Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 12 February 2014
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Social Protection
Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Board: Discussion with Chairman Designate
I welcome the chairman designate, Mr. David J. O'Callaghan. The Government has noted the intention of the Minister for Education and Skills to nominate a new chair to the Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Board. The purpose of the board is to support the needs of the former residents of residential institutions, as endorsed in a unanimous motion of Dáil Éireann in the aftermath of the publication in 2009 of the Ryan report. The person nominated is Mr. David J. O'Callaghan, former Secretary General of the Department of Defence and current chair of the Irish Red Cross. His appointment is subject to consideration by this committee. This is set out in the policy brief prepared by the clerk and circulated to members.
I welcome Mr. O'Callaghan. Before he makes his presentation I wish to inform him by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. If the witness is directed by the committee to cease giving evidence in respect of a particular matter and he continues to so do, he will be entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of his evidence. Mr. O'Callaghan is directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and he is asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, he should not criticise nor make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. The statement Mr. O'Callaghan submitted in advance will be published on the committee's website today. Members are reminded of the long-standing ruling of the Chair to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I have been informed that laptops and iPads are interfering with the broadcasting equipment and I ask members to turn them off, if possible.
Mr. David O'Callaghan:
I thank the joint committee for the invitation to attend this meeting. I welcome the opportunity to address it in my capacity as chairman designate of the Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Board. As I only recently became aware of this appointment, I am still coming to grips with its challenges and how best I can give leadership and direction in the position.
In the context of my background and experience, I served in the Civil Service for 40 years. I started in the Office of the Revenue Commissioners in 1964 and served there in various capacities until 1993. My experience in that office was mainly in the areas of information technology operations, human resources management and industrial relations. I transferred to the Department of Defence on promotion to the position of assistant secretary in 1993.
I was promoted to Secretary General in the Department of Defence in 1995 and served in that capacity until my retirement in 2004. As Secretary General, I gained substantial experience in all the competencies associated with senior management in a Government Department and especially in the areas of policy development and implementation, corporate governance, managing critical relations and organisation development.
Since my retirement I have chaired several public boards, including the integrated ticketing project board from 2006 to 2011 and the education sector implementation group under the Croke Park agreement between 2010 and 2013. I am currently chairman of the management board of the national directorate for fire and emergency management and I am chairman of the Irish Red Cross Society.
All in all, this experience has given me a keen appreciation of the importance of good corporate governance in the direction, control, leadership and development of an organisation. I appreciate the necessity of directing a board to be open, accountable and focused which, in the case of the Residential institutions Statutory Fund Board, is to provide an efficient and effective service to the former residents of institutions.
I believe that a board should be committed to maintaining high standards of corporate governance and that a solid corporate governance framework enables efficient and effective decision making with clear responsibilities, leading to achieving the organisation's objectives. Key areas of focus for the board should include developing strategy, monitoring financial performance and ensuring standards of conduct and accountability.
I regret that Sylda Langford, the outgoing chairperson, was obliged to resign due to planned surgery which would limit her availability to perform her functions. From what I gather the board members and staff of the board, under her direction, have successfully laid the groundwork for the fund to open for the receipt of applications from the start of last month. I gather it has received about 1,000 applications to date.
I will build on that work to ensure that the board members and the chief executive officer and her staff will work together to deliver on what is required under the 2012 Act in a considered, timely and effective manner. As four of the nine board members will be people who were resident in institutions, the board and staff have available to them insight and advice which will be of valued assistance.
Under the Act, the board has two key functions, one, to make arrangements for the provision of approved services to support the needs of former residents and, two, to pay a grant to former residents in order that they may avail of an approved service. The board will be required to do its work in a manner that promotes the principles of equity, consistency and transparency. The board must also promote an understanding of the effects of abuse on former residents among those involved in the provision of approved services and publicly available services to former residents as well as carrying out evaluations of the effectiveness of services.
I realise that I have a lot to learn about the operation of the Residential Institutions Statutory Fund but, subject to ratification, I will fulfil my responsibilities as chairperson by working closely with the chief executive and staff, relying on the expertise, judgment and support of the other eight members of the board and the support and assistance of our sponsoring Department, the Department of Education and Skills.
I thank the members for their attention. I look forward to the challenge presented to me by this appointment and I sincerely hope and trust that the former residents will truly benefit from the implementation of the Residential Institutions Statutory Fund.
I thank Mr. O'Callaghan for attending today. I thank the previous chairperson, Ms Sylda Langford, for her work and effort and it is disappointing that she had to stand down at this time. With Mr. O'Callaghan's qualifications and experience, he is well placed to make sure that the proper governance, oversight and management is brought to this role. I have no doubt he will be successful in that role and I wish him well. He is eminently qualified for it.
I have a few questions. Will Mr. O'Callaghan elaborate on the overall size of the fund? There is still an amount outstanding in respect of what was committed by the religious organisation and he might update us on that. He indicated that the fund opened for applications a month ago and that approximately 1,000 have been submitted. What number of applications does he estimate will be received? He might indicate the nature of the applications that have been submitted.
I wish Mr. O'Callaghan well in the task ahead of him. I pay my respects to and congratulate Ms Sylda Langford on the work she undertook and on which she succeeded in delivering. It is a pity that health issues determined that she could not continue with the work and, hopefully, she will be of assistance to Mr. O'Callaghan, having regard to the experience that she gained over the years. She has a wealth of information on which, hopefully, he will be able to draw.
I meet some of the victims who have survived institutional abuse who are often in distress even to this day. Some of them are living in local authority housing and some of them have mental health and physical health issues. Part of the remit for the fund is to provide assistance in terms of housing. If a person is living in the Dublin City Council area or other local authority areas, can the fund intervene and encourage the local authority to upgrade that person's premises in a speedier manner or can it fund the cost of an adaption if a council cannot do so? During recent years the local authorities have struggled to deal with applications for adaptions, which are often required by the elderly survivors of institutional abuse. That is one of the key areas where I have come across problems to date. Obviously, there are educational issues for the victims or their families with which the fund can assist. Mr. O'Callaghan might expand on the educational issues.
Mr. David O'Callaghan:
That type of adaptation of local authority housing comes directly within the provisions of the Act. We can assist with that type of difficulty. My understanding is that we have liaison officers in the local authorities who are dedicated to liaising with our fund and through them we can deal with those problems.
We were not too hard on you. I am sure we will have further dealings with Mr. O'Callaghan in terms of monitoring the Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Board. I thank him for coming before the committee and wish him the best of luck in your role.
That concludes the committee's consideration of the appointment of Mr. O'Callaghan as chairperson of the Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Board. I thank Mr. O'Callaghan again for attending and wish him well in his position.