News & Events

Topical Issues debate – 14 July 2015

Below are questions asked by TDs in Dáil Éireann, relating to Caranua and other areas relevant to survivors

Topical Issues Debate: Enhanced medical card for women who were in Magdalen Laundries

Deputy Clare Daly: I cannot believe we are in the Chamber discussing this again. This is another circumstance which, to my mind, represents an utter betrayal of the women who survived the Magdalen laundries. In their youth these women were violated and abandoned by the State. They had to fight for decades to receive redress for the damage done to them by the State. Now, we are about to implement this redress scheme, but what do they find?

Let us put first things first. The medical card they have been issued with is effectively branded. It is stamped in clear writing that the scheme relates to people eligible under the Redress for Women Resident in Certain Institutions Act, thus identifying them as Magdalen survivors. I cannot believe how anyone dreamt this up. I assume the justification is that this entitlement will give concessions that other medical cards do not give – I will deal with that point. If that is the justification, it could easily have been done by an initial or something like that. The idea that these women should have their privacy breached in circumstances involving their doctor, pharmacist, the person who finds their handbag on the bus, or a grandchild, who picks up the card and asks her granny what the words mean, is absolutely outrageous. These branded medical cards must be withdrawn. I would love to see an answer to the question of who dreamed it up. I simply do not know but I expect there should be a public apology for that aspect of it.

The second aspect is equally important. These women were led to believe by Mr. Justice Quirke and others that they were entitled to a medical card with benefits equal to the benefits of those under the Health (Amendment) Act scheme. Under the HAA scheme the supporting documentation ran to 58 pages setting out the benefits available to people on that scheme. The additional documentation for this scheme runs to five pages. As Justice for Magdalenes has said, it amounts to not much more than an ordinary medical card, which 90% of the women have anyway. The drugs, medicines and appliances are restricted to what is on the reimbursement list anyway. There are no complementary therapies, no counselling without a general practitioner referral, no counselling for family members, no appeals or complaints board and nothing for the women overseas.

This absolutely needs to be addressed. It represents a betrayal of these women. The scheme itself is completely inadequate. As organisations like Amnesty International, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, the National Women’s Council of Ireland and Justice for Magdalenes have pointed out, it is not actually human rights compliant at all. These women deserve more. My appeal to the Minister of State, and that of Justice for Magdalenes, is for emergency legislation to address this shortfall and ensure the scheme is in line with what Mr. Justice Quirke recommended. Those involved point out that 512 women have waived their right to legal action in anticipation that they would secure the full benefits. What they have got instead is a branded medical card and that is completely unacceptable.

Deputy Kathleen Lynch: I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. The Deputy will be aware that the Government accepted all the recommendations of the Quirke report and established an ex gratia restorative justice system. In that context, the Government set up a range of payments and supports for the women who worked in these institutions. Payments of up to €100,000 are made to these women, depending on their length of stay in the laundries. In addition, the Department of Social Protection is making pension-type payments to these women. I understand from the Department of Justice and Equality that over 500 applicants have received lump sum payments to a value of approximately €20 million to date. Mr. Justice Quirke also recommended that legislation be introduced regarding the provision of health services to Magdalen women. To that end, the Minister for Justice and Equality brought the Redress for Women Resident in Certain Institutions Act 2015 through the Oireachtas. The Act sets out the primary and community health services that are made available free of charge to these women. These services include GP services; prescribed drugs, medical aids and appliances; dental, ophthalmology and aural services; home nursing; home support; chiropody; physiotherapy; and counselling services. A woman qualifies for these services where the Minister for Justice and Equality has determined that she is eligible under the restorative justice scheme and the woman has accepted a formal offer made to her under the scheme.

The HSE has contacted the qualifying women directly to issue them with the redress for women resident in certain institutions, RWRCl, card on the basis of information provided by the Department of Justice and Equality about the acceptance of an offer. The HSE has also provided information to the women about the health service. In this way, participants in the ex gratia scheme receive their RWRCI card to enable them to access easily the primary and community health services free of charge.

I imagine the Deputy will appreciate that the Redress for Women Resident in Certain Institutions Act 2015 was debated and approved by the Oireachtas earlier this year. Under the legislation, a medical card is not being awarded to the women. Mr. Justice Quirke did not recommend that Magdalen women should be awarded medical cards. In fact, the judge pointed out that most of the women already hold a medical card, as the Deputy has already stated. Therefore, we did not issue them with medical cards. Instead, a specific card is provided to the women to ensure they can access the health services without any charge, as set out in the Act.

The separate RWRCI card is warranted because the women benefit from a greater range of entitlements than under the medical card. The cards provided to Magdalen women were intended to be similar in manner to the HAA cards. The shorthand name of the HAA card is based on the underlying legislation. The HAA cards are issued on the basis of the Health (Amendment) Act 1996. The 1996 Act provides certain health services to persons who contracted hepatitis C from a blood product or blood transfusion. In this case, the Redress for Women Resident in Certain Institutions Act 2015, which this House approved without a vote earlier this year, provides primary and community health services without charge to women who were admitted to and worked in certain institutions.