These are the Board Meeting minutes from 9 May 2013
Board Room, Department of Education and Skills (DES) Marlborough Street, Dublin 1
Ms Sylda Langford, Chairperson
Mr Damian Casey
Mr Austin Currie
Mr Tom Daly
Mr Paddy Doyle
Ms Bernadette Fahy
Ms Katherine Finn BL
Ms Phyllis Morgan
Mr Martin Power
Ms Eithne Doherty, Secretary/Manager Education Finance Board
Ms Mary Higgins, CEO (Designate)
2. Minutes of meeting held on 27th March 2013
It was agreed that the minutes be amended so that the names of individual Board members appear instead of “the Board member”. Adoption of the minutes on this basis was proposed by Tom Daly and seconded by Paddy Doyle.
It was agreed that in the interests of transparency that minutes of Board meetings, once approved by the Board, will be placed on the RISF website.
The Chair requested that all decision made at Board meetings should be captured in a document and progress in their implementation tracked at each meeting. The CEO agreed to have such a report available for the next meeting.
3. Matters arising – Redress Board Data
A follow up meeting with the Residential Institutions Redress Board scheduled for 8th May was cancelled and it was not possible to update the Board on the precise assistance could be provided in making contact with people who had received awards through the Redress Board.
There was a discussion on the challenges of contacting former residents and it was agreed that:
- Confidentiality and privacy are paramount
- No funds should be spent on advertising in the media
- Local radio and local newspapers should be used as much as possible
- All other channels of communications should be explored
- The potential of going through lawyers who represented former residents should be explored but under no circumstances should legal or other fees be incurred
- The question of the right to information on former residents from the EFB should be explored
- It will be necessary to have further discussions on this issue
- We should undertake some “market research” on the needs and preferences of former residents to inform the scope and criteria of the Fund.
4. Board Members views, ideas and questions
The CEO made a presentation on her one to one meetings with Board members. Key findings were:
- Agreement the Fund must be based on identified need and make lasting and measurable improvements to the lives of survivors, particularly the most vulnerable
- Communication, messaging and branding seen as key imperatives including high levels of transparency, excellent record keeping
- Challenges identified were defining approved services, preventing abuse by private and public providers, proving that there is “no agenda other than getting the work done” and “saying no”
- A strong desire for the board to work as a team, use the different perspectives and experiences well, to be fully aware of the effects of abuse, to have a unified voice and to invest time in the beginning to clarify mission and role so it can be confident in its decisions.
5. The Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Act in practice
Mary McGarry, Principal Officer, Department of Education & Skills (DES Residential institutions Redress Unit joined the meeting to present an overview of the legislation and how the Department saw it working in practice and to address questions raised by Board members in their conversations with Mary Higgins.
The following issues were discussed and clarified:
- Parliamentary Questions and answers will be sent from the Department to RISF
- Responsibility for securing the payment of commitments from religious congregations rests with the Minister and RISF has no role in this regard
- There will be a close working relationship between the Department and RISF
- It is expected that in time RISF will provide quarterly financial and activity reports to DES
- The DES will keep RISF informed of relevant issues in relation to the management and operation of public bodies and will provide direction on Government policy which the Minister may require RISF to comply with
- A review of the legislation will be carried out in April 2015 and it will be important that there is data from RISF to inform it
- It is the role of the RISF Board to decide on the Fund activities
- RISF can liaise with statutory bodies to ensure that former residents get their statutory entitlements and the onus is on the state side to provide information and to assist RISF. Where this relationship is not working, RISF should inform the Minister
- It is acceptable for RISF to provide advice and advocacy to former residents to get access to services for them but not for it to do general advocacy
- RISF may enter into contracts with persons with the approval of the Minister
- The Board must determine how it will operate in the UK and what can be done at government level there
- DES is in the process of winding down its funding to survivor groups on the basis that RISF will now be providing information directly. It is not envisaged that RISF will provide funding to support services except where they are contracted to provide specific supports to survivors
- Austin Currie raised the question of eligibility of former residents of the Bethany Homes and Phyllis Morgan of the Magdalene Survivors. They are not eligible as they were not on the listed schedule of Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Act but this could be part of the promised review of legislation.
Following the session Paddy Doyle raised some questions about the precise nature of the RISF role and task and there was a short discussion. Key issues of concern were the danger of duplicating state services, the provision of advice and advocacy for former residents in dealing with service providers, preventing abuse of the fund and the difficulty of creating a simple and accessible criteria which could be easily understood by all and could be applied to all jurisdictions.
It was agreed that the next meeting of the Board would be devoted to a full discussion on the role and purpose of the Fund in order to clarify these issues and to ensure that the Board can be confident in its task and decisions.
6. Governance and Code of Practice for State Bodies
Aidan Horan, specialist in governance at the Institute of Public Administration provided a short overview of the roles and responsibilities of RISF Board members. He outlined three key areas: Authority, Decision Making and Accountability. He emphasised the need for the Board to be sure that its decisions are “robust and credible” and based on collective decision making.
He described the Governance Code of Practice that the Board is required to develop as the “soft law” providing Board values and behaviours (including measures to address conflicts of interest and situations where a Board member fails to attend meetings regularly or to
contribute positively to the functioning of the Board) but stressed that the legislation is the primary guide for the Board.
The Board discussed the expectations of good governance in practice including the establishment of a sub committee structure and the importance of strategic risk management. It was agreed that it will be important to highlight publicly that it will be the executive and not the Board who will make decisions on applications from former residents.
7. CEO work report and next steps
The CEO presented an activity report for the period 10th April – 2nd May which has focused on meeting Board members and some key organisations and progressing issues in relation to office premises, staff and financial management. Decisions arising from the report are:
- The Terms of Reference for an Audit & Risk sub committee, prepared by Damian Casey, who will chair the committee were agreed. Paddy Doyle and Katherine Finn agreed to be members of the committee. A quorum for the committee will be two and the committee will present a report to each Board meeting
- Sylda Langford, Damian Casey and Mary Higgins were authorised as signatories to instruct the National Management Treasury Agency. This was proposed by Bernadette Fahy and seconded by Tom Daly. Valid authorisation will require two of the three signatories
- The Travel & Subsistence Policy prepared by Damian Casey was adopted. Dissatisfaction was expressed at the CDVEC arrangements for processing travel and subsistence payments. It was proposed by Austin Currie and seconded by Paddy Doyle that the CEO should approve Board expenses and that she should investigate more appropriate arrangements
- Proposals for replacement ICT server and hardware to be presented to the Audit & Risk committee and the necessary arrangements put in place to address current problems
- The specification for office premises for RISF were approved. In this context, there was discussion on the need for a policy in relation to the protection and safety of staff and former residents in a public office. On the proposal of Martin Power and seconded by Phyllis Morgan, it was agreed that the CEO will prepare a proposal for the next meeting, drawing on existing expertise and practice
- A communications sub committee of Bernadette Fahy, Martin Power, Phyllis Morgan and Mary Higgins was established to oversee the development of a communications strategy, with outside help as necessary
- The proposal for data collection to ensure that Board decisions on services and criteria are based on best available evidence was agreed
- There was discussion on the need to ensure that former residents in the UK are not disadvantaged by being outside Ireland and this will be addressed.
8. Education Finance Board
The Board noted that Draft Cessation Accounts for the period January 2012 to March 2013 will be available for approval at the next meeting as will an updated report on the status of applications received by the Education Finance Board after 30th November 2011 but not processed.
Katherine Finn reported that she is reviewing the Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Act and will have a report for the next meeting.
10. Next Meeting
Thursday 13 June 2013 at 10.30 a.m. Department of Education and Skills (DES) Marlborough Street, Dublin 1.