Dáil debates

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Bill 2012: Second Stage (Resumed)


2:00 pm

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary South, Independent)

Go raibh maith agat. I will try to be cúramach. Some of these people do outstanding work. Christine Buckley and others have been mentioned. It is bad enough that awful crimes were perpetrated but if any seeds of doubt are shown by these survivors and their organisations, and some of them have been very disappointed, it can throw a bad light on the situation so we must be careful because we cannot have this.

Survivors have come to my office to say they were very unhappy with what unfolded and how locally the money was channelled through a particular office. We must be careful. The heinous crimes committed were bad enough and we cannot have the State fund being abused. I am pleased that on this occasion it will be channelled through the Department of Education and Skills for counselling and other services required not only for the victims but also their families. I have to put on the record that people in Clonmel and South Tipperary are confused and I am also confused. People can change their minds but there is no room for double standards, a total change of heart or jumping on the bandwagon. This cannot be accepted. I know it is not by the vast majority but unfortunately I had to say what I did with regard to this case.

I commend the survivors like Christine Buckley who have been champions and brought these cases to the fore. They do great work and this work should not be diminished in any way. They have also done great work in encouraging other victims to come forward and tell their stories and gain what hope and future they can for themselves and use the support services to be provided by the fund. Other survivors have carried it silently for decades and will probably continue to do so. Many of them are abroad, which is sad. It is easy to be wise after the event and people live with this hell every hour of their lives.

I wish to mention a family very close to me whom I know well who provided foster care before it was popular and remunerated. They worked with approximately 28 different children, some with whom I socialise with now. They have been transformed. They came from the most awful cases and lived with this family who did tremendous work. I am dealing with the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, because not only did the family not get a shilling from the State for taking the children, one of whom did £25,000 worth of damage to the house in one night in a psychotic incident because of what had happened that child, they also cannot receive a pension because they have neither the credit nor the stamps. This case must be examined. The 28 human beings they cared for have gone on to get married and have led all types of lives. I could see the transformation in them. I did not know the background at the time but it is wonderful to think where they are now. I am sure there are many such families who also did not receive any payment because they did what they did out of human interest, kindness, compassion and a desire to help those less fortunate.

Children ended up in institutions for many reasons such as accidents, suicide, poverty or criminality. State-supported institutions contacted this family to take various children because it was known the family could deal with them in a particular specialised manner in a home setting and friendly therapeutic environment. I am not diminishing in any way the fund of €1.5 billion but some cognisance must be given to these families. I have spoken about one particular family but there are probably a number of others who gave of their time voluntarily and worked to make wonderful men and women of the people who now take part in life as near to normally as they can. They still need a little support after the traumatic events they went through. We cannot look at this coldly. We must be able to look after the families who cherished these people and gave them a life. I am not looking for anything magical, I am looking for recognition of the valuable time they spent. One cannot place a monetary value on it but some support should be in place for them.

I thank the members of religious orders, particularly those in education. A small number of politicians have damaged the reputation of people in the House. People across the board have been found guilty of awful activities and besmirched the good name of many and varied institutions, such as FÁS. The religious orders did outstanding work. At this point I am trying to support myself. I am on a voluntary board limited by guarantee to establish an adolescent drug treatment centre and we are negotiating with a religious institution on the use of the most spectacular building, which I often visited and in which I often had tea. We are trying to get a voluntary contribution from the State. This morning a situation in Sligo was discussed. I do not know anything about it but the Minister had to respond on it. Facilities exist and good work was done. I was involved with Sister Veronica in establishing the Aislinn project in Ballyragget and good work was done there. One could not get better people to head up an organisation than religious sisters or brothers because they have no other ties or demands and are normally well-educated. They are driven by the ideals of a religious background, compassion and humanity to work on such a project. We cannot throw out the baby with the bathwater and attack them all, because they have done tremendous work.

I remember the first time I saw the Artane Boys Band march at a match. They put on a great show at various all-Ireland finals. I am 53 years of age and little did any of us believe that what was happening behind those walls could have happened. One has a public image and a public face. We have a different Ireland now. It is easy to be wise in hindsight. We now have Garda vetting. I am involved in child care through a community group. I do not knock the Garda Síochána, but the vetting system is too cumbersome and slow. It is nothing like it used to be. Previously Garda vetting involved a phone call to the local garda who knew every family in the parish and 99% of the time the garda was right. Now in County Tipperary the service is centralised in Thurles and the gardaí do not have a clue who they are talking about. Often I wonder whether it is worth the paper it is written on. I am not being callous or cold, I am stating it is difficult to give a reference and we must be very careful it is fit for purpose. We cannot make these mistakes again.

We see cases all the time. Recently I was shocked to learn of a case in my home county. I could not believe it. I knew the person, and worked and socialised with him. It was shocking. I do not know what desires and bizarre thoughts are in the minds of those who commit these heinous crimes. People can be totally taken in and not even suspect. It is a very sad situation. It will always be with us so we must be mindful of it. However, we cannot attack the institutions because while awful things happened much good was done too. The education system in the country would be far poorer were it not for the excellent work and contributions of the sisters and brothers throughout the country. I have sat on boards with them. I have seen religious and lay schools amalgamated and the contribution made by the members of religious orders. I have sat on interview boards and done everything one can think of with religious people and their contribution has been immense. They feel hugely let down by the actions of a minority. We must always remember this and be conscious of it.

Now that they are being removed we can see the cost of providing education. It is unbearable and we cannot do it. Where would we have been as a fledging State but for their work and how they brought education to people through night classes? I do not knock the VECs which also did this. We are not talking about that today - we are talking about the situation in the education system, which we can never forget. I will never forget it and it cannot be said enough here. Too many people are too quick to denounce everything else that went on.

I ask the Minister to be very cautious when setting up the board. I know that he will rightly appoint four of the survivors. In light of my earlier remarks, he needs to be certain that the people he appoints are there for the right motives. While 99.9% of them are, I felt obliged to say what I said. I will not say much more, a Cheann Comhairle, because I do not want to identify people here. However, it does not sit easily with me or with many of my constituents that a certain individual may be portraying a double life.

The Bill has been well researched and documented. Money will be channelled to the places it should go. Since 2001 the Department of Education and Skills has spent €8 million to support the provision of information and referral services by support groups for former residents. As with many other areas in life, money can naturally get gobbled up in setting up groups. However, in the delivery of the service the victim cannot be sidelined in any way at any time. The victim is paramount and we must ensure that every cent spent goes into the proper services.

Case conferences about children or other people often involve 15 officials of different ranking sitting around a table. While many or all of them are there for good reasons and doing their best, it is impossible to do anything in such a situation. I have sat on boards with 15 or 20 people and it is impossible for a survivor to have to face such a stressful situation. Regardless of their present situation, they may have suffered over the long term. While they may have an advocate with them, nonetheless it is too bureaucratic with too many people involved. It should be kept slim and trim with the right people with the vision, passion and understanding, and it needs to be dealt with as sensitively as possible. We cannot have scope for the heavy hand of the State or any institution dealing insensitively. An inappropriate word or a syllable could be enough to frighten the person sitting across the table and make him or her feel bullied, threatened or intimidated. We must remember they have been through horrific attacks on their being and they have been nurtured to come out of it. Christine Buckley and others are doing great work in getting them out there.

We must be awfully careful that the money is channelled in the right way and that every cent is spent to restore them their dignity, humanity, individualism and their good name so that they can be helped to live the best life they can. We also need to try to reach out to those who have gone abroad and gone into hiding in some cases, which is the most difficult of all. I wish the Minister well and commend the Bill to the House.


Bernadette Fahy
Posted on 17 Jun 2012 4:05 pm (Report this comment)

I was in the public gallery during this debate and I did not appreciate that former residents of insustrial and reformatory schools - being referred to as 'these people'. Coud not a more respectful term be found?

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