Below are questions asked by TDs in Dáil Éireann, relating to Caranua and other areas relevant to survivors
Review of Caranua
Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Education and Skills further to Parliamentary Question No. 116 of 16 June 2016, why the Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Act 2012 requirement for a review of the Caranua scheme after two years has not been carried out and when it will be carried out.
Deputy Clare Daly: This question relates to the Residential Institutions Statutory Fund and the requirement in the legislation whereby the funds which were to be awarded to the victims of abuse in the industrial schools would be reviewed after a two-year period. There is huge disquiet among the survivor community about the allocations that are being made from that fund. Why has it not been reviewed yet and has the Minister any plans to do so?
Deputy Richard Bruton: I thank Deputy Daly for her question. The Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Act was enacted in July 2012 and provided for the establishment of a statutory fund to support the needs of victims of residential institutional abuse. The Act also provided for the dissolution of the Education Finance Board which was established in 2006 and financed by a €12.7 million contribution under the terms of the 2002 indemnity agreement.
Eligibility for assistance from the fund is confined to those former residents who received awards from the Residential Institutions Redress Board or similar awards or settlements in court proceedings and who would otherwise have received an award from the redress board. Approximately 15,000 survivors are eligible. The board adopted the service name Caranua in October 2013 and began accepting applications on 6 January 2014. The initial uptake on applications was small and in the first year payments amounting to €14.77 million had been made to or on behalf of 1,476 applicants. During the past year expenditure has increased significantly to €43 million to or on behalf of 2,927 applicants.
In response to calls for the eligibility for access to the fund to be widened during the passage of the legislation through the Houses of the Oireachtas, an undertaking was given to review the operation of the fund two years after its establishment. I remain committed to reviewing the scheme. Initial engagement between Caranua and my Department on developing terms of reference will take place in July with a view to the review commencing in the autumn.
Deputy Clare Daly: The Minister has just given me an account of the way in which the system works, but I know that. My question related to the legislation which provides for a review after two years and it is now well past two years and a review has not yet taken place. The Minister’s predecessors, the former Ministers, Ruairí Quinn and Deputy Jan O’Sullivan, both committed to me in the previous Dáil that they would have such a review and would examine widening eligibility to the fund. There is huge concern about this because of the age profile of the survivor community who are getting older. They feel that they have not been consulted on what might be new terms of reference. They are very keen that the children of survivors would be included in being enabled to access the fund. The idea of a €12,000 cap needs to be lifted together with clauses in the scheme about surplus money going to the children’s hospital. This is quite urgent. I was hoping that the Minister would indicate a timeframe for a review on the one hand and outline a system whereby the survivor groups would also be consulted in setting out the terms of reference for that review which is long overdue.
Deputy Richard Bruton: This operation started in January 2014 and the review was to take place within two years and the period in respect of that has somewhat slipped but it will now take place. The terms of reference will be agreed in July and the review will take place in the autumn.
At the time when previous Ministers made commitments that was done having regard to the maximum funds available of €110 million and the potential pool of 15,000 applicants and that the question of reviewing eligibility could be considered following the establishment of fund in the event of application not resulting in a significant expenditure of the fund. It was envisaged that the maximum funds would be €110 million and it was only thereafter that new eligibility could be considered. At this point we have only 20% of the believed eligible people who have applied and €43 million has been expended. Those are the issues that will have to be examined in accordance with what was said during the debate in the previous Dáil. That is the backdrop to it as I understand it.
Deputy Clare Daly: The Minister said that the terms of reference will be agreed in July and the review will take place in the autumn. I must stress, in the strongest possible terms, that the survivors groups would be consulted as part of that process in setting out the terms of reference. One of the problems that has been articulated, for example, is the huge level of administrative costs, with respect to survivors funds, that have been absorbed in the running of the Caranua scheme. I will read from a letter I received from a man who was incarcerated in a Christian Brothers institution in Galway for five years and who suffered mental, physical and sexual abuse as the hands of the Christian Brothers who were charged with his care through the Irish Government.
He said he had received a letter from Caranua stating all his needs had been met within the confines of the legislation and that it was not possible to accept further applications from him. He said he had received funding for things in the past for which he was grateful but that Caranua was making him feel like he was begging and had just cut him off. That is not good enough. There are many severely damaged people whose views need to be taken into account. They have already been abused by the State and need an effective remedy.
Deputy Richard Bruton: I do not have the full context of the legislation at my disposal, but I understand the role of the fund is to use the contribution of €110 million to fund approved services to support survivors’ needs. The fund has 15,000 applicants and is processing their applications. Quite a number have been deemed to be eligible and payments will be made in respect of them. I do not have access here to the administrative cost, but substantial moneys have been paid out. I am sure it has been done in the most efficient way, but applications must be processed. I am sure the process is being managed as efficiently as possible. I will ask those who are putting together the terms of reference to consult others interested in the appropriate terms.
Deputy Clare Daly: If the Minister could do so, it would address something critical. The people concerned were denied a voice in their youth and it is rubbing salt into their wounds that they are being ignored now. Many of their medical needs have not been met, albeit some of them have medical cards. Going back to training is not something those who are elderly want. They want some of the money to be used to assist their families and deal with other stresses. Their voices must be heard. If the review is imminent, it is particularly important to consult them without further delay. Some of the Minister’s answers to my parliamentary questions on the amounts expended thus far give me severe cause for concern in terms of how the scheme is operating owing to the vulnerable nature of the group.
Deputy Joan Burton: Will the Minister attend a meeting of the education committee in the next week or two and before the review is initiated to set out in detail what has actually happened to the fund? I have worked with and known personally for many years quite a few of those who were in different institutions. I continue to meet them all the time. People come up and tell me their stories. Before the Minister sets about a review, he needs to talk to the education committee in order that we can meet the need of those who were in these institutions to be respected rather than to simply have their cases closed off. This was one of the most traumatic events in Irish history, as has been said by Deputy Clare Daly. Many of the people involved are much older and have been through a great deal. Can the Minister come and hold a hearing or discussion at the committee? It is not really possible to do so in detail here.
An Ceann Comhairle: We cannot have a debate on the matter.
Deputy Richard Bruton: I do not have any material with me which suggests how the fund is being managed, but I note that it is being managed by a former Secretary General of the Department of Defence who has been an Accounting Officer to the Houses and the Committee of Public Accounts. I have every reason to believe such an official is managing the funds in a prudent and careful way. I am willing, of course, at any stage to go to the Joint Committee on Education and Skills to discuss this or any other matter, but if the issue is around the management of funds, there is an Accounting Officer within my Department and it has been managed under the guidance of a former Accounting Officer. Certainly, I hope and expect the approach to the use of the moneys available has been careful and prudent and in accordance with the purpose intended – to support services for the very people whom the Deputy rightly says were abused in the past and neglected for many years. I hope the fund can meet many of their needs.