Tuesday, 18 November 2014
97. To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality if her attention has been drawn to the concerns of those women who were in An Grianan who, for various reasons, did not receive Residential Institutions Redress Board awards or very little, are denied support because An Grianan was not included in her Department's ex gratia scheme, yet it is acknowledged that these women did work in St. Mary's laundry; and if this will be addressed in the forthcoming mother and baby home investigation. [43781/14]
My question concerns those ladies who, for various reasons, did not receive redress under the RIRB scheme and who now, because An Grianán is not included in the 12 institutions under the restorative scheme, will not have receive redress under that scheme. Can they be included in the mother and baby home scheme?
We have discussed this issue before. My Department and the women working to provide the service have taken every care to ensure all of the women applying for compensation have been dealt with carefully and as well as possible. I want to make a number of points. The Government made its decision, based on the recommendations of Mr. Justice Quirke, to establish an ex gratiascheme for the benefit of those women who had been admitted to and had worked in the ten Magdalen laundries, St. Mary's Training Centre, Stanhope Street and House of Mercy Training School, Wexford. The scheme is limited to these 12 institutions and there is no intention to expand it to include further institutions. Significant progress has been made in implementation of the scheme. Decisions have been made on 86% of the 774 applications received and 482 applicants have received lump sum payments, at a cost of €17.5 million. Many individual cases have been dealt with. Some 95 cases were refused, as the people concerned had not been in a relevant institution. They include women who were in mother and baby homes, industrial schools and other institutions run by religious orders which had laundries attached to them.
As the Deputy knows, An Grianán is located in the High Park complex. It was recognised by the Department of Education and Skills as a specific and separate institution and it was the first to be listed in the Schedule to the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002.
Every one of the women about whom the Deputy has spoken was entitled, in the nine year period the scheme was open, to seek redress under it. Some of the women seeking redress under the Magdalen scheme may have received redress under the previous residential institutions redress scheme.
I have spoken to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy James Reilly, about including the women the Deputy has mentioned in the terms of reference for the mother and baby home inquiry, but there are a number of them who fall outside the various schemes. I hope my response has been helpful.
The considerable progress made, after many years of waiting by the ladies in question, is acknowledged. I have just been reading the comments of one of the ladies in question. When she was 15 years of age, she was put in St. Mary's, High Park where she worked in the laundry. After approximately a year and a half, the nuns built an extension called the building An Grianán, but all of the girls who were in this so-called training centre worked in the laundry. There is a difference in the case of An Grianán which people accept was, in effect, a laundry. In a previous response to me, the Minister said the scheme was limited specifically to those women who had been both resident and worked in the 12 institutions listed. However, two other training centres are included, namely, the centre in Wexford and the one in Summerhill. Therefore, there are difficulties for this group of women. No matter what scheme is proposed, everybody will not fit neatly within it; there will always be some who will fall outside it. The women in question, some of whom who had good reasons for not applying to the Residential Institutions Redress Board, now find that they have no redress under the restorative scheme. It would be great if the Department would consider this group of women and whether there was something that could be done for them in order that they do not have to take the issue to the High Court or the Supreme Court.
I accept the point that there are women who fall outside a particular scheme. However, there was a nine year period during which women could have applied for redress. I understand that, for various reasons, this might have been difficult for some of them. While it is a matter for the Minister for Education and Skills to consider late applicants to the scheme, under which the women referred to would most appropriately be dealt with, I recognise that it is closed. We have followed and are implementing Mr. Justice Quirke's recommendations closely for the women about whom the Deputy has spoken. Some seven of the applicants have, because they were in An Grianán, appealed the decisions made in their cases to refuse their applications to the Ombudsman, but the Ombudsman has upheld the decision made by my officials in six of these cases. The process of appeal can be used. In total, some 18 women have decided to appeal their cases to the Ombudsman and I await a decision in four of these cases. Under the scheme, an interview is available to women outside the particular scheme.
I wish to refer to one other aspect of this matter concerning women who have reached certain stages of the process but where there is insufficient evidence to deal with their cases. An interview process has been devised by the Minister but Justice for the Magdalenes and some of the women involves have concerns about the process. There is a need for greater clarity. For example, will departmental officials visit those women who are unable to travel? How will the Departmen deal with the women who lack capacity? If they did not use the €500 available to meet the cost of legal representation, can they use it now? What format will the interview process take? Will the testimony of survivors or that of the religious orders and their records have greater weight? There is also concern about having a separate decision maker. We need greater clarity.
I am very happy to make the interview process public and will send the Deputy details on it. The process is intended to help the women involved. We recognise that for many of them, recollecting or providing evidence on the precise length of stay is difficult. We are totally open to using other sources of information and have been doing so, such as school and social welfare work records, etc.
We have now initiated this interview process. The person being interviewed can bring somebody along, and the legal fee can be used in regard to that interview process. It is intended to give the women every opportunity to tell their story and to give information that would be helpful in making a decision. It is certainly very much on the side of the women, of listening to their stories and of seeing if we can improve the evidence in these few difficult cases. If the evidence can be built up as much as possible, it will enable them to be part of the scheme. That is the intention. I have met with the lobby group to which the Deputy referred and I have sent it information about the interview group, which I will also make public.