News & Events

Leaders Questions 23rd October 2018

Deputy Catherine Connolly – My question arises from direct contact with people who have suffered at the hands of the State and religious organisations and who, unfortunately, are being traumatised again by the State, particularly through their contact with Caranua. Significantly, I pose this question on the same day that we await the Taoiseach’s decision on the mother and baby home in Tuam. I sincerely hope he will decide on a full excavation and exhumation of the site with a view to maximum information being made available. This is also the day we have learned, quite incredibly, that the Government has changed the application process for compensation for women who worked in Magdalen laundries. It now requires them to specify the number of weekly hours worked, completely disregarding the spirit and content of the Quirke report.

Similarly, there is the case of Caranua and the rationale and content of its purpose. It was established to provide support to people who experienced abuse in institutions as children. In 2013, the chairwoman said there should be smooth and uncomplicated access to the fund. The chief executive officer, CEO, said it was about putting survivors at the heart of the process. It was always a defined group with a defined amount of money. It was meant to be rolled out transparently and with minimum bureaucracy. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. It is a classic example of the institution becoming more important than the people it was set up to serve.

Survivors have confirmed that its mode of delivery has added to their abuse.

Rather than rolling out a fair and transparent system based on a comprehensive plan the applicants have, at best, been subjected to an ad hoc, haphazard and unprofessional system which has succeeded in traumatising them again. People have come to Deputies at the end of their tether. Among the issues raised are the constant changing of personnel, no timely response on the phones, no timely response to letters and no giving of information relating to rights, especially the right of appeal. In essence, there has been a recreation for the applicants of the abuse suffered in institutions. Caranua is certainly misnamed. Rather than being a new friend, it is the old friend, the seanchara, with an arbitrary use of power, which is perfectly encapsulated in the way in which the arbitrary limit of €15,000 was brought in. This was retrospective and left applicants in limbo with no knowledge as to their rights. We now have an appeals system and I pay tribute to the appeals officers who have highlighted the concerns. One appeals officer is working with a significant backlog. Having recognised the need for it, will the Taoiseach confirm that he will immediately put in an additional appeals officer?

Will he examine what is happening on the ground and take a hands-on approach to stop injustice being repeated when it is unnecessary?

The Taoiseach – On the mother and baby home in Tuam, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Katherine Zappone, will make a statement at 3 p.m. It is fair to say that the she has put an enormous amount of work into studying this matter over the past two years. The Cabinet accepted her recommendations today. I would like to give the Minister the opportunity to outline her recommendations in detail at 3 p.m. when she is able to do so.

With regard to the Magdalen redress scheme, the Government’s intention is to comply with and implement the Ombudsman’s recommendations on the scheme, which is to extend the scheme to a wider group of women who did not live in the Magdalen laundries but who worked in them and lived in adjacent institutions. In doing so, we operate as a Government in good faith, accepting the Ombudsman’s recommendations and trying to implement them. The scheme is, however, based on the amount of time a woman spent in the institution and the number of hours she worked there, so it is necessary to ask that question. This is the way the scheme works; it is linked to the amount of time spent in the institution and the number of hours worked there. This is how the financial award is calculated, which is the fairest way to do it.

Caranua as a body has, at this stage, allocated over €100 million to people who needed additional practical supports, often advice and counselling and in some cases assistance to modify their homes and with their healthcare. Many of the people who received some of that €100 million have put it to good use and it has helped them in their lives. I absolutely appreciate, as with any system or application process, that it can be difficult. It can be frustrating to fill in forms and it can be difficult to answer questions. Sometimes people do not get the answer they want. This is why we have an appeals mechanism.

I will have to give consideration to the issue around an additional appeals officer. I do not know whether that is necessary, but I will certainly speak to the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy McHugh, about that. If the Deputy knows of individual cases of people who have had a bad experience of Caranua, perhaps she could pass them on to the Minister or to me and we will try to check them out. As is always the case with any application system, there will be people who are satisfied with how it worked and with the award they received, and there will also be people who are very dissatisfied. This is why we have an appeals system for them.

 Deputy Catherine Connolly – I welcome the Taoiseach’s open attitude, but this is way beyond complaints. There has been a large number of appeals, 66% of which have been upheld in one way or another. That figure speaks volumes. Second, the administration of this scheme has become abusive in itself. This issue has been raised by me, by my colleagues last week in the Chamber in a Topical Issue debate, and by various Members through parliamentary questions. A Private Members’ motion also highlighted the difficulties on the ground. It is not a matter of certain individuals being frustrated. The system is unjust, arbitrary and unfair and it recreates the abuse that was suffered when these applicants were children in the institutions.

The need for an appeals officer has been clearly set out by the appeals officer’s report, which gives the number of appeals. In one year 87 appeals were received in the period and 140 were carried over. There has been a carry-over of 34 into this year, along with other appeals. The most basic requirement at this stage is to have a second appeals officer so that people bringing appeals can be dealt with with dignity.

Second, on the right to know that one can appeal, the Taoiseach should at the very least ensure that information is crystal clear. For the third year in a row the appeals officer says that it is not clear.

The Taoiseach – Once again, it is important that we remind ourselves of the purpose of Caranua. It was established to provide practical and financial support to survivors of residential institutions. It has already provided support in the region of €100 million to survivors and former residents of those institutions to help them with their lives. It is certainly not designed to abuse anyone; it is designed to help them. It has helped a lot of people, many of whom I have met in the course of my work.

On the Deputy’s two specific asks, I will speak to the Minister, Deputy McHugh, about this. I absolutely agree that if people are not informed that they have a right of appeal, they should be. That would seem to me to be elementary. When it comes to any application procedure people should be made aware of the option or right to appeal. I will follow up on that. I cannot, here on the floor of the Chamber, say whether a second appeals officer is necessary but I will certainly examine the issue.