News & Events

Parliamentary Questions – 21st March 2017

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

Residential Institutions Redress Scheme

Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Education and Skills if his attention has been drawn to the deficit in communication between Caranua and members of the deaf community regarding making available the terms of the scheme and guidelines for applications in Irish sign language; when a video (details supplied) will be posted on his Department’s website; and if he will ensure Caranua also post this video.

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Richard Bruton): As the Deputy is aware Caranua is an independent statutory body and I have no role in relation to its day to day operations. I have therefore asked my officials to forward your question to the Chief Executive of Caranua with the request that a direct response issue to you in the matter.

Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Education and Skills the status of the review on Caranua; and the expected date of completion for the report. 

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Richard Bruton): The closing date for the receipt of submissions in regard to the draft Terms of Reference of the proposed review of eligibility for Caranua was 8 March last. A number of submissions have been received and these are being considered at present. Once that process has been completed the Terms of Reference will be finalised and the arrangements will then be put in place to carry out the review.

Residential Institutions Statutory Fund

Seán Fleming (Laois, Fianna Fail) asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he will reply to a person following a meeting with him (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Richard Bruton): On 4 November 2016 I met with a number of abuse survivors including the person referred to by the Deputy. A wide range of issues were raised with me at that meeting, mainly relating to the operations of Caranua (the Residential Institutions Statutory Fund). At the meeting I noted the statutory independence of Caranua and I outlined potential courses of action open to applicants to Caranua including recourse to the Ombudsman if there were concerns of maladministration and to the Public Accounts Committee if there were concerns over how monies were being disbursed. My officials subsequently relayed the concerns expressed at the meeting to Caranua. I am advised that the Chairperson of Caranuahas offered to meet with the individual concerned in due course and that he will have an opportunity at that point to raise issues of concern directly.

Household Benefits Scheme

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Social Protection if he will review the social welfare rights of survivors, widows and widowers under 60 years of age in view of the fact that those over 60 years of age can retain household benefits if their deceased spouse was in receipt of them, whereas those under 60 years of age cannot; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Leo Varadkar): The household benefits package (HHB) comprises the electricity or gas allowance, and the free television licence. My Department will spend approximately €232 million this year on HHB for over 425,000 customers.

The package is generally available to people living in the State aged 66 years or over who are in receipt of a social welfare type payment or who satisfy a means test. The package is also available to some people under the age of 66 who are in receipt of certain welfare type payments. Therefore anyone aged less than 70 years of age must be in receipt of a qualifying payment from the Department or satisfy a means test in order to qualify for HHB.

People in receipt of HHB aged under 66 are generally in receipt of payments such as Invalidity Pension, Disability Allowance or Carers. These payment types mean that the recipients are unable to work full time and earn additional income. This is not generally the case for people in receipt of widow’s contributory payment who are aged less than 66. These recipients are of working age and may take up full-time employment, at any level of remuneration, without losing entitlement to their widow’s contributory payment.

In general, widow’s pension only becomes a qualifying payment for HHB once the recipient reaches the age of 66 (State pension age) to ensure alignment with secondary benefits that are available to people in receipt of the State pension.

The concession whereby widows aged between 60 and 65 years, whose late spouse/civil partner received HHB from my Department, may qualify for the package was introduced at a time when State pension age was 65 and this cohort of widows were seen as less likely to be in a position to take up employment than those of a younger age. In many cases, such a withdrawal would only have been for a very short period, as the payment to their household would have recommenced when they reached 66.

Any decision to extend the concession to widows aged less than 60 or to allow recipients of widow’s pension of any age to qualify for HHB would have budgetary consequences and would have to be considered in the context of budget negotiations. It would also be necessary to consider whether they would be a priority group for the extension of such benefits ahead of other groups such as the unemployed or lone parents.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Residential Institutions Redress Scheme Data

Michael McGrath (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail): To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if he will provide a detailed breakdown by religious order of the money and assets transferred to date to the State in respect of the agreement between the State and the religious orders to share the cost of redress for the victims of abuse in certain institutions; the amount of a contribution that was promised from each such religious order; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Richard Bruton): The 2002 Indemnity Agreement between the Government and religious congregations provided for a collective contribution of €128 million from the 18 participating congregations in cash, counselling services and property.

The cash contributions of €54.42m under the Agreement have been received while information has been provided to my Department that confirms that counselling services in excess of the €10m provided for in the agreement have been funded directly by the contributing congregations.

With regard to property, my Department agreed in principle with CORI, under whose auspices the Agreement was negotiated, that a total of 64 properties would be accepted under the Agreement subject to good and marketable title and agreed valuations.  This number was reduced to 61 when the Department accepted and received a cash sum in lieu of three properties where good and marketable title could not be established. A total of 50 properties have been fully transferred and there are no outstanding issues. These properties are valued at €48.47 million in total. When combined with the cash and counselling contributions referred to above, a total of €112.9 million representing 88% of the amount provided for in the Agreement has been received.

Work to complete the outstanding property transfers is actively progressing and I should point out that in most of the remaining cases the transfer process is at a very advanced stage. It is worth noting also that most of the properties are already in use by the intended recipients.

As the Agreement provided for a collective contribution it is not possible to provide a complete breakdown of the contributions on a congregational basis.

For the sake of completeness I should point out that in response to the call for further substantial contributions towards the costs of redress made in the aftermath of the publication of the report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (the Ryan Report), many of the congregations that were party to the 2002 Indemnity Agreement made offers which, in total, were valued at €352.6m. I should stress that these offers are voluntary and do not form part of any agreement.

One significant element of the most recent offer, relating to playing fields and associated lands, valued at €127million, was withdrawn by the Christian Brothers. When this is combined with some changes in the valuation of properties previously offered, the total value of the voluntary offers currently in place stands at €193 million, of which contributions of cash and property amounting to some €96.1 million have been realised.

When the contributions provided for in the 2002 Agreement are combined with the subsequent voluntary offers, the maximum total contribution that might be realised stands at €321 million of which amount €209 million has been received.

Departmental Legal Costs

Fergus O’Dowd (Louth, Fine Gael): To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality the total amount spent externally by her Department on legal advice for each year since 2015; the solicitor firms involved; the barristers, junior and senior, who provided services to her Department for each such year; the amounts paid to each firm or person; and if she will make a statement on the matter.

Minister for Justice (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): The information requested by the Deputy is outlined in the following table.

Year    Name of Practitioner           Total amount paid in euro

2015   McCarter and English LLP 2,931

2015   Margaret O’Driscoll, BL       7,955

2015   Lucy McRoberts, BL            7,995

2015   Emma Doyle, BL   &nbsp 4,307

2015   Sinead Drennan BL   &nbsp       4,612

2015   McDowell Purcell    34,809

2015   Dominic McGinn   & 92,250

2015   Conor Devally SC   &nbsp 47,047

2015   Jim Benson   & 9,471

2015   John Fitzgerald JC              21,709

2015   Karen O’Connor  &nbsp 7,872

2015   Lisa Daly BL   &nbsp        1,627

2015   Paul Greene   & 29,520

2015   Paul Carroll JC   &nbsp 21,525

2015   Siobhan Ni Chulachain     25,461

2016   Conor Devally SC   &nbsp 19,126

2016   John Fitzgerald JC              1,968

2015*                                                  39,520

2016*                                                  26,368

2017*                                                  3,075


*I can advise that the following amounts have been paid by this Department to solicitors who provided legal advice to eligible applicants to the Magdalen Restorative Justice Ex-gratia scheme. All eligible applicants are required to sign a form of acceptance and a waiver before payment issues and they are encouraged to seek legal advice before signing. The total amounts paid per year from 2015 to date are included in the table. As over 600 files are involved in this scheme, it would take an inordinate amount of time to identify the solicitor involved in each particular case.