News & Events

Parliamentary Questions – 5 April 2017

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

Residential Institutions Statutory Fund

Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Education and Skills the steps being taken to improve the administration and to extend the scope of the fund in view of recent comments made by the CEO of Caranua in relation to the administration of the fund; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Deputy Catherine Connolly:  have a specific question for the Minister. What steps have been, are being or will be taken to improve the administration and extend the scope of the Caranua fund in view of the most unacceptable comments the CEO of Caranua concerning the administration of the fund, as well as the hurtful and damaging experiences of many survivors with that board. This has been reported extensively in various print and broadcast media.

Deputy Richard Bruton: First of all, I think that some of those comments were unfortunate and could be open to misunderstanding. However, as regards the substance of the Deputy’s question, Caranua is an independent statutory body established under the Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Act 2012 to oversee the use of cash contributions of up to €110 million, pledged by religious congregations, to support the needs of survivors of institutional child abuse. The legislation provides that supports may be available in the areas of health and personal social services, mental health services, education and housing. It is a matter for Caranua itself to determine the range of approved services it will support and the criteria by reference to which decisions may be made in respect of applications.

Following its establishment, Caranua determined the approved services to be provided by it and determined the applications criteria.  I understand that in 2016 Caranua expanded the approved services it provides and amended its criteria to include a range of additional housing and health-related supports.  I have no role in regard to Caranua’s day-to-day activities or matters such as the determination of criteria.

I am aware that there have been concerns raised regarding Caranua in the media and elsewhere. I have met with survivors and I appreciate their concerns. It is vital that in all our dealings with victims of abuse they are dealt with in a sensitive, fair and compassionate manner.

I believe that Caranua has tried to put in place a process that is responsive to the needs of applicants. It has acknowledged the difficulties it has faced especially in the early period when it first began to accept applications. It is required to meet the obligations set out in the 2012 Act and to be accountable. In that regard it should be noted that Caranua will be appearing before the Dáil’s Committee of Public Accounts next week.

Caranua’s aim is to provide a responsive, friendly and professional service and it has informed me that it takes all complaints seriously. It has a customer service charter, and feedback and complaints policy. There is an independent appeals mechanism and Caranua’s administrative actions are subject to review by the Ombudsman.

It is my intention to carry out a review of eligibility for services provided by Caranua and in that regard draft terms of reference were recently published. A number of submissions were received and these are being considered.  It is hoped to finalise the terms of reference shortly and proceed to the review in the near future. Any change in the eligibility requirement would require legislation.

I will be meeting the new board of Caranua when it is appointed and I will be impressing on it the need to ensure that it continues to be responsive to the needs of applicants.

Deputy Catherine Connolly: I thank the Minister for that clarification, but can he stand over a CEO on €87,000 making such comments? She reportedly said: Some applicants will never be happy and grievances suit a narrative. It suits a narrative of the big bad State and the big bad religious congregations, and so on. We have to face the facts that the damage that has been done to these people [these are the words used by the CEO] is so deep that it does not matter what anybody does.

I will not insult the survivors by finishing the quotation because it is simply appalling. I thank the Minister for clarifying that a review is under way on eligibility. Can he tell me when it started and when it will be completed? There has been a 110% increase in appeals since last year. That in itself speaks volumes about the unease that survivors have with the way they are being treated.

Deputy Richard Bruton:  We recently discussed Caranua in the House. Deputy Clare Daly put forward a Bill that was supported on Second Stage with a time delay, which gives us an opportunity to conduct this review. It is therefore being done according to a tight timeframe. Obviously, I want to ensure that we hear submissions into the review’s terms of reference.

As I have acknowledged, I think the comments as reported were unfortunate and could certainly be open to misinterpretation. I also recognise that Caranua has had a difficult job to do. In its initial phase it had a number of logistical difficulties which gave rise to genuine frustration for many people. Some of its administrative requirements can be irksome for applicants. To be fair to Caranua, however, it made improvements in the processes last year. Clearly, the review needs to look afresh at whether we can do more to improve those processes and make them user friendly, while at the same time ensuring that Caranua can fulfil its obligations to the House and show that the moneys it has spent were incurred as per the criteria set out in the legislation.

This is an important piece of work and I regard it as something that should be completed quickly. I know from other speakers in the House that it is regarded as a priority.

Deputy Catherine Connolly: It is important to place on the record that the name Caranua, or new friend, is singularly inappropriate. It is a misuse of the Irish language because the experience of all these survivors is not that they have met a friend they have met with delay, obfuscation and the phone not being answered.

There is absolutely no consistency in what survivors get. Sometimes they get a washing machine and sometimes they do not. Sometimes they get a bed which is suited to their needs, and a little bigger than a normal bed, but they do not get the blankets to cover it. This is the level of miserliness with which the scheme has been administered. It gives me no pleasure to repeat this here. I am very familiar with the redress board from a previous life and the survivors, having gone through the board, now having to go through the miserliness of this system, with its total inconsistency and the scale of appeals, speaks volumes. At the very least the CEO on that enormous salary should be asked to apologise.

Deputy Richard Bruton:  I have met survivors myself and they have expressed these very concerns. These are the ones who will be subject to the review. Of course there is a customer service charter, a feedback and complaints policy, an appeal mechanism and recourse to the Ombudsman. There are mechanisms in place to try to deal with these inconsistencies. These are standard good practices in any organisation. Part of the review will be to look at why these elements of support are not working in this particular circumstance. This is why it is timely to have a review and ensure we deliver the best we possibly can. I am conscious, having reread some of the Ryan report reviews recently on the way in which the State let down these individuals so badly in the past, that we have an obligation to make sure we support them now in a fair and equitable way. At the same time, I realise Caranua will come before the Committee of Public Accounts and must be able to account for the way it spends its money. There is a balance that must be struck, but I take the Deputy’s points and they will be factored into the review.

Deputy Ruth Coppinger asked the Minister for Education and Skills his views on the Comptroller and Auditor General’s report on the funds due to the State from religious congregations for the redress scheme; if he has received commitments from the religious congregations regarding the payment of the balance; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Richard Bruton): I welcome the recent publication of the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General Cost of Child Abuse Inquiry and Redress. The report provides an important summary of the current position in relation to the various initiatives taken by successive governments in support of persons who were abused when as children they resided in institutions and it sets out the position in regard to how those initiatives have been funded. The report highlights in particular the fact that the religious congregations who managed many of those institutions will fund at most approximately 21% of the €1.5 billion cost of the response to residential institutional child abuse with the State, i.e. the taxpayer meeting the vast bulk of those costs.

I am disappointed and frustrated that the organisations responsible for protecting children and managing the institutions in which abuse of children took place have failed to adequately contribute towards the cost of the response that has been put in place. It has been the position of successive Governments that, given that the religious congregations were responsible for the management of institutions where horrific abuse of children took place, as documented in the report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (the “Ryan Report”), they should commit to making further substantial contributions towards the cost of abuse.  Having regard to the work of the independent panel’s report, the Government adopted a position that the congregations had the resources to bring their contribution over time to 50% of the then estimated costs. Regrettably the congregations have never agreed to this position, with the result that the State has met the bulk of the costs involved.

To date contributions amounting to some €210 million in cash, counselling and property transfers have been made by the 18 religious congregations who managed most of the institutions. These contributions are being made under two rounds: the binding 2002 Indemnity Agreement and the voluntary offers made in 2009 in the aftermath of the publication of the Ryan Report.

Some €112.9 million of the €128 million (or 88%) provided for under the 2002 Indemnity Agreement has been fully contributed. 11 property transfers remain to be fully completed. Work to complete these 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.

The offers made in the aftermath of the publication of the Ryan Report by many of the congregations that were party to the 2002 Indemnity Agreement, included cash and properties and were valued by the congregations at €352.6m. I should stress that these offers are voluntary and do not form part of any agreement.

Regrettably one significant element of the most recent offer, relating to playing fields and associated lands, valued at €127 million, 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 €97.3 million have been realised. It is expected that the outstanding congregational cash contributions will be received by 2018 while work is progressing to complete remaining property transfers.

Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Education and Skills the discussions he has had with Ministers in respect of the redress scheme; if he has spoken to the chief executive officer of Caranua; the amount that remains in Caranua funds for distribution to persons entitled to support from funds; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Richard Bruton): Caranua is an independent statutory body established under the Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Act 2012. The legislation provides that €110 million in contributions from religious congregations will be made available to Caranua to help meet the needs of persons who, as children, were abused in residential institutions. To date some €97 million, comprising contributions and associated interest, have been received from congregations and deposited in the special investment account opened by the National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA) in accordance with section 29 of the 2012 Act. It is expected that the remaining congregational contributions earmarked for Caranua will be received by 2018.

I understand that in the period from its establishment in March 2013 to end December 2016 Caranua had expended some €56 million in support of former residents together with some €5 million on administration costs.

I had a very useful meeting with the Chair and Chief Executive of Caranua in December 2016 and my officials hold regular meeting with Caranua to discuss a range of relevant matters.

Caranua operates independently of the redress scheme administered by the Residential Institutions Redress Board.