Dáil debates

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Other Questions

Residential Institutions Redress Scheme

2:30 pm

Photo of Paul KehoePaul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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Question 108: To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills if she will include the Bethany Home in the scope of the Residential Institutions Redress Scheme in view of evidence uncovered relating to the possible use of the home as a place of detention; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33564/10]

Photo of Seán HaugheySeán Haughey (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Dublin North Central, Fianna Fail)
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The residential institutions redress scheme was introduced as part of the Government's response to residential child abuse. It was complemented by the establishment of the independent Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, the National Counselling Service, the Origins family tracing service and the Education Finance Board. In tandem with funding for support groups, these initiatives represented a comprehensive and compassionate response to the abuse suffered by so many victims while also allowing a comprehensive review of the causes, nature and extent of abuse.

The Ryan report set out a series of recommendations to address the effects on those who suffered and to prevent, where possible, and reduce the incidence of abuse of children in institutions and to protect children from such abuse. The Government published a detailed implementation plan in July 2009 to address the report's recommendations. This plan contains 99 specific actions and aims to strengthen significantly the existing child welfare and protection service. The first progress report on the implementation plan was published during the summer. A comprehensive agenda is being pursued and the recruitment of 200 extra social workers this year will help the HSE to deliver on its statutory responsibilities to children in care while HIQA will prioritise the inspection of child protection. The Government is committed to improving and enhancing our child protection systems.

The redress scheme was established in 2002 as an exceptional measure to address abuse in specified residential institutions and to quote the then Minister from the Second Stage debate on the redress legislation "It is not, and was never intended to be, a panacea for every injustice committed on children". The issue of including the Bethany Home in the scheme was considered previously when it was decided not to include it.

Following the publication of the Ryan report in May 2009, there were a range of demands for the redress scheme to be extended to include specific institutions, including the Bethany Home, as well as specific categories of institutions. The Government considered these demands and in its statement of 15 April last indicated that it did not propose to revise the arrangements.

The redress board is now in the process of finalising the remaining applications before it and based on the total number of applications received, the final cost of the scheme will be of the order of €1.1 billion, while the overall final cost of the response to residential institutional abuse is estimated to reach €1.36 billion.

Recent media attention has focused on the certification of Bethany House as a place of detention by the Minister for Justice in 1945 under section 108 of the Children Act 1908. The Department of Justice and Law Reform has advised that it has not received any allegations of abuse from any female committed to Bethany Home pursuant to the Children Act 1908 and that it would be happy to deal with any such cases on an individual basis.

Photo of Fergus O'DowdFergus O'Dowd (Louth, Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State's reply. While it is an awful thing to say to him, there are 219 graves of children in Bethany Home. They cannot speak because they died before their time, which clearly needs significant investigation and analysis. There is evidence that it was not as previous Ministers held that this was a home for mothers and babies. It was a place of detention and the redress scheme allows for the investigation of institutions where individuals were detained. I understand that the courts ordered mothers to be detained in Bethany Home. There is at least one documented case of a person who having absconded from Bethany Home was brought before the courts and instead of being returned to the home had to serve a prison sentence. Clearly they were sent there as part of the judicial system or as an accepted punishment of the State.

While I am not being pejorative or judgmental, I repeat that those children cannot speak. However, the survivors of Bethany Home can. I heard them speak in Buswell's Hotel. I heard a 70 year old man explain how his life was destroyed by what happened to him there and heard others recount their stories. By looking at them it was clear that they suffered greatly. I ask the Minister of State to review their case.

Photo of Seán HaugheySeán Haughey (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Dublin North Central, Fianna Fail)
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I accept the sincerity of the Deputy's comments. This is an unfortunate series of incidents in the history of the State particularly regarding this particular institution. There is an enormous volume of correspondence on file in the Department from this institution making the case and all sorts of evidence has been looked at. At the end of the day, while the possible inclusion of Bethany Home could have been examined on the grounds that it operated as a children's home, other institutions such as psychiatric hospitals could equally have been considered. However, the Government decided against extending the redress scheme, which has been in existence since 2002 and the redress board is finalising the remaining applications before it. The Department of Justice and Law Reform is prepared to deal with any cases arising from this home on an individual basis given the information that has come to light.

Photo of Fergus O'DowdFergus O'Dowd (Louth, Fine Gael)
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Justice must be done even though the heavens fall, as they say. If the issue is money, let us remember we are spending €30 billion on the banks. The surviving people who lived in Bethany Home had their entire lives ruined by the experience. I have heard what the Minister of State said about the Department of Justice and Law Reform, but I do not hear him saying anything about the Department of Education and Skills. Is he saying that if the Department of Justice and Law Reform so recommends to him, he will include them? Is further evidence being sought in order that they would be included in the scheme? I understand it is the Department of Education and Skills that administers the scheme.

Photo of Seán HaugheySeán Haughey (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Dublin North Central, Fianna Fail)
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I regret that the redress scheme will not be reopened and that will not be reconsidered. The Government has made a clear decision on that. It has been reviewed over the years since its inception and different categories of people and institutions were brought into its remit. However, unfortunately as regards this particular scheme, the matter is closed.