Tuesday, 18 May 2004
Residential Institutions Redress Scheme.
Question 34: To ask the Minister for Education and Science if he plans to review and amend the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002 to address issues raised by a person (details supplied) during the course of his hunger strike, as well as by other survivors, including allegations of disparaging remarks made to abuse victims by members of the redress board, the overwhelming secrecy of the board and the manner in which contested awards are being reduced. [14388/04]
The Residential Institutions Redress Act was enacted on 10 April 2002. It provided for the establishment of the Residential Institutions Redress Board to provide a mechanism to make financial awards to victims of abuse to assist them in their recovery and enhance the quality of the remainder of their lives. It also provided an alternative to their having to pursue traumatic civil court cases to obtain compensation for their injuries. Notwithstanding this, the redress bands used by the board in assessing the amount of awards to be offered to applicants are in line with High Court awards made in personal injuries cases.
The redress board published information on its website, www.rirb.ie, on 11 May 2004 which indicates that 57% of cases that were sent to hearing after failure of the settlement process were increased, 29% had the awards reduced and 14% remained the same. The board also points out that settlement talks are considered following a request from the applicant, and the board neither encourages or discourages participation in these talks. An individual has the right to proceed directly to hearing.
The person referred to by the Deputy, who was dissatisfied with the outcome of the redress process, agreed to come off his hunger strike and has taken the option of recommencing his case in the courts. The Government has agreed to do everything it possibly can to expedite a hearing and has agreed that the case will proceed on an assessment of damages only basis. While the person referred to by the Deputy was dissatisfied with the outcome of his application to the redress board, the operation of the redress board and review committee must be viewed objectively and adverse judgments regarding the process should not be made on the basis of just one case. To date, a total of 3,540 applications have been made to the redress board and awards have been offered in over 1,000 of these cases. The remaining cases are at various stages of the redress process. This indicates a high level of satisfaction with the operation of the board and the process of redress.
I am aware that some of the groups who represent survivors of abuse have requested a meeting with officials to discuss issues regarding the operation of the redress board. This will be dealt with in the normal way by officials in my Department. I also understand that officials from the redress board have met group leaders as well as hosting general meetings where issues raised by the leaders have been discussed and clarified. I am satisfied that this process will continue.
The legislation setting up the redress board provides that applications coming before it are treated in a confidential manner. This confidentiality is required to protect the identity of applicants and because the redress board, when considering an application, is not permitted to address any issue of fault or negligence arising out of the evidence given in an application and is not empowered to make a finding of fact relating to fault or negligence with regard to evidence submitted with an application. It is my understanding that the redress process is working well and I am anxious to ensure that this continues. In the circumstances, I do not see a requirement to bring forward amendments to legislation which is working to the benefit of the vast majority of survivors.
Will the concerns raised by various survivors' groups be taken into consideration in the forthcoming review? There are concerns, for example, regarding the commitment given by the previous Minister, Deputy Woods, that the awards in the redress process would be commensurate with awards in the High Court. As a result of the secrecy it is difficult to get all the facts and figures but there is a concern among survivors' groups that the awards are not commensurate with those in the High Court.
I put down this question during Mr. Sweeney's hunger strike and I am glad it came to a conclusion because it was getting close to the wire. I give credit to the Minister for coming up with a deal that appears satisfactory to the individual concerned. However, there is a danger that this problem will recur. What is the Minister's view of concerns that a member of the board, who is allegedly being examined for malpractice, is allowed to sit or that there are allegations of prejudice by Judge O'Leary against former inmates of the industrial schools? Much of it is hearsay. This is the advantage and disadvantage of the redress board.
To shed some light on the matter, would it not be better to have something similar to a court where people could report without naming individuals? While I accept we need to address concerns regarding those who might be wrongly accused, and the secrecy and behind the scenes nature of the board is of some benefit in this regard, when survivors feel they are being intimidated, snide comments are being made or their awards are not being taken seriously, there is no scope for examining this thoroughly. The very advantage of the redress system also has underlying disadvantages. Could this review examine how this might be tweaked without necessarily amending the Act?
As the Deputy knows, Judge Ryan and Judge Laffoy have made reports. The Attorney General made a report on the process and made various recommendations, many of which are being introduced and will be put into legislation at the appropriate time, depending on what I might call the Christian Brothers' case.
In determining the level of awards, the commission must operate on the basis of the legislation passed by these Houses, which was based on the report of Judge Ryan, then Mr. Ryan, SC. That report recommended awards at a High Court level, which is how the board is operating. It would be wrong to suggest this is not the case. I know some statements were recently made on the radio about this matter and RTE issued a public apology last Saturday to correct some of what was said about Judge Ryan and the board.
On the question of silence, we may lose sight of the fact that section 28 of the Act exists as much to protect the victims as anybody else. Many victims do not want disclosure of their stories, identities, the fact they went to the redress board or that they received compensation. On the other hand, in certain cases, while I would not say it is wrong or false, it is not provable that those who cited are responsible for certain abuse and, consistent with the Constitution, they also must be protected. Section 28 of the Act exists for those good reasons.
While I do not want to anticipate a later question which deals with the matter, the manner in which Judge Ryan conducts his business with public hearings etc. will give people the opportunity to say what is on their minds and make their views known, and this is how it should be left. Having introduced the legislation and established the board, we should let it get on with its work. Given that 97% of those to whom offers have been made have accepted them, it must be working reasonably well. As the Deputy knows, it will never be possible to satisfy everybody 100%.