questions – 18th April 2018

National Counselling Service

Deputy Denise Mitchell asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs when a person has been deemed to have met the criteria for counselling with regard to counselling being provided to survivors of mother and baby institutions; the average waiting time for the first appointment; and if she will make a statement on the matter.

Deputy Denise Mitchell asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the criteria for being eligible to receive counselling services with regard to counselling being provided to survivors of mother and baby institutions; and if she will make a statement on the matter.

Deputy Denise Mitchell asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the provisions made for those that have previous to the granting of cover under the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes, been attending attend their own counsellor with regard to counselling being provided to survivors of mother and baby institutions; and if there is provision for that person to continue on the counsellor client relationship that is already in existence.

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Katherine Zappone): I propose to take Questions Nos. 223 to 225, inclusive, together.

Persons affected by experiences connected to mother and baby homes may wish to contact the HSE National Counselling Service (NCS) which provides free professional, confidential counselling and psychotherapy services in all regions of the country.

Persons seeking access to this support and other health services can contact the HSELive team, on Low Call Telephone 1850 241850 from 8am – 8pm Monday to Friday 10am-5pm on Saturdays, for further information.

As the Deputy will be aware, responsibility for health services is a matter for my colleague the Minister for Health and the Health Service Executive. I do not have information in relation to the eligibility criteria or arrangements for access to individual health services.

With regard to the statutory Commission of Investigation (Mother and Baby Homes and certain related Matters), it is important to recognise that the Commission is independent in the conduct of its investigations. Any arrangements with witnesses are a matter for the Commission and I have no role in this regard.

Separately, health and well-being supports is one of the specific areas to be examined through the Collaborative Forum process which I am establishing. I have appointed a selection panel and it has commenced the process to select representative members for the Forum. Participants in the Forum will identify and prioritise actions on issues of concern to them and their families.

I will engage with colleagues across Government in relation to the recommendations which emerge from the Collaborative Forum in the course of its work.

Taoiseach’s Meetings and Engagements (Papal Visit)

Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach if he has held recent meetings with church leaders and faith communities.

The Taoiseach: On 31 August last, I held a formal meeting under the structured dialogue process with representatives of the Catholic Church, led by Archbishop Eamon Martin. I was accompanied at the meeting by the then Tánaiste and Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation and by the Ministers for Education and Skills; Health; Transport, Tourism and Sport; and Employment Affairs and Social Protection. A wide-ranging discussion took place on a range of important national and international issues, including the World Meeting of Families which will take place in Dublin in August 2018, the possibility of a visit to Ireland by the Pope, which has since been confirmed, education issues such as enrolment policies, the eighth amendment to the Constitution, Northern Ireland, overseas development aid, and social and justice issues. I also received a courtesy call from Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, as is traditional around Christmas time and the New Year.

I met representatives of the Church of Ireland and the Presbyterian and Methodist churches on 22 January 2018. I was accompanied by the Ministers for Justice and Equality; Business, Enterprise and Innovation; Education and Skills; Health; and Transport, Tourism and Sport; and the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. This was the second in a series of meetings that I will be holding with dialogue partners. We discussed important social and economic issues facing society, including Brexit, education issues and the eighth amendment to the Constitution, as well as international issues.

Churches and faith communities play an important role in Irish life and I think it is very beneficial that Government should engage with them in a structured way. Some of the issues we discussed at these meetings were challenging. They are issues on which people have deeply held views and which are matters of conscience. Our discussions were valuable, not just because they dealt with important issues but particularly because they were conducted in an atmosphere of respect for the views of others, where everyone sought to be constructive.

I also had the opportunity to attend a Passover seder on Good Friday in the home of Maurice Cohen, the head of the Jewish Representative Council of Ireland, and discussed similar matters with him and his people.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: I thank the Taoiseach for the update and commend him on participating in the Passover seder. It was a good initiative. Is a formal process in place for the Department of the Taoiseach to engage with church leaders and faith communities? How is it constructed and organised? Is it done by Civil Service staff or political staff? Will the Taoiseach give us any more detail on the programme for the visit of His Holiness, the Pope? Do we know for how long the visit will take place? Do we have the exact locations which the Pope will visit? Has any view been expressed by Government to the Holy See on the desirability of a visit to Border regions or to Northern Ireland?

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: I raised the question of a visit by the Pontiff to the North of Ireland with the Taoiseach on a previous occasion. I raise it again, mindful of the fact that it is for the Pope and the Vatican to set the parameters of his activity. I do not wish to be intrusive but wish to reflect a very wide appetite North of the Border for the Pontiff to visit.

Encounters between faith communities and Government are very valuable. They have to be held in a spirit that is respectful and which recognises the delineation between churches, faith and theology on one hand and the State, with its obligations to support and respect all citizens, on the other. Was the forthcoming referendum on the issue of the eighth amendment among the sensitive issues discussed by the Taoiseach with faith leaders? In the context of the World Meeting of Families, did family diversity, in Irish society and internationally, arise?

Deputy Micheál Martin: The warm welcome which other faiths have given to the Pope’s forthcoming visit is a great testament to the strength of interfaith relations at the moment and it is particularly welcome that this has extended beyond Christian churches. Given the anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, it is worth remembering the statements of the late Pope John Paul II when he attacked sectarianism during his visit in 1979. In Drogheda, he said to the illegitimate armies who were then waging war, “On my knees I beg you to turn away from the path of violence and return to the ways of peace.” That was a very important moment in building trust between religions in the fight for peace and it was a key dynamic in the victory of democracy and the ultimate end of violence, although it took a long while for a number of men of violence to heed his words. In this spirit, I hope our Government will seek to ensure that there is space in the Pope’s itinerary to reaffirm the anti-sectarian sentiments with which he is so strongly associated and to encourage the work of different faith leaders here on this very point.

The Taoiseach: The structured dialogue with churches and faith communities is arranged and organised by civil servants.  It is something that my forebearer as Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, did also. I decided to continue to do it.

Deputy Micheál Martin: I believe former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern initiated the process.

The Taoiseach: That may well be the case.

Deputy Micheál Martin: He did certain things.

The Taoiseach: The former Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, attached a lot of value to it. I attended some of the meetings as a Minister and I decided I would continue with the practice when I became Taoiseach. I have no doubt that previous taoisigh, including Mr. Bertie Ahern, saw value in it also. We generally meet in round-table format, with many Ministers around the table and many representatives from the church. The latter are mostly clergymen but also include laity. On some issues, we agree to disagree, such as on the eighth amendment. Obviously, the Catholic Church gave us a very clear position on that. We agreed to disagree on it. The Protestant churches had diverse opinions. Some of them were open to removing the eighth amendment from our Constitution but were not well disposed towards the Government’s legislative proposals, for example. Each church will make its own statement on that in due course, if it has not done so already. We have agreed to follow up on a few issues on a bilateral basis. We agreed to follow up on some of the education issues with the faith communities and the Department of Education and Skills. I envisage meeting each of the major faith groups once per year in round-table format, with bilateral discussions happening in the interim at ministerial level.

With regard to the papal visit, the primary focus will be to attend the World Meeting of Families. The Pope will attend the Festival of Families event in Croke Park and will be the chief celebrant at a mass in the Phoenix Park, which will include the World Meeting of Families. The programme will also include those elements that are normal for the visit of a Head of State — for example, a brief engagement with the Taoiseach and the President. In addition, there will be a number of Church-related projects.

As I mentioned, the full programme details outlining where the Pope will visit have not yet been confirmed. The State’s involvement, as appropriate regarding an official visit by a Head of State, will be similar to its involvement in previous high-profile visits to Ireland, such as that of Queen Elizabeth of England. In particular, it will support those events where the public will be in attendance in large number, taking on board all the health and safety requirements in addition to the security measures to which such a visit gives rise. The costs associated with the visit will be similar to those of previous official visits by a Head of State. The visit must be seen in terms of its historic nature – the first in 40 years by a pontiff – and in terms of the opportunities it presents as regards announcing Ireland’s visibility and international reputation.

With regard to the programme for the papal visit, I am very much aware that this is primarily a pastoral visit. I do not believe it is the role of the Government to tell Pope Francis what he should or should not do, whom he should or should not meet, or what he should or should not visit. We have said, however, that we would like to facilitate, if possible, a visit to Northern Ireland. We suggest it would be appropriate to meet some of the victims and survivors of clerical abuse or abuse by State and Church authorities. In addition, we have expressed our view as a Government that families should be respected and seen in their diversity. There are families of all different shapes and forms, whether they include children being brought up by grandparents, same-sex couples with children, or lone-parent families. We have expressed our view as a State that this is how we see the family. That view has been put across to the Church authorities. Having said that, however, we fully respect the separation between church and state. Religious freedom applies to this also.

Questions on Promised Legislation (Opportunity Lost: An investigation by the Ombudsman into the administration of the Magdalen Restorative Justice Scheme)

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald:  Will the Taoiseach clarify when business will be reordered to allow for statements and questions to the Minister? I understand from media reports that he has finally agreed to implement the Ombudsman’s recommendations following a scathing report late last year on the Department’s administration of the Magdalen laundry redress scheme. The report came on foot of complaints made by 27 women who had been excluded by the Department from the scheme. Even after the investigation was complete, the first instinct of the Department of Justice and Equality was to push back. In evidence to the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality in January the Ombudsman stated that in his ten years as Ombudsman, he had never reached a point where a Department had, prior to publication of a report, absolutely and categorically refused to engage in the process of accepting and implementing the recommendations made. That reflection very much echoes the experiences of the excluded women.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy’s time is up.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: A small number of women are awaiting redress. They lack capacity and are particularly reliant on the Department and the Courts Service to support their applications. The Taoiseach’s decision to implement the report’s recommendations is welcome. The Minister for Justice and Equality—–

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy cannot make a long statement on these matters. A brief question is provided for.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Pardon?

An Ceann Comhairle: A brief question is provided for, not lengthy statements.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: I am not making any lengthy statement.

An Ceann Comhairle: That is the order of the House. If the Deputy disregards the order of the House, she is being disorderly. Can we, please, conclude?

Deputy Pearse Doherty: I think Deputy Micheál Martin spoke twice.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: He was doing a comedy routine with his counterpart. May I pose my question?

An Ceann Comhairle: I ask the Deputy to, please, pose her question.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Thank you so much. I ask the Taoiseach for a timeframe within which the recommendations will be delivered on. I thank the Ceann Comhairle. I will now resume my seat. I thank him for him courtesy.

The Taoiseach: To reply to the first question, the clerk to the committee is ringing around to make arrangements for this afternoon.

On the Magdalen redress scheme, the Minister for Justice and Equality, the Ombudsman and I met two weeks ago to resolve the matter. The Government fully accepts the four recommendations made by the Ombudsman. We will implement them without further delay. To date, some 700 women have received payments under the scheme, with enhanced health benefits and pensions. Much good has been achieved through the restorative justice scheme. We want to make sure the four issues raised by the Ombudsman will be dealt with. The first is where there is a dispute about how long a woman spent in an institution. We have appointed an independent senior counsel, Mary O’Toole, who has been asked to review all cases and make recommendations. That will be done without unnecessary delay. Her work will start immediately. She will advise us on women who lack capacity due to dementia or other reasons, including being wards of court and unable to accept an award because of a lack of capacity. We will also ensure women who were officially recorded as having been admitted to a training centre or an industrial school located in the same building attached to or located on the grounds of a laundry are included in the scheme. We envisage having that work completed in the next three months. We accept the Ombudsman’s recommendation in that regard. There is a difference of opinion between the Ombudsman and the Department of Justice and Equality as to whether this would involve altering or changing the scheme, but I do not think that really matters. What is important is that the women affected receive redress and they will.

Seanad debates – Order of Business (Opportunity Lost: An investigation by the Ombudsman into the administration of the Magdalen Restorative Justice Scheme)

Senator Máire Devine: I congratulate the Ombudsman, Mr. Peter Tyndall, on his tenacity and determination in getting the Government to accept his recommendations on redress for the Magdalen survivors. The previous attitude was one of reluctance. Ultimately, it was aimed at limiting the numbers of those who might qualify for redress. It was also mean-spirited in nature. Yesterday, however, the Government and the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, indicated and acknowledged that to exclude specific cases was a mistake. I welcome this more constructive approach; it is long overdue. There is a need for compassion towards women whose only crime was being poor and vulnerable and who were considered and treated as being worthless by society. I ask that the Minister come to the House to outline how the Magdalen survivors might be afforded redress. There is a particular need to establish timelines. Many of those affected have already died, while others are in their later years and do not have much time left. I also ask that the Minister inquire of the HSE as to how many how many patients are still languishing in long-term care facilities, such as psychiatric hospitals or in nursing homes, particularly as these people do not have a voice and are unaware of the redress scheme. I have been asking about this matter since 2012 when I was a local councillor. The people to whom I refer need to be included, supported and guided. They probably need guardians to be appointed to take care of these matters on their behalf.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: I join with Senator Devine in commending the Minister for Justice and Equality on broadening the Magdalen laundries redress scheme. The sign of a good Minister is that he listens. It is a question of including women who were doing the same work as others and being treated in the same way. I welcome that decision.

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