Wednesday, 25 September 2013
Magdalen Laundries Report
9. To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality the timeframe for the implementation of the Quirke recommendations regarding the survivors of the Magdalen laundries; if he has had discussion with the religious congregations on the compensation fund; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39588/13]
On 25 June 2013 the Government approved the immediate implementation of a cash lump sum payment scheme based on duration of stay in laundries as recommended by Mr. Justice Quirke and tasked an interdepartmental group with giving further detailed consideration to the steps necessary to implement the other recommendations made by him, which are complicated. I have already established a special unit to process applications and determine whether applicants resided and worked in an institution covered by the scheme, the duration of their stay and the calculation of the capital sum due to be paid to them. Over 540 applications have been received to date and are being processed.
Payments cannot commence until decisions have been made on the other recommendations. I expect to receive the report of the interdepartmental group later this week and I will then bring the matter back before Government for final decision. I expect the first offers of payments of a lump sum to issue within four to six weeks of the Government decision.
I met representatives of the four religious congregations concerned in June 2013 together with my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, to discuss a contribution from them to the scheme as recommended by Mr. Justice Quirke. Following reflection on the matter all four declined to make a contribution. The matter was discussed at government in July and after that discussion I wrote to the congregations expressing disappointment that they had decided not to make a financial contribution. I pointed out that the Government was of the view that the congregations have a moral obligation to do so and urged them to reconsider. Unfortunately, the congregations have since responded reaffirming their position.
The Government is to be commended on this initiative, on the priority it has given to the Magdalen survivors and the package of measures it has put in place. I welcome what the Minister has said today to the effect that he expects payments to issue in a four to six week period. Will the Minister explain the position of the enhanced medical cards to be made available to all the survivors? Has anything happened on that front? Given that the religious orders have declined, unfortunately, to make a contribution, will the money that is to form part of the compensation scheme come entirely from the Department's budget?
I dislike using clichés but the one about justice delayed being justice denied is apt in this case. Although considerable progress has been made in the recent past many women have been denied justice. A very human case has been brought to my attention. It involves a 79 year old lady in serious deteriorating health who is waiting on the payment. The payment, in the final years and months of her life, would give her financial independence. Her case was advocated in 2009. I realise that is only one case but it is one that I know about. As the Minister is aware, there are hundreds of cases like hers. I realise the Minister has received the applications but the matter will have to go to the Cabinet. When will it go to the Government? How long will it take the Government to make the decision? After that it will be a further two months.
The attitude of the religious congregations is scandalous. Will the Minister indicate whether he has considered any legislative proposals which he could bring forward to compel funding from those organisations? What consideration has he given to that?
I was about to make the same point. If they are not prepared to give the money willingly then the State should consider ways of taking it from them. Many of the survivors waiting on money simply do not have much more time. Many of them are not financially independent and it would bring a great deal of dignity to them if they could establish some financial independence in their last days. Time is of the essence.
The Government dealt with this matter in as speedy a way as possible. The committee, under the chairmanship of the former Senator, Dr. McAleese, was established in July 2011. It carried out substantial work and published a detailed report. Within a short period of the committee publishing the report it was debated in the House. Mr. Justice Quirke was appointed to look at the making of an ex gratia compensation scheme and of making other provisions for the women who were in the laundries. On 25 June 2013 the Government approved the implementation of Mr. Justice Quirke's proposals in respect of the cash lump sum. There were other recommendations, including that mentioned with regard to medical cards, which had to be furnished to the group, from whom I expect to receive the report at the end of this week with regard to detailing the steps needed to be taken to implement those provisions. For example, it is inevitable that the medical card provision will require legislation, which we will then introduce as rapidly as possible. Certain legal steps must be taken to copper-fasten what we do in this context.
I share Deputy O'Sullivan's outrage that this issue was not addressed many years ago. I was one of the Members who had expressed the view that should have been addressed long before I became a Minister. We are dealing with this with the greatest possible speed. We have received over 500 applications and we must process them carefully. We must ensure that when we receive the report decisions are made in respect of individuals that are appropriate. It is likely that cash sums will be paid out in accordance with the scheme in advance of some of the other aspects of matters being formally in place. However, we should then be in a position at the least to advise people what other benefits will accrue to them.
It is also particularly complicated in respect of addressing certain issues not fully teased out by Mr. Justice Quirke where there are individuals affected by this who do not live in this jurisdiction. These people live in the United Kingdom or outside the United Kingdom. We are looking at how best to implement the recommendations in a manner that does not detrimentally impact on their financial circumstances in the country in which they are resident by depriving them of benefits to which they would otherwise be entitled. That is a particular difficulty.
In fairness to Deputies Daly and Wallace, I regard it as a particular disappointment that the religious congregations have not agreed to contribute to this fund. The Minister of State, Deputy Lynch and I made very clear our views and the view of the Government in this regard. There is no legal mechanism to compel them to make such a contribution. This is why I said in my correspondence to them and in reply to today's question that it was the view of the Government and myself that they have a moral obligation to do so. I am conscious that the congregations currently care for over 100 women who were in the laundries.
I am also conscious of and appreciate the full assistance and co-operation the Department is getting from them in checking records and authenticating and verifying lengths of time that individuals spent in laundries.
However, many people find it surprising that the congregations have not contributed in an appropriate manner to the fund.
Finally, lest Deputy Ó Fearghaíl accuses me of avoiding a question, the necessary funding to meet the scheme will be provided by the Government. As for the amounts, that matter is being discussed at Government level and between the Minister, Deputy Howlin, and myself.
Obviously, it cannot come out of the original Department of Justice and Equality Estimates and the Government is dealing with that in a financially appropriate manner. However, I assure the Deputy the payments will be made as soon as the Government is in a position to finalise matters following on from the report I expect to receive at the end of the week.