Thursday, 28 April 2005
Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (Amendment) Bill 2005: Second Stage (Resumed).
Every time the issue of institutional child abuse is raised, people respond in the way they always respond to bad news that they cannot control. There is an obvious sense of the pain of the victims of child abuse but sometimes people attempt to ignore institutional child abuse. I have often noticed people switching channels when this issue is discussed on television and radio because they do not want to hear about it. Institutional child abuse is something over which we have no control that went on years ago. It was a blight on our society and many of the events we are talking about took place in a time period that most of us can remember. Not all of the incidences of this abuse took place in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. Much of this abuse took place in the 1970s.
It is important that we get this legislation right with regard to the victims of institutional child abuse. Their cases need to be heard in a way that is satisfactory to them. It is surprising to hear that there are still more than 1,700 people wishing to come before the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse either to make their cases or to seek redress for what happened to them when they were under the care of the State. It is important to craft this legislation in such a way as to benefit the victims of institutional abuse.
When I read some of the transcripts and listened to Deputy Enright speaking on this matter, I got a sense that the State had dragged its feet with regard to this issue. At the moment, the Joint Committee on Health and Children is examining the Travers report regarding illegal nursing home charges. The committee gets the same sense that the political establishment is trying to wash its hands of the matter and deny involvement. Institutional child abuse happened over a long period. Although it was only exposed in the last decade, there were references to reports written as far back as 1970, which said that the State's handling of this issue was disgraceful. The fact that it was not dealt with then and rectified is a very sad indictment of our society. It is important that we do the right thing for the victims of institutional child abuse, whatever decision is made regarding this Bill.
I know that everyone who spoke on this issue in recent weeks will be compassionate and will speak very positively about what is going on. We should also look at contemporary society and ask whether similar instances of child abuse are happening now that we could do something about. There is no doubt that many of the elements of abuse that we read about are still there today. They may still be within certain institutions housing people who do not have full intellectual control over their lives. Their intellectual disabilities or other infirmities mean they cannot defend themselves from the types of abuse endured by young children in institutions many years ago. Those children could not defend themselves then and were not listened to when they made complaints. The reason is that they were vulnerable. Many people had no time for them or could not care less about what was happening to them. In some respects, there is an element of this in our society currently regarding people with other disabilities who are under the care of the State in institutions, who cannot stand up for themselves and who can be abused just as badly as those who were abused previously. At the time, many reports were written on this issue but nothing was done about it. We must ensure this does not happen now.
On the issue of reports about the illegality of nursing home charges, the claim that this has been occurring for the past 30 years is somehow supposed to make it justifiable. Will we justify what is happening today in this way when writing a report in 25 years time? Will we claim that, because something has been happening ad infinitum, we should accept it? I am sure the Minister of State is interested in the welfare of these people and is concerned that this should not happen.
We have seen little movement during the life of this Government on the issue of vetting those who work with children or people with disabilities but it is a matter of increasing priority. We make such a play out of how we feel about disability issues or children but we do not have concise legislation to protect the people who cannot care for themselves. This is an issue that should be viewed seriously by the Tánaiste and the Government should do something about it. The Government has been dragging its heels for so long that it obviously does not feel it is an important issue.
In the course of listening to these debates, one aspect arose that I hope the Minister of State will clarify for me. If the State makes awards to people, does the existing legislation allow lump sum payments only? Why can these payments not be made on an incremental basis over a number of years? The impression I received upon reading some of the reports is that awards cannot be made in the courts or by commissions where the money is paid out in instalments. This is fascinating because an important issue is how we, as legislators and members of society, treat children who are born with birth injuries. Currently, the only recourse any parents of a child with a birth injury have is to sue the hospital their child was born in and the doctors and nurses who looked after their child. I am shocked that this situation is allowed to exist. If a family takes the hospital or doctor in question to court and loses its case, it is liable for all the court costs involved and will not receive any services from the State. The State does not have a system to protect parents or to provide for such families in the long term.
These obstetric cases, especially those involving a child with a significant birth injury, are some of Ireland's most expensive court cases and the awards in these cases have gone out of control. The latest one was for €4.6 million. If, God forbid, this child were to die young for any reason, the money would stay with the family. I cannot have any control over this but it is a matter that should be discussed. Some families can be very successful in a court case whereas others get nothing and there is no help for them. There is no in-between. I am surprised the Government does not examine this issue in the context of a no-fault compensation scheme wherein families could have all the State-provided assistance they need to look after such children through the handing over of a sum of money on an annual basis rather than situations in which there is a large, single amount of compensation. I am not speaking about compensation for the psychological effects endured by families. These awards should be made in the amount of the maintenance costs required during a person's lifetime.
For the families involved it is a lottery because some of them have lost their court cases and have been required to pay the State's costs. Sometimes the State or the medical protection unions involved do not follow up on these costs but the families are left with no assistance from the State and no safety net to protect them. They must do everything for themselves. This issue has been raised a number of times but I have never heard the Government pay much attention to it. The Government has never tried to deal with these cases positively. There is a distinct lack of coherent policy on how to care for people who cannot care for themselves. The disability issue may be getting some attention at present given how money is being spent, but many problems relate to how people are being assessed.
The House should examine where problems exist in society and ask what we can resolve now rather than holding another tribunal of inquiry in 20 years' time during which we would be asked what was wrong with us that we did not deal with these issues. I am shocked by the number of reports made and briefing notes received by Ministers and their advisers of which I have become aware since I have become a Member of Dáil Éireann on issues about which nothing is ever done. There does not even seem to be a need to be responsible but we are making a play about how well we care for children and people with disabilities.
I attended the Irish Patients Association's launch of the European Charter of Patients' Rights a few weeks ago at which the Tánaiste spoke eloquently about the importance of patients' rights. We were given to hang in our offices a framed copy of the 20 core points considered to be patients' rights in the European context, yet we have fulfilled few of them. We pay lip-service to most of them but we do little about implementing more than a few of them. This is a thread running through the actions of Government.
Much of this Bill has been dealt with in detail by Deputy Enright on behalf of Fine Gael, and other Deputies will speak today on what has happened in the past. I hope this legislation will make amends to many of these people and will deal with the issue. We must start looking towards the future as we discuss this legislation and examine what we are supposed to be doing here. Why do we not have vetting legislation on people who work with children and the intellectually disabled? Someone with a history from this jurisdiction or another has no difficulty in obtaining work here with children or people with intellectual disabilities who cannot protect themselves. The Garda is straining to get this information for the Health Service Executive. Often the Garda will not extend this service to voluntary groups or small organisations because they say they do not have the resources. A quick glance at medical services, especially services provided for children and people with intellectual disability, will show that the voluntary sector has a considerable role to play. Yet we do not even have basic standards to ensure we protect these people years after all this abuse has been exposed.
Another issue I will repeatedly raise and will push if I ever have the opportunity to sit on the other side of the House is "no fault" compensation for children born with birth injuries. I am surprised the Government, which has done so well economically, has not been more progressive in implementing this policy for all parents. Will the Minister clarify that the legislation states that where the court makes an award, a certain amount of money, which is index linked, is given annually? I find that very strange.
When dealing with families and people in difficulty, those of us in the front line of delivering medical services, including the Ceann Comhairle in his time, use a considerable amount of common sense. One does not always totally fall back on the legislation, which is inadequate or too oppressive. In recent months, we saw a case where a family made a statement to the health board that it could not cope with the difficulties it faced in the home. In response, we saw the agencies of the State act in a very oppressive manner. Perhaps this came about because of the overbearing effect of the legal system or because public servants believe they are no longer well protected by the State.
When people make a complaint to me — I am sure the Ceann Comhairle came across this in his time — or to social workers, we try to use common sense and evaluate the situation to decide if a person will do what he threatens or if it is a cry for help. We should listen to those who cry for help. Instead, we have seen the strong-arm tactics of the State, which took children out of a stable environment simply because of the way the parents made their complaint. That issue has not been totally cleared up, that is, how those policies were followed through. Is the Health Service Executive afraid a person will do something and that it will be held responsible? It should evaluate a threat to establish whether it is a cry for help rather than an actual threat. Unfortunately, we will not get it right all the time.
Recently in my constituency, relatives made statements about an unfortunate woman who was not coping well with her situation but nobody felt the need to intervene. Sadly, as we know, that woman drowned her two children before drowning herself. We must be careful about using the strong-arm tactics of the State. The case I mentioned has never really been cleared up and no statement was issued as to why the HSE went down this route. It may well have had compelling reasons for doing so but we can get caught up in legal issues when dealing with patients and families who have problems. We seem to be putting common sense to one side and are not showing empathy for these families. We are using the strong arms of the law and implementing it in a very rigid fashion. Does the Minister have any opinions on that?
This Bill concerns the abuse of children in residential care. Little has been said about the abuse of children in non-residential institutions. Many people have complained to the commission that much of this abuse took place in day schools or elsewhere and not only in residential institutions. The State has claimed that it was not in loco parentis and, therefore, it has no responsibility for children in day schools. That issue should be looked into because the State has a significant role to play in that regard. Abusers were able to leave schools with excellent references in their back pockets and move to other schools and continue to abuse.
I will certainly not criticise the teaching profession or the religious institutions. I was a student in a religious institution and benefitted from an excellent education. I saw none of the things about which we have read in that institution. However, we should look into that issue also.
I wish to share time with Deputy Connolly.
I welcome the change to the definition of abuse, which allows the commission to make a finding of abuse where it might be reasonable to assume the act or omission concerned caused serious harm to a person. It is important that the commission is empowered to do its job and widening of the definition will offer scope in this regard. If the definition of abuse is too narrow, it will restrict the work of the commission, which should ensure that as much help and support as possible is given the victim of such abuse.
The Bill also extends the function of the commission to include a duty to inquire into the manner in which children were placed in institutions and the circumstances in which they continued to be resident there. This is an important factor in regard to institutional care for children as it puts a focus on the reason children were placed in institutions in the past and will shed some light on the institutional care here. I am sure that in many cases in the past, the very act of putting some children into institutions and the manner in which they were placed there were abusive and denied basic human rights to some children. We cannot escape the fact some children were badly treated by being placed in these institutions when, in a more enlightened and humane society, they would not have been institutionalised and would have received help and care in their families or communities. This aspect of the commission's duty will cause us to examine why children are placed in institutions today and will question whether we continue to deny children their rights in such matters. We need to offer redress to the victims of past mistakes involving abuse in our institutions and to ensure the lessons learned are put into practice so nobody should have to suffer such abuse again.
The Bill removes the obligation on the investigation committee to hear all complaints and it gives it discretion as to which witnesses considered should be called to a full hearing to ensure the inquiry functions are fulfilled. In doing this, it also removes the requirement to satisfy that abuse occurred, to determine the nature, cause and circumstances of abuse. This will mean that the commission will not be required to have a two phase process in hearing evidence that would have led to unnecessary delays and costs for the commission carrying out its functions.
In the past, people have shown tremendous courage in speaking out. This has placed enormous mental and physical pressure on the victims and it is important to do as much as possible to speed up the process so that redress can be given as quickly as possible. Those involved deserve our respect and we need to ensure we remove obstacles that cause delays in dealing with such issues while at the same time ensuring justice is applied in a fair and equal manner.
Is the Government guilty of abuse? In my county — I am sure the Minister of State, Deputy de Valera, is aware of it — there is no place for children with autism other than secure psychiatric units, which are not suitable. Children are also committing serious crime. They come before the Judiciary and it is faced with the problem of there being no proper places to send those children except adult prisons which are unsuitable. Such a lack of facilities is an abuse.
Children roam the streets at night with nobody to care for them. It is time the onus was put on parents to ensure their children do not roam the streets at night. They should be responsible for their children. It is an abuse of parent responsibility that young children are allowed to do so.
Children are being denied their rights by abuses that took place in the past. I know of a man who was in Letterfrack 56 years ago who received €114,000 compensation for the abuse he suffered. Such abuse can no longer be allowed to take place. Serious vetting of persons dealing with young people should be put in place to ensure they are not guilty of such abuse and are worthy to be responsible for the care of young children. If such vetting is not put in place, similar abuse will happen. How many children have been sexually abused in their homes? Such abuse is scandalous. I am sure the Minister of State will ensure that proper places are provided for the children to whom I referred and that the necessary arrangements will be put in place to penalise the perpetrators of crimes against young people.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. The saga of physical, sexual and psychological abuse of children was one of the darkest chapters in human relationships in our long and chequered history. When we talk about abuse we often tend to forget about the psychological aspect of abuse. It can leave many scars. It is important to point out that all child abuse does not and has not occurred in institutions. Abuse has occurred and probably will occur outside them. We should never take our eye off the ball in that regard.
The history of children having been betrayed by abuse in homes and institutions that were founded by the State has been extensively documented. To some degree such abuse has come out into the open in recent times. One of the major documentaries that shocked our nation was "States of Fear". It created a culture whereby people with cameras could go inside the gates and the walls of those institutions and explore what happened there. In the past when a person was ghosted away in one of these institutions, we felt secure in the knowledge that the person was cared for by the State. Years later, those walls came down, so to speak, when the television cameras were brought into those institutions and programmes on life inside them brought the issue into our living rooms. Those programmes gave us a real sense of what institutional care was like in some cases.
However, not all institutions were bad. To some extent, they provided good care for some. It is important to point out that not all who worked in institutions were bad. However, all it takes is one bad apple to taint the whole box or to create the impression that everyone who worked in those institutions was a bad apple. That perception is bound to be frustrating for many good people because no matter where one goes, one will find people with kind hearts. The system might not be good but at least there are kind people and that should not be forgotten.
A number of films were made that detailed abuse. Survivors have stated that the films understated the levels of abuse that took place. I am sure that is not meant as a cut at the producers or film makers. There are types of abuse that a film, no matter how graphic the scenes, will never capture. Those who suffered the pain will say that the scenes did not capture how they felt at that time. That will be true. The guy who cracks that formula will make a blockbuster. The film, "Song for a Raggy Boy", is one such case in point. It graphically illustrated abuse that was commonplace in children's lives and about which there was a lack of public awareness.
Largely as a result of the catalogue of child abuse coming into the public domain, the position for children has changed significantly during the past two decades for the better. There has been a shift away from institutionalised residential care towards foster care and efforts to keep families together in the first place. As a State, one of our core values should be, where possible, to keep the family unit — for example, a brother and sister — together. There is a bond between siblings and it must be fostered at all times in such circumstances.
Fostering may be a temporary respite arrangement to care for a child where a parent has been killed, the parents are going through a difficult time coping with a problem such as alcoholism, depression or illness or where the parents do have not basic coping skills. Fostering can help by giving parents some breathing space. While parents may not be able to cope, it is important for them in such circumstances to feel secure in the knowledge that their children are being looked after adequately in a family environment by a family who can give them more love. This caring work of people who take children into a foster home must be encouraged. Foster parents, to a large degree, provide a wonderful service. It is very unselfish of them to do that. They are bound to develop emotional ties with the children for whom they care. They know that at some point they will have to give back the children and that loss is almost like a death to them. When the right type of people are attracted to fostering, they care for children for the right reason. We should encourage such fostering.
At least two thirds of children who are looked after by health authorities are in foster families as opposed to residential homes. The trend to move away from care in institutions is continuing. This move is to be welcomed. Health boards are enlightened in that respect. It is a major job for them to adopt this approach. I note they regularly advertise for foster parents who must go through a vetting process. The easy option would be to create an institution, place the children in them and throw away the key. The authorities could inform the public that the children are being cared for in a nice home which is inspected once a year and reassure them that the children are fine. Contrary to that, the type of work being done by the former heath boards is invaluable.
Their health authorities' care provision is more holistic. Efforts are made to ensure that these children gain academic qualifications, life skills such as looking after their health and the confidence to discuss problems with those in authority. It is important to give people who need it most the ability to discuss their problems with other people. A problem shared is a problem halved. That is the type of skill we should develop in these young people.
Children in foster homes not only experience life in a home environment which is beneficial, they also experience life in a community environment. Such an environment brings several benefits that one cannot buy which we take for granted, even if it is only going to a religious service on a Sunday or the odd football match. Being a member of a football team, taking part in a race or going to a dance class helps one become part of the community. We cannot take such connection for granted. This is a major plus a child will get from living in a foster home or being cared for in a loving home. We should welcome such care.
The child abuse scandals made people realise that the area of residential care has been neglected, thus making it fertile ground for predatory paedophiles. While not all are of that ilk, many people can worm and weasel their way into positions in various institutions where there are vulnerable people. They know how to get such positions. The fear this creates deters many good people from taking up a position in a running club, swimming club or in the boy scouts. A scout leader asked to take a group of children away for a few days, would be foolish to do so. One must ensure there are two adults in the group. These people would like to do excellent work for society but society has changed so much that people are looking over their shoulder in fear in case they put themselves in a compromising position. Teachers are afraid to give pupils additional lessons on a one to one basis because of the accusations that might flow from it. It is a pity society has moved in that direction.
The most important change was to open up the management of care homes to public scrutiny and make them more transparent. In the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s, residential children's homes, even though not totally independent, were run like closed institutions, with periodic cursory inspections made to placate ratepayers and the public. The difficulty with these inspections was that notice of the inspection was given to the institutions. Human nature being what it is, people would put their best foot forward. If an institution were to be inspected, the manager of that institution would put his or her best foot forward and be on his or her best behaviour and have the place shining on the day. If a child had a visible scar, the excuse for it was that he or she had got it at hurling. There was an excuse for everything and the children were drilled on how to respond.
I have been extremely critical of the reports of the Inspector of Mental Hospitals, having worked in such an institution. One would be informed that the inspector would visit on such a day and it was a matter of pride not to let oneself down. The institution in which I worked is a world health model and an example of how mental health should be delivered. However, I would prefer if the inspector visited on days that were not made known to the institution to get the true picture of the institution.
The same applies to children's institutions. One can get around the system. A visitor is brought into the institution, given a cup of coffee and informed about the programmes and how wonderful the facility is. He or she is given the statistics and told how well everything is going. This appears all right to people who do not work in these institutions and who do not know how to ask the probing questions. We have seen examples of this in the recent past. One should be aware of the relevant questions to ask and given time with the children in a non-threatening environment. Children should not feel they cannot relate to the inspector. An inspector should be someone with a degree in psychology or, at least, someone who can relate to children, who could take the story out of the child. In most cases, one can see the fear in children, and it takes time for them to relax. One cannot take a story out of a child in two minutes but must develop a relationship with the children.
People from outside should be allowed to visit these institutions. Perhaps they could become mentors and the children would see them as people they could trust. This is what a real inspection should be about. The reports written are usually similar to each other. We must move forward from this type of scenario. A charismatic controlling individual running the home, together with a complicit team, would have no difficulty getting around the inspectors.
I welcome the requirement for employment in residential homes or areas where there is the potential to abuse people. I am talking in particular about the health services. To work in the health services and the learning disability services, one must be screened by the Garda, which is a welcome requirement. It is difficult to pin down people who move from country to country. I welcome the screening programme because abusive people can worm their way into the system. Some people feel offended that they or perhaps colleagues from another jurisdiction must go through the Garda screening programme, but that is life. I am not saying this will stop abuse from happening, but it is a step in the right direction, which must be welcomed. It will safeguard individuals. If this requirement was in place years ago, it would have made life much safer for people who were vulnerable to attack.
I would like to have addressed a number of other issues but my time has run out.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this legislation. I want to raise a specific element which is not included in the legislation, that is the issue of the vaccine trials carried out on children in residential institutions without their consent, which is being swept under the carpet, facilitated by this Bill.
The vaccine trials were carried out on children during 1960-61 and in the early 1970s, up to at least 1973. The current amending legislation before the House does not refer to the vaccine trials. The Government is brushing aside a vital issue that affected many vulnerable children in State care at that time. The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Act became law in 2000. The Government sought to amend the Act in 2001 to allow for investigations into vaccine trials. However, the amendment was challenged in the courts and any investigation into the trials has now been put on hold. Since then, the silence on vaccine trials has been deafening. I, together with a number of other colleagues, up to and including 2001, raised this issue, and related issues, on several occasions. When it was referred to the Laffoy Commission we thought we would eventually get some answers to these issues. Now this appears to have been parked.
This issue first came to light when the trials were the subject of media comment in October 1990, and subsequently in May 1991. The then Minister for Health, the current Ceann Comhairle, Deputy O'Hanlon, answered questions in this House on the issue on 7 May 1991. At least two separate studies were carried out. The first was the 1960-61 study, which was the subject of a subsequent report in the British Medical Journal of 21 April 1962. It described a comparative study comparing three-in-one, diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis and a separate polio immunisation, with a four-in-one. The four vaccines combined were tested on 52 children resident in five orphanages.
In 1973, the Eastern Health Board noted above expected levels of adverse reactions following the administration of the DTP vaccine. It discussed this with the pharmaceutical company, Wellcome, who manufactured the vaccine. I want to focus specifically on the trials conducted during the 1970s and these adverse reactions. I will give the background to the trials in the 1970s, during administration of the three in one DTP vaccine. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, there was a great upsurge in the number of severe adverse reactions in children who received them, so much so that in 1973, the Eastern Health Board's records showed that the official in charge of the administration of the vaccine within that health board's region was inundated with reports of severe reactions among children. On 24 September 1973, the official in question, Dr. Dunleavy, wrote to Wellcome, the manufacturer of the vaccine, enclosing a list of lot numbers of Trivax which had caused severe adverse reactions. She wrote to Glaxo Wellcome to express concern and the company replied that it had no indications as to the reason therefor. However, three years earlier, in 1970, a senior scientist in Wellcome had warned in a memo to senior colleagues that if further reports of severe reactions to the vaccine were received, it might be desirable to cease its manufacture altogether.
The pertussis of whooping cough element of the three-in-one vaccine is widely believed to have been responsible for the adverse reactions and the Eastern Health Board asked Wellcome about the possibility of reducing or altering that element in the vaccine. There were so many adverse reactions to the three-in-one vaccine in the early 1970s that, by 1974, the extent of the adverse reactions was such that more than 50% of parents were opting for the two-in-one vaccine instead and omitting whooping cough or pertussis cover when vaccinating their children. That is the background to the trial that took place in 1973.
In the first six months of 1973 in particular, more than 80 reported adverse reactions were recorded. Lot numbers were documented for these and they are still available. The Eastern Health Board co-operated with the pharmaceutical company in carrying out a study comparing four types of DPT vaccines, two of which were already in use and two of which were composed of the same basic components and which were approved.
The 1973 trial involved an institution and a comparative control group outside that institution. A total of 116 children were involved, 59 from the community and 57 from two children's homes in the Dublin area. The children participating in the study were due to be immunised with DPT vaccine as part of the national immunisation programme. The children in the community were given the normal commercial vaccine and those in care were given the new trial vaccine that was being studied at the time. The results of the study were inconclusive in that no significant difference between the vaccines emerged.
The trials that took place in 1973 were approved by the then National Drugs Advisory Board. However, prior to 1987, there was no statutory basis for conducting clinical trials in Ireland. In 1987, legislation was enacted which laid down protocols for conducting clinical trials. The National Drugs Advisory Board was not even a statutory body at the time of the 1973 trial.
The trial begged a number of questions and they need to be answered. Sadly, we will not get the answers through the Laffoy commission. In the first six months of 1973, more than 80 adverse reactions were recorded, yet the records of the National Drugs Advisory Board which gave approval for the trial to take place noted only two suspected adverse reactions in the whole year. No lot number is recorded for these.
Prior to 1987, there was no statutory basis for conducting clinical trials. Under what authority did the National Drugs Advisory Board approve these trials? It obviously did not have much control over them given that it had no record of the 80 adverse reactions. These 80 adverse reactions pertain only to a certain region and do not represent the total national count.
According to documentation released by the Department of Health and Children on the clinical trials, the injections were given between June 1973 and January 1976, which is well outside the two-year period for which the licence was given to Wellcome. It is also reported that in July 1977, according to a Wellcome memo, Dr. Irene Hillery was still carrying out work in the area related to adverse reactions.
On 28 June 2001, during Private Notice Questions, I asked the then Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, when these trials ceased. In his response, he stated: "Regarding June 1973 and the clinical trial in 1976, that will be investigated by the Laffoy commission." This is no longer the case. On 9 November 2000, the then Minister then stated the records pertaining to some of the clinical trials were woefully inadequate. He described the lack of documentation relating to the trials as puzzling and unsatisfactory.
Does it not seem strange that an eminent scientist such as Dr. Irene Hillery would keep inadequate records? What has happened to her notes? I have no doubt that she kept detailed notes on the trials. However, they seem to have disappeared. I asked the then Minister about this on 28 June 2001. He stated:
As regards Deputy Naughten's question, his quotation from my speech refers to the vaccine trials that have now been sent to the Laffoy commission for investigation. The Oireachtas forwarded that to the Laffoy commission due to the inadequacy of records and information. The Laffoy commission has the powers to compel and secure documents. Therefore, it is now a matter for the commission to pursue those issues.
This is no longer the case as there is to be no investigation into this matter by the Laffoy commission.
The 1973 trial involved institutions and a comparative control group outside the institutions. The children in the community were given the normal commercial vaccine whereas the children in the institutions were given a new trial vaccine. Why were the children in care used as guinea pigs? On 28 June 2001, the former Minister, Deputy Martin, said:
. . . obviously the entirety of that trial comes under the Laffoy commission, as there are the issues relating to why the control group was not given the changed or trial vaccine. They were given the normal commercial vaccine and the children in care were given the new type of trial vaccine. That is an issue that needs to be teased out. The Laffoy Commission will have the competence to do that. The broader issue does not fall within its remit.
It will not have the competence to do so because it will not carry out this task.
Some might believe the control group got off scot free in respect of the trials. This is not the case because one must bear in mind the Tribovax T vaccine. In this regard, let us reconsider Dr. Dunleavy's letter to Wellcome in September 1973. Enclosed was a list of lot numbers of Trivax which had caused severe adverse reactions. Included in this report were two lot numbers which corresponded to Tribovax T. At the time, Tribovax T was used by the agriculture industry because it was an animal vaccine. We still do not have answers regarding this matter. It is alleged that three different doctors in Dublin transcribed the lot numbers that corresponded to Tribovax T, the animal vaccine, and not Trivax, the human vaccine that was in use at the time. It is understood that at least one such lot of animal vaccine was administered as part of the drug trial which was supposed to be investigated by the Laffoy commission. The administering of animal vaccine to children as part of a trial in 1973 is a scandal in itself. The National Drugs Advisory Board obviously did not note that adequately.
Consider the shoddy controls that were put in place by Wellcome in the era in question. One of the other batches that was administered in the late 1960s and early 1970s was batch No. 3741 which was administered to a child called Kenneth Best. In 1991, this case came before the High Court during which Wellcome admitted openly that its quality control procedures at the time in question were virtually non-existent. When cross-examined by Mr. Dermot Gleeson as to whether other batches of similar or greater potency were released, Mr. Peter Knight, manager of the immunological product support group of the Wellcome Foundation stated:
There may have been a half dozen, a dozen or 100 more . . . Goodness knows what I would have found if I had looked wider.
At the conclusion of the Best case in the High Court, Mr. Justice Liam Hamilton described Wellcome as negligent and criticised the company's quality control procedures. It appears that, as part of a trial involving children in care, animal rather than human vaccine was administered. The commission will not investigate this because it has been written out of this Bill. The investigations and trial were prompted by severe adverse reactions to Trivax DTP vaccine manufactured by Wellcome and administered in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
The Irish Medicines Board received notice of 224 suspected adverse drug reactions to the DTP vaccine since 1972, 87 of which were classified as serious, in accordance with agreed international criteria. The State Claims Agency, established in 2002, manages personal injury claims against the State. Information the agency provided indicates that four claims have been received from parents regarding alleged vaccine damage from the State supported MMR vaccine programme. There are also cases involving the South Eastern Health Board and the Western Health Board, relating to the BCG vaccine.
Wellcome used shoddy procedures and kept poor records in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Consequently, there were many adverse reactions to the vaccine, which led to the trial. Following those complaints at least 93 parents claimed their children had been severely damaged by the DTP vaccine.
This came to a head in 1977 when the then Minister for Health established an expert medical group on the whooping cough vaccination to examine claims that persons had been permanently damaged by that vaccination; to view the medical information available on these claims; and to indicate whether in its opinion the damage was attributable to the vaccination. The group found that in 16 of the 93 cases presented to it there was a reasonable probability the vaccine was responsible for damage.
In private correspondence to parents of brain-damaged children in 1982, Deputy Woods, then Minister for Health, admitted that the side effects such as mental retardation, paralysis, collapse and convulsions were generally recognised as occurring occasionally following whooping cough vaccination. However, when the expert medical group concluded its evaluation of these children the then Fianna Fáil Government pursued a policy of trying to buy off the parents by offering them a once-off ex gratia payment of £10,000, despite strong advice from senior officials in the Department of Health.
At an early stage, following the expert group's initial findings, the officials said it would be inconsistent and inconclusive not to concede proper compensation. Thirteen families accepted the offer of the ex gratia payment. The Best family declined the offer and received more than £2.9 million in the High Court during the early 1990s.
It has taken 20 years since that Government offer for the Department of Health and Children to progress the issue of adequate compensation. Following a meeting with the Minister for Health and Children in spring 2002, the Department undertook a preliminary review of the vaccine damage compensation schemes in place in other countries. The report was submitted to the Minister last year and is now on the Tánaiste's desk. The Tánaiste has included it in her Department's work programme for 2005 which means it will not be considered before 2006.
Two critical elements need to be put in place immediately. At least 16 of those children deserve fair and reasonable compensation. Others who have been damaged, or have submitted claims, need to have those claims assessed in regard to vaccine damage and to receive compensation where appropriate. We need a full inquiry into the vaccine issue. This cannot be allowed to be covered up.
Several investigative avenues are open to the Government on this issue. If one is closed, alternatives are available through which the Government can fully investigate this matter. I have raised enough questions this morning to ensure that such an investigation takes place.
The debacle of these vaccine trials has tarnished the reputation of Dr. Irene Hillery, an eminent scientist. She should be given the opportunity, through some mechanism, to clear her name in a non-adversarial way. I urge the Minister of State, and her colleagues in Government to consider this issue, which falls under the remit of the Departments of Education and Science, and Health and Children. They should ensure this is thoroughly investigated, and the truth is uncovered.
Deputy English and I know some of the parents involved. They want answers about what happened to their children, many of whom are now in their mid-30s and early 40s. The parents must try to care and provide for them. They do not mind whether there is a "no-fault" compensation scheme, such as Deputy Twomey mentioned but they deserve compensation and their children deserve the State's care.
The State was negligent in their respect whether the children were in care or not and the parents want answers before they die. Sadly many of those parents are quite elderly and are badly hurt by the way the State and various Governments have treated them. This is not a party political issue but it is more serious than the scandal of the nursing home charges will ever be. The parents seek only the truth.
I know one family whose child spoke her first word, "Dada", on the morning of the vaccination. That was also the child's last word. On the way home from the vaccination the child had convulsions and has never spoken since, and cannot walk without assistance. Until that day she had reached all her developmental milestones. Those parents and many others deserve answers. Will the Minister of State take an interest in this issue and speak to her colleagues about establishing the truth?
As Deputy Naughten says this issue must be considered and cannot be left to one side. If we return in two or three years' time with unanswered questions we will have learnt nothing from this debate. The argument could not have been better put than as Deputy Naughten put it.
There are few occasions on which I speak on matters of great shame to this House and to the country. I join all those who have spoken before me in condemning this practice as morally and socially unacceptable. It is a shameful blot on our history. All abuse is wrong but child abuse is the sickest form of abuse.
The matter before the House today, to amend the 2002 legislation, is unfinished business and will remain unfinished unless certain questions are asked and answered. The need for this legislation springs from the resignation of Ms Justice Laffoy after much debate and pleading with the Department of Education and Science for funding.
I welcomed the Taoiseach's unreserved apology on behalf of the State for child abuse in 1999. Foolishly I presumed that every arm of the State would row in behind the inquiry to try, for the sake of the people involved and of natural justice, to make the inquiry successful. History, and today's debate, show that was not successful, which is a great shame.
The Department of Education and Science refused to pull its weight in this matter. It is a shame for County Meath that a fellow representative of that area, Deputy Noel Dempsey, was the Minister in charge at the time. Although he was a teacher he could not learn from the past. He was part of the Government and did not make this decision alone but it was the wrong decision. He should have ordered his Department to co-operate fully with Ms Justice Laffoy. It was just too easy to accept her resignation at that time. Ms Justice Laffoy knew exactly what was needed but did not receive it. She knew what was needed to ensure fair play and justice for these victims. The question remains why this happened. So long as it remains, how can we even begin to seek closure on this matter?
While growing up in and around the town of Navan I learned much and have more to learn. Two principles I learned that I will always remember were that one does not abuse children and that one respects one's elders. In recent weeks in the House we have seen cases where both these principles have been ignored. When the former Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, told an Oireachtas joint committee he did not know that his Department was overcharging, despite that it was his job to know and most people in the country suspected he knew because he had the reports and it was his job to read them, he set a new level of what is acceptable in public administration. He should have known better.
It is on a par with what is being done in this legislation. Halfway through a process the Government is trying to shift the goalposts to a position that is more acceptable to itself and the Department of Education and Science rather than to the victims. It is not fair and it is not right and I fear lessons will not be learned. At the crux of the matter is that each individual case is not a fact, figure or statistic but a person no better or worse than any Member who found himself or herself, through no fault of his or her own, at the mercy of the State. Sadly, the State had no mercy.
To calculate this inquiry in monetary terms only is to diverge from that facts. While we all want value for money we also want closure for those involved because they deserve closure as well as truth, justice and answers. My understanding of justice is that those wronged are entitled to tell their story in court and, if possible, face the wrongdoer, in this case the abuser. While I know that will not be possible in every case, the State should do its best to facilitate it. The idea of bunching similar cases together to reach a settlement goes against that principle. We are not dealing with overcharging by banks or mistakes made by a Minister in nursing home charges. We are dealing with abuse and people who have been hurt and stained for life. To group these cases together sends out the wrong signal. The State was wrong. Everyone deserves a separate hearing of their case and it is wrong for the State to set rules with which it is comfortable. The rules should be set by the victims and we should at least listen to them in order that they can get what they need out of the investigations. It is wrong that the Department is investigating itself.
This process should not be comfortable for anyone involved because it should become part of the healing process and, if handled properly, it will be. Given that amendments have been tabled, perhaps there will be a change but, as the Bill stands, I am not happy that it will solve all problems, help bring closure for victims and help them heal. This process should certainly not be comfortable for the Department of Education and Science and, in an ideal world, it should not fund it. Neither should this process be comfortable for any arm of the Church or State which is affected by the child abuse issue because questions need to be asked and answered and, above all, lessons need to be learned. Justice and truth must prevail. The victims must get the answers they need to enable them continue with their lives.
The reason the issue has reached the point of needing a second piece of legislation is that it was handled dreadfully badly from the beginning. Having spoken to these people, I know they required that those responsible accept responsibility for what they did. While this has been achieved in some way, it has been an exhausting and long drawn-out process for those involved. They wanted answers to questions that could and should have been answered long before now but for reasons better known to themselves, large institutions chose not to answer.
My firm belief is that if these two issues had been handled properly and in a caring manner, the issue of compensation would have been a very small issue which would have been easily dealt with. Instead, arms of the State chose to issue denials and exhaust the process which annoyed people, caused hurt and cost millions of euro. Has the Government learned anything? The jury is still out but my inkling is that it has not.
Those who do not learn the lessons of history are destined to repeat them and this, seemingly, is the case. Countless elderly people lie on hospital trolleys and countless numbers of children vanish from the care of the State each year. I refer to children who arrive without proper passports and documentation seeking refugee status and later vanish. I hate to think where these children end up. Countless children at the mercy of the courts still end up in institutions not suitable for them while countless others sleep rough on the streets. It does not appear as if lessons have been learned. Each of the cases I have listed is an inquiry waiting to happen.
I plead with the Government and all others to stop blaming the inquiries for costing so much money but rather put the blame on a system or Government that allowed this practice to happen and, to this day, still allows abuse of children to happen. The victims need us to help them to bring back a quality to their lives and they need closure. There is an onus on us to get this legislation right in order that this issue can be dealt with quickly. Will the Minister speak to her colleagues and listen to amendments from this side that might make it a better Bill? Nobody has anything to gain from this politically. We are all here to do what is best for the victims. Any suggestions we put forward should be examined, dealt with and talked through. If we table amendments that are not right, we will listen but we have some good amendments that should be examined. Victims must have their say.
I thank Deputy Boyle for allowing me to precede him in the speaking order. I will be brief.
We are all aware of the tragic circumstances in which so many young people were raised in institutions and the manner in which they were consigned to lives of misery and, in many cases, physical and sexual abuse. It took until the end of the 20th century before an apology was made by the Taoiseach on behalf of the people for the gross neglect by the State in the management and care of many young people by entrusting them to the care of various bodies and religious orders.
We have subsequently and very laboriously put in place the legislation, the redress board, the recommendations of the review group, the Laffoy commission, and the report and subsequent recommendations of Mr. Justice Ryan. We are still a long way from completing our examination and compensating the victims of abuse. Not long ago a person was on hunger strike outside the House. He was not allowed give evidence and tell his story. Any development should be from the point of view of those who were abused in those institutions. There should be a belated recognition that such victims exist and their views on how the matter should be addressed should be an important consideration. If they need the catharsis of telling their story, of recounting the events, it behoves us to afford them that opportunity.
I am not quite satisfied with section 7 of the Bill which allows for such stories to be told merely to inform the commission rather than giving the victims the opportunity of an outpouring of their traumatic experiences. I was a member of the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights which conducted hearings on the Barron report into the Dublin-Monaghan bombings. The relatives of the 33 who died and the survivors attended the hearings. For the first time in 30 years these people had been afforded a forum to recount their experiences. They described how their lives had been affected. The opportunity given by the formal hearings was a great relief to them. They had been afforded a public hearing which was a recognition of how they had been neglected. I appeal to the Minister of State to ensure they will be given the opportunity to recount the experience before any redress board and any commission.
I am aware of many people in their 50s, 60s and 70s living in the north inner city of Dublin who as a result of mitching from school, for the most trivial of larcenies or where a parent had insufficient income to raise a child, spent their early childhood in institutions. The many diverse reasons often had little to do with misbehaviour but such was the system at the time. Their lives have been blighted. Many of them progressed to a life of crime, moving from one institution of detention to another and many have been damaged. Many of the men never married and live a single life and many are alcoholics. I am sure the same applies in other parts of the city and in other urban centres and rural areas. Countless numbers emigrated because often arrangements were made to encourage them to emigrate. There was less crime until the 1960s because vast numbers of youngsters leaving these institutions were directed abroad.
A good friend of mine was very severely abused and has since been before the redress board. His mother brought his case to the attention of the then Minister for Education. She procured a meeting with the Minister for herself and her child whom she took out of the institution for the meeting. She told the Minister about what had happened her child. The child was returned to the institution. Those in charge of the institution were spoken to. The child had complained about a particular person who then asked the child the reason for the complaint but following this the child was treated fairly. The then Minister for Education had been in direct contact with the institution in which the child was abused. He put a stop to the abuse but allowed the child to remain in the institution. Many situations are similar and have never been properly examined. I am sure the authorities were more aware of what was happening than we have been led to believe. There is an onus on the State and the religious orders cannot be cleansed of their responsibility in the matter.
During the passage of the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002 through the House I raised the case of the Bethany Home with the then Minister. I requested that the home be included in the list of institutions. The Minister stated the original list was limited to 128 institutions, with 13 subsequent additions. I was more or less promised at the time, I believed, that the Bethany Home would be included. I have been in communication with some of the former residents of that home for a long time and they wish to be included. I have received replies from various Ministers on the case. However, it seems to have been ruled out on the basis that the Department of Health and Children did not inspect the home at any stage. Whether or not the State inspected it, this was an institution in which young people were placed and it should be included on the list. The former residents who are now in their 60s and elderly hope their case will be considered promptly. Other similar institutions existed. There needs to be a fresh look at the list of institutions in the Schedule with a view to ensuring a full list is compiled of institutions within the remit of the board, otherwise these elderly people will not be able to make a claim.
I thank Deputy Boyle for his generosity in sharing time. I hope the Minister of State will take action on some of the issues.
The substance of this Bill will be readily accepted by all Members of the House and by all members of society. Unfortunately the necessity of introducing this Bill is due to political failure on the part of the Government. The circumstances of the introduction of this Bill have been on foot of the damning resignation of the first Chair of the commission, Ms Justice Laffoy. Her resignation was on the grounds that not only as chair of that commission was she failing to receive political co-operation from the Minister and the Department but in many ways her role as chair was being stymied. All Members of this House should query those grounds and ask the reason the chair of a properly constituted commission undertaking work on behalf of the State should find herself in such a position.
The appointment of Mr. Justice Ryan followed and his recommendations are being largely incorporated into this Bill. There is undoubtedly a need for better administrative procedures and to bring finality to many of the issues involved in the work of the commission but I am disappointed there is such an emphasis on the administrative difficulties. As other speakers observed, the hope in establishing the commission was that it would allow us to hear the stories that must be told. These are the individual stories of people who have lived lives without justice in our society. There is an onus on all of us in official Ireland to ensure those stories are put on record. Every individual story has a value and each story must be heard and a response given.
To argue there are stories similar to each other and stories that can be taken in generality is unacceptable and the provisions in this regard are disappointing. We can never properly deal with the effects of this part of our history without allowing victims the opportunity to come to terms with the pain they suffered in the care of the State. It is unfortunate that the commission will not be given sufficient opportunity in its future operation meet this objective.
Notwithstanding the recommendations of Mr. Justice Ryan, one must question how this prioritisation is likely to operate. To what extent can we put values on different degrees of abuse, whether sexual, physical or psychological? How can one say the abuse experienced by one individual is somehow of a lesser degree than that experienced by another? In this regard, the chair of the commission has given himself an almost impossible role in ensuring the commission can work effectively to produce both its interim and final reports.
On these grounds, it seems this legislation is more concerned with what is administratively convenient rather than what is the morally responsible action to take. That political context has been lacking throughout this debate. It is easy to confuse the work of the commission with the ongoing work of the Residential Institutions Redress Board because there is an obvious crossover and the same issues are highlighted in the work of both bodies. The Committee of Public Accounts, of which I am a member, recently investigated the likely cost to the State of the approach taken to compensate victims of abuse in institutional settings. The committee operates within a strict set of guidelines and is not permitted to make political comment in regard to the policy implications of any issue under its consideration.
However, I am permitted to engage in such commentary as a Member of this House. The report the Committee of Public Accounts produced concentrated on administrative issues such as the failure of the Government to secure sufficient expertise in negotiating with outside bodies and devising legal contracts. There is a political responsibility in terms of how the redress board and the commission were established and who should take responsibility for how public money has been spent and the areas to which it has been directed.
We must consider whether the redress process has proved an effective mechanism for those who have been abused in recognising not only the hurt they have experienced but the difficulties endured by many of them in adjusting to subsequent life. In line with a general political unwillingness to take responsibility in this area, it is disappointing that there is nobody willing to account for the decisions made. Incorrect political decisions were made that were unhelpful in terms of the wider debate on this issue.
One of the major difficulties in regard to how particular complaints of abuse can be put into general categories is that many of those who have experienced such abuse, because of the nature of the abuse itself and the lives they have subsequently led, are the persons in society most affected by issues of literacy and most effected in terms of their ability to be self advocates. They are obliged to justify their stories, their experience of pain and disillusionment and the ongoing effect of this on their lives in a semi-judicial setting. The Bill provides for more informal settings of the committee structure within the commission but the process will still be intolerable for many victims. Rather than being confident their stories will be heard, and gaining some sense that their pain will be assessed and accepted by the State, they are being put into a situation where many may feel they are on trial.
It will be unfortunate if this is the result of the new structures. The previous chair of the commission, Ms Justice Laffoy, went to great lengths to ensure such an environment did not exist and I have no reason to believe the new chair will allow any change in this regard. However, the fear exists that where there is legislation to put structures in place, the emphasis is always placed on administration, costs and structures. What gets left behind in this scenario is the individual. I hope there will be an opportunity on Committee Stage to consider how the legislation might be humanised.
Many of those who suffered abuse were placed in State institutions for the sole reason of family circumstances and their placements were made on the basis of court orders. The existence of these orders, which are historical documents, give the impression to the persons involved and to the community in general that they were criminalised as children and put into custody. This is the scar they have been trying to heal in their subsequent lives. We must do something to rectify this situation whether through amendment of this Bill or through some amendment in criminal justice legislation, as required.
A clear statement must be made in terms of how such people found themselves in institutions. Retrospection is a difficult legal process to undertake but we must retrospectively say that court orders should not have been issued to place these people in institutions. There is no reason they should have been there and no reason they should have been legally defined as a problem for the State. If we can manage this with some type of new legal instrument, we will go some way towards alleviating the continuing pain of those who find themselves in such situations.
The emphasis in this Bill is on public accounting and the need to ensure minimal costs in the entire process. I had hoped, although this is perhaps a wider issue for the Residential Institutions Redress Board, that the focus would be on the ultimate direction of the public money given in compensation to abuse victims. The awards made by the board have been limited and, in recent instances, exceeded in court cases. We must examine the degree to which awards are divided between personal compensation and the legal costs of the individual. It is unacceptable in any compensation process that legal costs should represent such a high proportion of the overall amount awarded to an individual.
I accept this is a political issue of concern to all political parties and there is legislation, some of which has been introduced and some of which is intended to be introduced, which could alleviate the situation in the future. Unfortunately, hundreds if not thousands of people have been given awards on the basis that their pain and suffering has been used to increase the economic benefit of others involved in the process, but who did not undergo that pain and suffering in the first instance. Until we improve the balance in the structures that exist, more pain will be caused in the future.
Many of us hope the Government will be open to accepting the need for amendments on Committee Stage to change the Bill's emphasis which, as I have stated, is too much on the administrative and impersonal side, rather than on the side of the victims of child abuse who we are unfortunately still dealing with. There would be support throughout the House, perhaps even unanimous support, if the Bill's emphasis was watered down and a more human perspective was brought about on Committee Stage and Report Stage. I look forward to the Government taking those views into account.
I thank Deputies for their contributions. This has been a responsible debate, which shows a great understanding of the sensitivity of the issue among Deputies. We will discuss the issues raised by Deputies in much greater detail on Committee Stage.
I wish to touch on the role of the Department of Education and Science as a respondent before the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, and on the main issues that have been raised in the debate. The Department, in its role as a respondent to the commission, has dedicated substantial staffing and administrative resources to ensuring complete and timely compliance with numerous discovery directions as they are received from the commission. To date, a total of €10 million has been expended on the commission's administration costs, and a further €21 million has been provided for administration in the Estimates process for this year and the next two years. The Department has complied with the four general discovery directions and ten institution-specific directions. As has been agreed with the commission this year, discovery directions for a further nine institutions will be delivered on a phased basis by September 2005.
The volume of documentation already submitted indicates the scale of the operation. In response to discovery directions from the commission, the Department has provided the commission with in the region of 150,000 pages of documentation. I assure the House the allocation of resources required to meet those obligations will be sustained into the future as part of the Government's ongoing commitment to meeting the commission's requirements.
A number of Deputies raised the question of transferring sponsorship of the commission to another Department. The Government's position on that was clearly addressed by my colleague Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, in February 2004. Sponsorship of the commission by the Department of Education and Science should continue. That arrangement can be equated to the position of other Departments responsible for sponsoring inquiries within their respective remits. For instance, sponsorship of the Mahon tribunal lies with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, and sponsorship of the Barr and Morris tribunals lies with the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.
Several Deputies raised the issue of the vaccine trials. It is not intended for the commission to deal further with the vaccine trials. The order mentioned in the debate has been the subject of a court judgment, and it is now a matter primarily for the Tánaiste, in her role as Minister for Health and Children. I understand that procedures have been put in place to revoke the statutory instrument that provided for adding to the commission's task the function of investigating the vaccine trials, in line with the judgment of the courts. Under section 4(4) of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Act 2000, consultation between the Government and the commission to inquire into child abuse may take place before any order is amended or revoked. The Department of Health and Children has discussed with the commission and other parties with an interest in, or affected by, the trials. Some of those discussions are ongoing. Until they have been completed, the Government is not in a position to outline the course of action that will be taken.
On section 4 of the Bill, various Deputies raised the question of how the commission will examine the manner in which children were placed in institutions. I refer to Mr. Justice Seán Ryan's statement of 7 May 2004. He stated clearly that, when carrying out an inquiry of this kind, one has to consider how children were placed in institutions and the role of the courts that processed children in the system. He went on to state that various Departments must be asked questions relating to the supervision, direction and management of the children who ended up in the institutions concerned. It is for that reason the provision has been included.
Section 7 has also been mentioned by a number of Deputies. This section, in conjunction with section 4(6), will allow the investigation committee to call before it those persons whose accounts it considers will provide it with the greatest possibility of arriving at the truth about what occurred. It will allow the investigation committee to identify as wide a cross-section of experience as possible for further examination.
In his programme for work for 2005, Mr. Justice Ryan has outlined that the investigation committee will interview every one of the approximately 1,300 people who decided to continue participating in the committee's inquiry. The information obtained in those interviews will be collected and produced in report format. This report will then be distributed as appropriate to relevant bodies for comment and discussion. If there are material areas of dispute, the committee will arrange for further investigation, including full hearings if appropriate. In the interview process, witnesses whose experiences require to be investigated further will be chosen for later appearance before the committee in full session, with cross-examination. If there is an acceptance of the allegations of abuse, it will not be necessary to investigate further.
Since the appointment of Mr. Justice Seán Ryan, the investigation committee has conducted a large number of public hearings on the emergence of child abuse as an issue as well as public hearings in relation to specific institutions. The committee has also conducted private hearings, in which witnesses from five institutions have so far given evidence. The confidential committee commenced its hearings in September 2000. By March 2005, more than 1,060 hearings had been completed by the committee, leaving a remainder of 35 hearings to take place over the coming months. The legislation before us will further enhance the workings of the commission, enabling it to build on the progress it has achieved to date and to bring the inquiry to a satisfactory conclusion for all concerned.
Regarding the proposal to include additional institutions under the remit of the Residential Institutions Redress Board, the Minister for Education and Science made an order in November 2004 providing for the inclusion of an additional 13 eligible institutions under the Schedule to the 2000 Act, and officials from the Department are in consultation with a number of interested parties regarding the inclusion of a small number of other institutions. When that consultation has been completed, the Minister will make a decision on any such inclusion.
Some Deputies raised the possibility of including day schools under the remit of the Residential Institutions Redress Board. The redress board was established as an alternative mechanism to the courts to provide financial redress to former residents of institutions who were abused while they were in those institutions, over which the State had a significant supervisory or regulatory responsibility. There are no plans to extend the remit of the redress board to day schools. The rationale behind the setting up of the Residential Institutions Redress Board was that children in the institutions were separated from their parents and therefore did not have the benefit of the care and protection that children in the care of their families usually enjoy. The institutions concerned controlled all aspects of children's lives, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with no reasonable capacity for access to or involvement by parents. The children in the institutions therefore relied to a significant degree on the institutions and public bodies with a statutory duty to protect them. The redress board has made considerable progress in its work and made awards in more than 3,000 cases since commencing operations in December 2002. The average award made by the board is €78,000 and total payments to date amount to some €229 million.
Following publication of this Bill, officials from the Department of Education and Science met a number of representatives of survivor groups. A number of points have been raised by the groups and, together with issues raised during this debate, these will be considered in consultation with the commission and Attorney General.
I thank Members for their contributions. The amending legislation will greatly assist the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse in completing its work within a reasonable timescale. Many suggestions have been put forward in the debate and these, which will no doubt arise in amendment form, will be given due thought and consideration by the Minister and the Department.