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Seanad Éireann Debate: 13th June 2018

Seanad Éireann: Commencement Matters

Senator Victor Boyhan: I welcome the Minister for Education and Skills to the House and thank him for coming in to deal with this matter. This matter relates to Caranua. We need to rehearse how Caranua come about. It came about as a follow-on from the indemnity agreement formally agreed between the then Government, not a Fine Gael Government, and the Conference of Religious of Ireland, CORI. That indemnity scheme was entered into by the State with the Catholic Church against all legal claims for compensation arising from past child abuse in church-run residential institutions. I took the time this morning to read the debates in the Dáil and the Seanad at the time. Deputy Róisín Shortall described it as a cheap insurance policy for religious institutions that had no effective State oversight. There is no point in rehearsing all that but that is the reality. It was a bad deal for everyone and we know it cannot be renegotiated. We also know that many of the people who were part of that deal did not deliver and simply did not honour what they were meant to do in terms of giving over lands or funding. Again, that is history and we must move on.

What came out of it was this Caranua scheme which was to assist victims, or survivors, of abuse, because that is what they were, who had either come through the redress scheme or through some sort of court or settlement agreement by either arbitration or litigation. A large advertisement appeared in a number of Sunday newspapers – I do not know why it needed to be that size – telling people that they have until 1 August to put in a claim. This advertisement refers to funds, with the implication that it is running out of funds. I put it to the Minister that Caranua should not be scaled down. It needs to be reformed and there are issues about its governance about which the Minister knows. There needs to be a review of it but it would be wholly wrong to wind down an organisation that was set up to support and assist victims of abuse – abuse in its widest form, including sexual abuse, emotional abuse and physical abuse. Even in the past few days, we have heard so much about the Magdalen laundries. We have heard so much from men who have come out of the Army with serious mental health issues as a result of them being victims and survivors. We have heard so much about many organisations.

Let us not this week confirm that we are winding down an organisation that was meant to be funded, or co-funded, by Government and by the redress scheme to help victims of abuse. I will be interested to hear the Minister’s response.

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Richard Bruton): I thank Senator Boyhan for raising this matter. I will put this into context before I come to the script I have provided. There was an indemnity deal, which the Senator referred to. That meant the Residential Institutions Redress Board awarded €1.5 billion to the victims of abuse in residential institutions, although this figure would need to be checked with the Comptroller and Auditor General. The State funded that, bar €125 million which was the contribution by the religious orders under the indemnity deal.

After the Ryan report, however, a further undertaking was made by the religious orders to contribute additional money. Of that additional money, part was to recompense the redress payments that were ongoing but €110 million was set aside which was money from the religious orders to fund the institution, Caranua, which would provide additional support over and above the residential institutions payments. This was confined to people who had received payments under the redress scheme.

Caranua was established by an Act of the Oireachtas and solely distributes money provided to it by the religious orders. There is no co-funding arrangement for Caranua and it is funded entirely from those contributions made after the Ryan report.

When that legislation was going through the Houses, the then Minister, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, undertook that a review would take place to see whether the coverage of the scheme could be extended. This was one of the issues and that was the backdrop to the review, which was to see if the €110 million which was there would leave scope for some additional inclusions over and above the people already provided for. To date, €72.5 million has been paid predominantly for housing – 71% – but also for health and education and a small amount for exceptional needs. The review that was undertaken did a number of things. It highlighted that while €30 million remained to be spent at the end of last year, if one looked ahead at the expected drawdown from existing clients – clients who might come from repeat applications – the anticipation was that that money would be fully used and the idea of extending it to relatives or others was not something that should be contemplated.

As adverted to by the Senator, given that it is a fixed amount of money, and there is still a small flow of new applicants coming through, the board, which is independent, decided that it would be prudent to announce a date beyond which new applications would not be received. This is a decision clearly by the board, acting within its own statutory remit, but it is being prudent in the context of commitments it has made and so on that it would be only fair to indicate that there would be such a closing point.

It has distributed posters to organisations that work with people and used other local offices, including social welfare offices, GPs, post offices and libraries, to spread this information. I have also specifically asked Caranua that where exceptional circumstances are brought to its notice beyond the date, it would allow for additional applications. As one will see, the amount of money currently paid for exceptional needs is small – it less than 1% of its fund.

We should use the exceptional need provision to have reserve funds to ensure that even if there is a cut off date there is the capacity to deal with cases that come to attention after that on a hardship basis.

The relevant legislation I have referred to describes a number of services they can cover and over the years they have also sought to extend those services as new needs came to their attention. One of the things Caranua has come under pressure for is that when it first opened it took time to build up its staffing and resources. A backlog grew and there were complaints from some users. Caranua has worked hard to improve service delivery, to clear backlogs, speed up appeals, expand face-to-face meetings and to adapt its supports to better meet those needs and it has extended it to areas like cookers, fridges, floors and home decoration to recognise the needs that were coming to its attention. In order to ensure that the money available was spread fairly, it also introduced a cap of €15,000. That met with some complaints but it felt that was only fair in trying to make sure that money available was equitably distributed.

While this review has been published and Caranua has decided to set a final date for receiving new applications, there are a number of issues and we have worked with survivors who sought the holding of a series of meetings which would serve as a forum for former residents and others with close personal involvement to reflect on their experience, the State’s response to the issue of institutional abuse and to make recommendations. I support this proposal and intend to facilitate consultation with survivors, built around their experiences of the measures the State put in place following the realisation of the systematic abuse that occurred in residential institutions. This consultation will be managed by an external facilitator and my Department has sought the views of survivors on how that consultation process should proceed. An online survey form may be accessed via the Department’s website. A freefone service operated by Barnardos is also available and allows people to give their views on consultations over the phone.

I also plan to convene an interdepartmental committee to examine how existing mainstream State services can best meet the needs of survivors into the future. This committee will include representatives from the Department of Education and Skills, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, the Department of Justice and Equality and the Department of Health. It will hold its first meeting in the near future because we need to ensure that there is a strong level of support from the State services for people who have been the victims of such appalling abuse. That is the backdrop to the review and I hope that answers some of the Senator’s questions.

Senator Victor Boyhan: I thank the Minister. It is very comprehensive so I will take it away and have a look at it. All I can say is that the Minister has identified that there is only €30 million left. We cannot put a cost on it. Caranua has been a success. I have spoken to people who come to meet me in Seanad Éireann who have brought there children in here. They might well have been victims or survivors but they are now coming with their children. The Minister now has to break this cycle. It is generational and it takes generations of support.

I note the Minister’s final remarks that he will set up an interdepartmental group to talk about it. A lot of people who are survivors of abuse are not represented by any group. It is a very personal and sensitive issue and story for them and their families. Therefore, it is not the same and there is not a uniform group that represents them and I know the Minister knows that but I will say that maybe he should seriously extend it for another two or three months. They are the summer months and furthermore we need to further advertise this in England, Scotland and Wales where we know from our records, engagement and representative bodies that many of them fled this country and are living in these places. It is important to use our organisations that serve Irish communities in the UK. I thank the Minister.

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Richard Bruton): I will bring Senator Boyhan’s concern to the attention of the Caranua board that the closing date should not be inflexibly applied. Its intention is to support victims of abuse in residential institutions. Caranua has published this because it recognises that the money is finite so it will have to ensure that it knows as soon as possible the potential new applications that can come on board so it can plan for them with the money that remains. I am sure it will look at that closing date in a flexible way. It is making significant efforts to ensure that overseas networks are used as well as domestic networks to get this information out to people who have been holding out for whatever reason. At this point I should say that 5,000 people have come forward and have been assisted in the fund and there are another couple of thousand applications on hand.

An Cathaoirleach: Sometimes, no matter what effort is made to reach out some people never get the information but that is the way the system works. I thank Senator Boyhan.