Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Thursday, 17 December 2020

Public Accounts Committee

Caranua: Financial Statements 2019

11:30 am

Ms Rachel Downes:

I thank the Chairperson and the committee for inviting Caranua to discuss our 2019 financial statements. I am Rachel Downes and I am here with my colleagues, Michael Fitzpatrick and Sinead Dwyer.

Caranua was established in 2013 as the Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Board under the Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Act 2012. Caranua is responsible for the management of a limited fund to improve the quality of life of people who, as children, experienced abuse and neglect in institutions and who have received awards from the Residential Institutions Redress Board, the Irish courts or a direct settlement with a congregation. Although it is a public body, Caranua does not receive any State funding. A limited fund of €110 million was provided from religious congregations and an additional accrual of €1.38 million in interest. The Act states the fund provided to Caranua cannot exceed €110 million, excluding interest.

Caranua began accepting applications in January 2014 and ceased making payments on 11 December 2020. During this period, we received applications from 6,181 survivors. By the end of November 2020, Caranua had made over 57,000 funding support payments to the value of €97.1 million. The average funding support received is €15,728. The highest provision of funding supports is in home improvements, at €68.1 million, followed by health, €27.2 million, education, €1.4 million, and exceptional needs supports, €400,000.

The legislation sets out that all operational costs must be met from the fund and over the lifespan of the organisation, €13.4 million has been spent on operations. The board and management have worked determinedly to minimise operational costs and continue to do so during the wind-down. The closure of the service was carefully managed to ensure that adequate resources were available to meet the requirements of survivors' applications.

Caranua has taken a flexible approach towards survivors’ applications. However, with limited funds remaining, survivors are aware that funding support services are no longer available. Over two years ago, in May 2018, plans for the orderly wind-down of the fund were announced. In early 2019, Caranua began contacting survivors with open applications to discuss person-centred timelines for completion. The board decided to extend the timeline for the completion of Caranua’s services from June of this year to December in order to allow survivors impacted by Covid-19 restrictions additional time to complete their applications. Also during 2020, as there was a surplus available, Caranua initiated a number of projects to re-engage with survivors who had not previously availed of their individual limit of €15,000.

Caranua must strike a balance between working with survivors in a person-centred and compassionate manner and our obligations as a public body with fiduciary accountability. While at times the process has been seen by some survivors as too onerous, Caranua needed to respond to the audit opinion of the Comptroller and Auditor General in the context of controls. As a public body, Caranua is required to follow Government procurement guidelines and this requirement extends to the provision of funding support services to survivors. Survivors are, therefore, required to provide a specified number of quotations depending on the cost of the requested service. However, operating as a person-centred organisation means that there have been occasions when it was decided to work outside of procedures to support the survivor.

Caranua continues to work in partnership with survivor support groups and counselling services including the Christine Buckley Centre, Right of Place Second Chance, Towards Healing Counselling Service, One in Four, the HSE national counselling service and Barnardos' origins tracing service to support the asks set out in the Facing the Future Together conference report. They are the provision of an enhanced medical card for survivors and support with access to housing, continuation of free and easily accessible counselling services for survivors and their families and the provision of advocacy supports for survivors in the long term, including access to public services. All medical and public service staff working in customer-facing roles should receive trauma-informed practice training. Supports needed by survivors based outside of Ireland should also be identified.

As well as supplying funding supports, Caranua staff have provided advocacy services to many survivors, supporting them to access their rights and entitlements to public services, including communicating with local authorities regarding housing or repairs, or with hospitals to expedite appointments. This service is no longer available and survivors may miss out unless other advocacy services are put in place.

Through our work with survivors, we have found that social isolation is a major issue and this has become more prevalent throughout the pandemic. Many survivors regularly contact Caranua as we are their only social interaction. Although we signpost to other agencies, many survivors take comfort from the fact that we are a survivor-specific organisation. We have assisted survivors ranging from 28 to 100 years old. While the majority are older, 32% are under the age of 60. Experience has shown us that in this younger population, there is a higher incidence of imprisonment, homelessness, managing addiction or all three.

Caranua was delighted to be invited to a recent meeting with the Minister of Education, Deputy Foley, to discuss the ongoing needs of survivors. This was a positive meeting which brought together survivor support groups and counselling services from Ireland and the UK.

The fund has been spent and Caranua’s work is now complete. However, we are happy to provide information and share our expertise in support of survivors. I again thank the Chairperson and the committee for their interest in the work of Caranua and the ongoing needs of survivors.