Seanad debates

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Residential Institutions (Redress) Bill 2011: Second Stage


Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

5:00 pm

Photo of Ruairi QuinnRuairi Quinn (Minister, Department of Education and Skills; Dublin South East, Labour)
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This Bill removes the power of the Residential Institutions Redress Board to consider applications made on or after 17 September 2011. It also requires the board to advertise this fact at least six weeks before the effective date in Iris Oifigiúil, two Irish daily newspapers and two UK daily newspapers.

The redress board was established under the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002 to make financial awards to assist in the recovery of certain persons who as children were abused while resident in certain institutions in the State and who have or have had injuries that are consistent with that abuse. The original closing date for the receipt of applications was 15 December 2005, that is, three years after the establishment of the board. However, subsection 8(2) of the 2002 Act allows the board to extend the period for receipt of an application in exceptional circumstances, while subsection 8(3) requires the board to extend the period when it is satisfied that an applicant was under a legal disability.

It is now over eight and half years since the board was established and five and half years after the initial closing date. The 2002 Act provides that when the Minister is satisfied, after consultation with the chairman of the redress board, that the board has completed the performance of its functions, he can make an order to dissolve the board, following a positive motion by each House of the Oireachtas. It is necessary to amend the 2002 legislation to provide for a final date for the receipt of late applications, to facilitate the winding-up of the redress board.

The work of the redress board is a cornerstone of the response to the appalling and shocking reality of abuse suffered by so many of our citizens who as children were resident in the scheduled residential institutions. The establishment of the board afforded the abuse victims an opportunity to receive fair and reasonable financial compensation for the abuses they suffered as children, without recourse to the courts system. Making awards on an ex gratia basis, involving no finding of fault or declaration of liability, the redress board requires a much lower burden of proof than would have been required in court. The arrangements put in place reflected the moral and societal duty to pay compensation to those injured. The procedures adopted by the board reflect its duty to ensure that hearings are conducted as informally as is possible having regard to all the circumstances.

To qualify for an award, an applicant must prove his-her identity and establish to the board's satisfaction that he-she was resident in a scheduled institution while under 18 and that he-she was injured while so resident and the injury is consistent with any abuse that is alleged to have occurred while so resident. The redress board commenced making awards in May 2003 and has processed over 14,600 cases, resulting in over 13,700 awards to date. Awards are made by the board in accordance with the framework set out in Towards Redress and Recovery, the report of the independent compensation advisory committee which advised on the appropriate levels of compensation. Awards are determined by the board having regard to the severity of the abuse and the severity of physical and psychological injury and loss of opportunity resulting from the abuse. The resultant weightings produce an overall assessment which the board reviews to ensure that it is reasonable in all the circumstances for the particular applicant. The amount of redress payable is then determined according to the redress bands.

The redress board is chaired by Mr. Justice Esmond Smyth and its other ten members are drawn from the legal and medical professions. The board is wholly independent in the performance of its functions. Independent legal advice is available to applicants and the vast majority chose to avail of this. It is open to each applicant to accept or reject an award made by the board and the review committee provides an appeal mechanism by which an applicant can seek to have his-her award reviewed. The review committee, which is chaired by the Honourable Mr. Justice Frank Murphy, can uphold, increase or decrease the amount of the award.

Of the 13,720 awards made to date, 78% were made following settlements with a further 19% made following hearings. The remaining 3% were made following reviews by the residential institutions review committee under the independent appeals mechanism, to which I have just referred. Applicants may reject awards. To date 13 people out of over 13,700 have rejected their awards. Where an applicant does not accept an award, they retain the option to pursue any legal avenue which may be open to them.

The Government is satisfied that every reasonable effort has been made to advise potential applicants of their right to redress and that it is now time to move towards winding up the board. By the end of June 2011, the board had received a total of 15,173 applications and had finalised 14,645 cases. Of these, 13,720 have resulted in awards being made by the board, with the remaining 925 either being refused, withdrawn or resulting in no award. In terms of the late applications, that is, those received after 15 December 2005, a total of 1,540 have been received by the board at the end of June 2011. Of these 725 have been allowed and the board has a further 559 to adjudicate on. In all, between original and late applications, the board has just over 1,000 applications to finalise. By stipulating a final cut-off for receipt of late applications of 16 September 2011, it will be possible to finalise the workload remaining for the board and to plan its orderly wind-down.

I believe that the redress board has fulfilled its functions. It has operated independently and with certainty for applicants. In keeping with its statutory duty, the board undertook an extensive advertising campaign up to the end of 2005. It utilised press advertising as well as television and radio advertising and held information days and distributed leaflets and pamphlets to the network of Irish societies in the UK. In total, the board placed 1,492 advertisements since it was established.

This Bill requires the board to undertake further press advertising to advise the public of the closing date for receipt of late applications. In tandem with this, the survivor group network, the Irish societies and the embassies are being asked to alert any relevant contacts known to them. The publication of the Ryan report in 2009 and the Murphy commission reports, most recently on the Cloyne Diocese, have also ensured that the redress board retains a high public profile.

The overall cost of the redress scheme had been estimated to reach €l.l billion and actual expenditure on the scheme and associated litigation reached €1.05 billion at the end of 2010. This figure includes some €836 million in awards made by the board and €158 million in associated medical and legal costs. The average value of the awards made is some €63,000. As the end of 2010, some 36% of awards made attracted awards of up to €50,000, 49% attracted awards of between €50,000 and €100,000, 13% attracted awards of between €100,000 and €150,000 while the remaining 2% of awards attracted awards of between €150,000 and €300,000.

The response to residential institutional abuse also involved the establishment of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse which was tasked with investigating the causes, nature and extent of the abuse. The publication of the Ryan report in 2009, as I said at the time, "shocked a nation that thought it had got beyond being shocked". The litany and scale of the abuse recounted by anguished voices caused us all, as a people, to be ashamed and to apologise to those whose childhoods were stolen and who in many instances, could not live full lives as adults.

The commission's conclusions were unequivocal and damning, detailing the failures of those who managed the institutions and the failure of the State to protect its vulnerable children. Its report justified the decision to establish the Residential Institutions Redress Board to compensate survivors outside of the court system. The report's findings are an indictment on us all and it is our duty to ensure that the lessons of the past are learned and that such abuse is never repeated.

There is a need for all involved to accept their role and responsibility. It is in this context that the Government has called on the congregations to meet the costs of the response to residential institutional abuse on an equal basis with the taxpayer. This is a fair and reasonable approach. The final cost of the response is estimated to be approximately €1.36 billion. However, the offers from the 18 congregations to date have fallen far short of the approximately €680 million needed to meet half of these costs. The Government believes that the transfer of school property currently owned by the congregations offers an opportunity to reach this target. I have invited the congregations to meet me later this week to discuss these matters. The management bodies of other institutions included within the redress scheme have also been approached to make a contribution towards the costs involved. Their potential to similarly transfer school infrastructure will be explored.

The Government is continuing to address the needs of survivors of institutional abuse. Increased funding has been provided to the Health Service Executive for the national counselling service set up to help victims cope with their experiences. My Department is continuing to fund the Origins family tracing service, operated by Barnardos, which assists former residents wishing to trace their families of origin.

I recently announced that the Government is proceeding with legislation to provide for the establishment of the residential institutions statutory fund to support the needs of survivors of residential institutional abuse. Such a fund was unanimously endorsed by this House in the period following the publication of the Ryan report. The fund will utilise €110 million of the contributions - essentially the cash element - offered by the congregations and will target support at survivors' needs, such as counselling services, psychological support services and mental health services, and such health and personal social services, educational services and housing services as the fund may determine. The fund will also promote understanding of the effects of abuse on former residents among service providers and will evaluate the effectiveness of the approved services in meeting the needs of former residents. To date, €21.05 million of the contributions pledged have been received and lodged in a special interest bearing account in the Central Bank pending the establishment of the statutory fund. I hope to return to the House in the autumn in respect of the residential institutions fund Bill.

I take this opportunity to acknowledge the work of all those involved in the operation of the Residential Institutions Redress Board and I commend the Bill to the House.

Photo of Feargal QuinnFeargal Quinn (Independent)
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Senator Power was due to speak next but she wishes to delay her contribution until later. I will, therefore, call Senator Jim D'Arcy to make his contribution now.

Photo of Jim D'ArcyJim D'Arcy (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister and thank him for introducing this Bill. As he stated, it facilitates the winding up of the Residential Institutions Redress Board. It also removes the board's power to consider applications made on or after 17 September 2011. I welcome the fact that Bill requires that the board must advertise this fact at least six weeks prior to 17 September next. Since the original closing date of 15 December 2005, some 1,260 applications have been made. This is out of an overall total of 15,173 applications with which the board has dealt. Is the Minister convinced that all of the people entitled to submit applications for redress have done so?

On "The Pat Kenny Show" yesterday, a woman described the time she spent in a residential institution. She referred to how residents were stripped of their personalities and indicated that the default position was for people to put what had happened out of their minds when they left the institution. In such circumstances, could there be others who have suffered deep psychological traumas who have yet to come forward? What right to redress, if any, will these individuals have after 17 September? Could the residential institutions statutory fund Bill, which will be brought forward in the near future, be used to provide special advice and counselling to those to whom I refer if they came forward in the future?

By the end of June of this year, the board had finalised 14,645 cases out of the overall total of 15,173. It made some 13,720 awards and paid out €836 million in respect of these. The legal costs involved amounted to €158 million. Therefore, the grand total was €1.05 billion. Is it possible to indicate the percentage of former residents who were still alive in 1999 to which this figure relates? Would that information be available from any source?

The report by the compensation advisory committee, Towards Redress and Recovery - more commonly known as the Ryan report - states that no amount of money can truly compensate those who have been abused. This is true. The horrors suffered by children who were resident in industrial schools, reformatory schools, orphanages, children's homes and special schools can only be imagined. Monetary compensation is but a small consolation in the context of lives that were seriously damaged or, in some cases, utterly destroyed. Mr. Justice Esmond Smyth and the Residential Institutions Redress Board must be thanked for the compassionate and understanding way in which they have gone about their business.

The Ryan report also states that the making of financial redress to individual survivors is only one of the measures necessary. In this context, I welcome the fact that the proposed residential institutions statutory fund Bill will soon be brought forward. This legislation will provide continued support for the victims of residential institutional child abuse. Such support will include counselling services and psychological support. When will be Bill be introduced? I welcome the fact that the religious congregations are to contribute €110 million to the fund. The final cost relating to this matter is currently estimated at €1.36 billion. The Minister indicated that even in light of discussions on a 50-50 sharing of the costs involved, there will still be a shortfall of €200 million on the part of the congregations. If ever there was a time for a gesture to be made, this is it. I appeal to the congregations to discuss with the Minister, in a spirit of change and renewal and in an open and positive way, how matters might be progressed. There is a need for such change and renewal in this country. The State also bears responsibility for what occurred. If we deny that responsibility, then the abuse could happen again.

It is continually stated that the majority of abuse occurs in the home. There is a need, therefore, to welcome and support the Private Members' motion relating to the social, personal and health education, SPHE, programme - incorporating relationships and sexuality education, RSE - in the senior cycle in post-primary schools. This programme is mandatory in primary schools and in the junior cycle in post-primary schools. I do not want to pre-empt the debate on the motion tabled by some of the Independent Members but I ask the Minister to take cognisance of what will be said in order that he might take the action that is required. I congratulate the Minister on his efforts in this regard. As the Ryan report states in its concluding remarks, this abuse must never happen again.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I welcome the Minister to the House. I regard him as an old friend and colleague and somebody with a compassionate heart and interest in these matters. I have had an amendment to the Bill disallowed on the grounds that it would cause a charge on the Exchequer. It undoubtedly would do so, but this is something that should be encompassed in reform of the Seanad. It is completely ridiculous that these types of serious amendments are routinely ruled out. My amendment clearly infringes the rules, but there have been many others where that ruling is marginal. The cost of printing an amendment was used on one occasion in this House to rule it out on the grounds of a charge on the Exchequer. If we take this to extremes, we will get no business done in the House. This bar should we be removed and we should at least be allowed to make recommendations. We are allowed to do so in respect of certified money Bills - a rather Jesuitical arrangement - and I have had three pages included in the Finance Bill in the past. What is the difference in allowing us to table recommendations for any legislation where the proposals involve a charge on the Exchequer? We are also precluded from sitting on select committees. I was a founder of the foreign affairs committee and the only Member who is there since its establishment. Yet I cannot even attend, let alone speak, at meetings of the select committee. This is a side issue, but I ask the Minister to consider it at Cabinet.

The Minister indicated in his opening statement that a notice regarding the closing date for applications to the redress board of 17 September 2011 will be published in Iris Oifigiúil. While this is a necessity, I doubt very much that many survivors of abuse read that publication. The Minister also indicated that notices would be published in two Irish daily newspapers and two British daily newspapers. I welcome the inclusion of the latter given that many survivors are in exile, partly because of their savage treatment by institutions of both church and State in this jurisdiction. Will the Minister indicate the two Irish daily newspapers in which it is proposed to publish the notice? There are at least three broadsheet newspapers of record, namely, The Irish Times, the Irish Independent and the Irish Examiner. The latter is a very fine newspaper which has published detailed investigative analysis in areas not far removed from this issue.

I accept that a broader scope of publication would involve an expense, and I cannot, therefore, put down an amendment, but it is important that we reach as many people as possible. On the day on which Rupert Murdoch received a custard pie - I hesitate to gloat about it or to make any remarks about the lower end of the media - we must acknowledge that, regrettably or not, many people read those publications. It may well be that survivors of abuse, because they have had less opportunity for educational attainment, are more likely to read some of the more popular newspapers. The Minister indicated that a total of 1,540 applications had been received by the board at the end of June 2011, while the number of advertisements published was 1,492. In other words, there is approximately one application per advertisement. This shows the significance of advertising as widely as possible. This may not be a realistic proposition, but I am interested in the Minister's thinking on the matter.

While I usually seek not to personalise issues, I take the opportunity to acknowledge that I known the person appointed chairman of the redress board since university debating days. I have also had experience of his wisdom in the Irish courts. He is an eminent and most suitable person. The ten members are not named but are drawn from various sectors of society. However, I notice there is no provision to appoint a representative of survivors. I understand this might be difficult given that survivors are not all in the same camp, having different interests and being members of different groups. I accept that such a move might be impractical and lead to dissension among the various groups. However, I ask the Minister to comment on this omission. I hope to be here for his response, although I have other business of a different political nature to attend to. I expect the Bill to go through quite quickly, so I may well be in the Chamber until the end of the debate. I do not intend the slightest discourtesy to the Minister if I am obliged to leave and, in that case, I will read his comments.

The explanatory memorandum to this short Bill is not very interesting, simply setting out the contents therein, which we know from reading the Bill. It is something of a waste of paper, but at least no Senator can be held responsible for that charge on the Exchequer. I would have liked the explanatory memorandum to give a reason for the introduction of the legislation, that is, to set out that this is being done because of X, Y and Z. I do not wish to criticise the Minister's advisers and officials, but it is my experience that an explanatory memorandum will usually include an explanation of why a particular Bill is being introduced, rather than merely setting out its contents.

I take the opportunity on Second Stage to raise a matter which I will be precluded from raising by way of amendment. I am confident there is no bar on my raising it because it is a matter of general principle and suitable for Second Stage discussion. I assure the Minister that I am not making any subversive attempt to push the amendment into the discussion. The issue I raise is the exclusion of the Bethany Home from the provisions of the legislation. It is remarkable that the advice both of the Department of Health and the urgent plea of the Church of Ireland, in the person of the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr. John Neill, was apparently completely ignored by the previous Government. That would not have happened had it been a Roman Catholic prelate making a similar plea. The situation of the Bethany Home in Rathgar, which operated between 1921 and 1972, is exactly analogous to that of the Magdalene laundries. I attended a service some time ago at the burial place of 200 children in unmarked graves. The naming of those children was marked with a ceremony.

In 1939, the State's inspectors reported serious cases of medical neglect at the Bethany Home. The State deflected that concern and publicly instructed Roman Catholic children not to be admitted. This was a sectarian response and people are now being penalised simply for being Protestant victims. It is quite astonishing. An eminent appointment to this House, Senator Martin McAleese, has been charged with examining the State's relationship with the Roman Catholic Magdalene laundries and other institutions of that type. Is it not possible for Senator McAleese to be permitted to extend the remit of his investigation to take into account the interactions between the State and the Bethany Home? The survivors are entitled to justice. They should not be neglected simply because they are not of the Roman Catholic persuasion. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to a gentleman called Mr. Derek Leinster in this regard.

Photo of Jillian van TurnhoutJillian van Turnhout (Independent)
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I thank the Minister for his presentation. I also thank Senator Jim D'Arcy for his early support of our motion tomorrow evening. This debate is extremely timely given that the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, is, as we speak, launching the second progress report on the recommendations arising from the Ryan report.

In considering the legislation before us, I take the opportunity to acknowledge the substantial work carried out by the redress board since its inception in 2002. However, behind all the facts and figures lies the suffering of thousands of children who were entitled to be cared for, cherished and loved at a time when they could not have been more vulnerable. Instead, as we learned from the Ryan report, physical and emotional abuse and neglect were features of the institutions in which these children were detained. Sexual abuse occurred in many, particularly boys' institutions. A climate of fear created by pervasive, excessive and arbitrary punishment permeated most of the institutions. Children lived with the daily terror of not knowing where the next beating would come from. Seeing or hearing other children being beaten was a frightening experience that stayed with many survivors for all of their lives. Children who ran away were severely beaten, often publicly, and were often humiliated in public and had their heads shaven. Prolonged, excessive beatings with implements intended to cause maximum pain occurred with the knowledge of staff and management.

In a week where the Ombudsman for Children, Emily Logan, reminded us of her concern that a hierarchy of abuse was being drawn up by social workers today, with neglect often placed at the bottom, let us not forget what the Ryan report said about the neglect of children. Children were frequently hungry and food was inadequate, inedible and badly prepared in many schools. Survivors spoke of scavenging for food in waste bins and animal feed. Inspectors found that malnourishment was a serious problem in schools run by the nuns in the late 1940s and, although improvements were made, food was meagre and basic. Sanitary provision was primitive, hygiene facilities were poor and sanitary protection for girls in menstruation was generally inadequate. Emotional abuse was suffered and the redress board heard cases of witnesses being belittled and ridiculed. Humiliating practices of underwear inspections and displaying soiled or wet sheets were conducted throughout the industrial schools system. Private matters such as bodily functions and personal hygiene were used as opportunities for degradation and humiliation. There was constant criticism and verbal abuse and children were told they were worthless.

It is important we remember this because when we consider the work of the redress board and review the legislation, we should be mindful of the experiences of so many young children that prompted the need for it in the first place. It is unfortunate to learn from many of the organisations supporting survivors that, in some cases, their experience of the redress board caused additional distress. Many were upset when told that they could not discuss their financial awards publicly. They took this to mean they could not talk publicly about the redress and that there was blanket secrecy, which added to the whole feeling of secrecy and humiliation. Once they accepted a settlement, they believed they could not speak about their childhood experiences, which reinforced the feeling of secrecy and the point about their reputation. This hurt them badly.

As Senator Norris said, it is regrettable that the Government has repeatedly refused to allow Bethany Home - a combined detention centre, children's home and maternity home in Dublin - to be included on the list of qualifying institutions for the residential institutions redress scheme. This deprived survivors of the opportunity to present their cases to the redress board and seek some semblance of justice and compensation for abuse suffered as children there. The passing of this legislation is a timely reminder that survivors of Bethany Home have not had justice and redress. At this late stage, I urge the Government to find a way to address the needs of Bethany Home survivors, for an inquiry into the activities there and for the survivors to be allowed to access some form of reasonable redress.

As this legislation is before the House at a time when there is public debate about the overall cost of redress and specifically by whom the cost should be met, I fully support the Minister in his efforts to ensure the taxpayer is not left to pay a disproportionate amount of the cost of redress. There are clearly others who should pay their fair share, giving the role they played in causing so much harm to so many.

Photo of Mary MoranMary Moran (Labour)
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I welcome the Minister to the House and I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Residential Institutions Redress (Amendment) Bill, which facilitates the winding up of the residential institutions redress board. The opportunity for claims under the residential redress scheme has been available since 2002. The closing date for applications was originally December 2005. However it made provision for late applications in exceptional circumstances. The Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, announced earlier this month that no further applications can be received after 16 September 2011. I agree the deadline must be upheld in order to wind up the redress board in a fair and timely fashion. I commend the redress board on its advertising campaign and on the notices that will be placed in daily newspapers six weeks before the deadline.

At the end of June 2011, the board had received 15,173 applications, of which 14,645 had been finalised, leading to 13,720 awards. This was a far greater number of claims than was originally anticipated by the previous Government. By the end of 2010, the overall expenditure on the redress scheme and associated litigation was €1.05 billion, including €836 million in awards made by the board and €158 million in associated medical and legal costs.

I would like to express my disappointment at the level of contributions offered by the religious congregations to meet the costs of residential institutional child abuse. Only 12 of the properties offered by the religious congregations have been identified as being of potential benefit to the State and only two of the 18 congregations have agreed to make up the shortfall of €200 million. While I understand the concerns of the proposers of this amendment, it is now impossible to include Bethany Home claims in this redress bill. I appreciate the fact that they have raised the issue but I now hope and anticipate that the Government will take positive alternative steps to ensure a mechanism is put in place to acknowledge the suffering of the Bethany Home residents.

Along with all of the Labour Senators, I am very hopeful an alternative mechanism for recognition of the Bethany Home residents will be found. I would like to pay a personal tribute to Derek Leinster, who has tirelessly worked on behalf of all Bethany Home survivors to bring their plight to public attention. I would also like to pay tribute to the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, and Deputy Joe Costello who have campaigned endlessly of behalf of the Bethany residents since 2002. I welcome the establishment of the review committee on the Magdalene laundries survivors chaired by Senator Martin McAleese to examine the role of the State in these laundries and to bring the religious orders and State together to provide a clear picture on their involvement in the Magdalene laundries. I ask the Minister to consider the cases of the Bethany Home survivors in this review with the Magdalene survivors so that the terrible scandals and dreadful legacy of abuse victims in our institutions may finally be resolved.

6:00 pm

Photo of Averil PowerAveril Power (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister for his opening remarks. Fianna Fáil acknowledges the need for a deadline to be set. The board has been working for nearly nine years. We welcome the fact that advertisements will be placed for six weeks prior to the closing date. I wish to record thanks to the members of the board, particularly Mr. Justice Smyth, for the work carried out. I thank the victims because, in coming forward and recounting the horrendous abuse they were subjected to as children, they have done us all a major service. It cannot have been easy for them and we should all be grateful for the fact they were willing to do it.

Child abuse in residential institutions and elsewhere in this country is a severe scar on our national consciousness. For a long time, we refused to talk about it as a society. I find it difficult to look at interviews with these people in documentaries. I remember seeing one a few years ago where a girl talked about being abused in a day school. She went home and told her parents but they did not believe her and brought her back to the same school the next morning.

I find that incredible but I hope it would not happen in the current environment where we talk about these issues. Society has moved on in that regard. That is the reality of the lives many children led in this country and it is to the shame of all of us that it was allowed happen.

The Residential Institutions Redress Board stems from the apology of the then Taoiseach, former Deputy Bertie Ahern, in May 1999 when he stated on behalf of the State that the Government wished to make a sincere and long overdue apology to the victims of child abuse. He stated that too many children had been denied the love, care and security to which they were entitled. He also stated that abuse had ruined their childhood and had been an ever-present part of their adult lives. He emphasised that the Government believed those people were gravely wronged by the State and stated that it was incumbent on the State to act now and do its best to compensate them. As other Members have said, no amount of financial compensation can in any way make up for the torture those victims endured as children but it was a small token of recognition from the State.

It is wrong that the institutions did not commit to a 50-50 split from the outset but the Government was right to proceed and set up the redress board. Many of the victims were elderly. At the time the Government was considering setting up the board there were concerns that some of them might pass away by the time their cases had been heard. The Government was right to set up the board while constantly seeking to get a fairer contribution from the institutions.

The Minister will be aware that in April 2010 the then Government published a detailed breakdown of the financial assets of the congregations and a little over a year ago the then Taoiseach called on them to pay their final half of the bill. I am very glad the Minister, Deputy Quinn, is pursuing that and I genuinely respect his perseverance in ensuring that they finally pay their fair share.

I was appalled to read in one of the newspapers today or yesterday that only two of the congregations had confirmed they will attend the meeting with the Minister on Friday. That is a disgrace. They appear to have no idea what ordinary members of society feel-----

Photo of Ruairi QuinnRuairi Quinn (Minister, Department of Education and Skills; Dublin South East, Labour)
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On a point of information, two have said they are unable to attend but the majority of them will attend.

Photo of Averil PowerAveril Power (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome that because the report I read quoted only two of them as stating they would attend and that the others had not replied. I welcome that because there is no doubt that society in general, and also people who are religious, believe it is a disgrace that it has taken so long for the institutions to put up their hands, so to speak. The Government published reports on their assets and, therefore, there is no reason for them to do anything but come forward and do the right thing at this stage.

On the legislation before the House, first, I welcome the fact that the Minister will run advertisements in the remaining few weeks before it concludes. I am sure he will also take advantage of the networks the different advocacy groups have across the world that have been working for victims and try to get them to disseminate the information. I am sure that is something on which the Department is working.

Second, on the point Deputy Smith raised in the Dáil debate on behalf of Fianna Fáil, we accept there is a need for a general deadline but we propose that when that legislation is being brought forward, the Minister might consider whether it would be appropriate to include some provision whereby in very exceptional circumstances people might be able to get redress. I am formally restating that proposal.

Third, I am aware that concerns have been expressed by some about the records of the board. Some of the cases were horrendous and it would be important to ensure that the records are disposed of in a confidential way.

We must ensure in the future that the highest standards of child protection operate across every institution, be they people charged with the care of children in a residential sense such as that covered by the Residential Institutions Redress Board but also anybody who has access to children. I agree with the call for children to be educated about being safe. The Minister might correct me if I am wrong but the Stay Safe programme is now being operated by all schools. I am aware there was a gap in that regard, although I never understood the reason some schools and boards of management would refuse to make children aware of basic measures to keep them safe. If some are not operating the programme, I would support naming and shaming those schools and letting their communities come forward in that regard because the programme is acceptable to approximately 98% of schools throughout the country. It is important for children to know how to defend themselves and identify whether an approach is inappropriate.

With regard to vetting, much work has been done in recent years in ensuring that people are properly vetted. Deputy Simon Harris from Fine Gael raised the issue today. The diocese has overall responsibility but I understand that whether it is a youth group or organisation that group or organisation is responsible for making sure their members are vetted and putting in the applications to the vetting board.

Deputy Harris raised the question as to whether any priests have refused to be vetted. I would like to know that also because in terms of the residential institutions we are talking about relatively distant abuse in most cases but the Cloyne report was frighteningly up to date. The same applies to the Ryan report and other reports about more recent abuse throughout the country. We must be sure that anybody who has access to children is being vetted and does not have a way of escaping the net in that respect.

The Cloyne report provides an account of what happened in one area, and we have had reports about other dioceses, but there is a need to listen to the stories from people throughout the country. When one considers the extent of the abuse revealed in both the Cloyne and the Ryan reports, it is obvious that serious incidents of abuse were taking place. There are stories to be told by people living in other areas of the country. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, was reported as saying she would not rule out having a widespread inquiry to establish what happened in other areas of the country. I hope that is something the Government will examine.

Photo of David CullinaneDavid Cullinane (Sinn Fein)
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I welcome the Minister to the House. I supported most of the legislation that has come before the House from the Government. I would have had concerns about some aspects of those Bills, the Medical Practitioners Bill being one example, but I saw it as a means to an end and supported it. I cannot support this Bill, however, on the grounds that there are many people in this State who are suffering as a result of the consequences of abuse, be it mental, physical or sexual.

Senators made mention earlier of some of the television documentaries. I recall watching the "States of Fear" documentary. It was one of the first documentaries to expose what was happening and caused shock across the State. I am in my 30s and I see this as one of the worst chapters in the history of the State in that vulnerable children people who should have been protected by the State were treated in this way. In an attempt to try to get my head around these issues, so to speak, when watching those programmes I often tried to put myself in the shoes of the victims in those institutions who lived in fear of the people who operated them and who felt that the State was letting them down. One can imagine the fear they had to endure and their belief that there was no place for them to go. Those institutions were the place where they should have been protected, yet they were the places they were abused. For that reason I cannot support the Bill which puts a timeframe on the redress board because many victims have not had an opportunity to use the redress board. I will deal with some of those issues shortly.

The setting up of the redress board was more than a means of compensation. It was about the State acknowledging the failure in terms of its responsibilities. It was also motivated by compassion and concern for the victims. This State cannot do enough to compensate those victims not just financially, but to ensure they get the justice they deserve. There is nothing we can do that would be seen as too much and if anything, it would be too little because of the failures. We cannot make up for the failures of previous generations but we can certainly ensure this generation does the right thing. We can certainly ensure it is the generation that ensures the abuses do not happen again, that robust mechanisms, procedures and laws are put in place to prevent child abuse taking place in any institution or home and that victims are given every opportunity to seek redress.

From the outset, my view and that of my party was that the redress scheme was fundamentally flawed. Many found it overly complicated and, more often than not, it involved a traumatic experience that succeeded in reopening the emotional scars of the past.

The recent Cloyne report makes it clear that clerical abuse is still a major issue. That the report covers the period up to 2009 shows the Catholic Church has not learned from its mistakes. I referred to this in another debate recently. I welcome the move by the Minister to amend the law so the withholding of information on serious offences against a child will be a criminal offence. This is very important and my party and I support it.

It is interesting that in response to the findings of the Cloyne report Bishop Gerard Clifford, the auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese of Armagh, said the church's standing was prioritised over the victims of abuse and that this was a great disappointment. This is a gross understatement; it was much more than a disappointment.

Let me refer briefly to some of the specifics. The redress scheme is still processing a backlog of more than 1,000 applications. However, the applicants can only apply for compensation if they can prove their circumstances are exceptional. This usually means physical and mental illness prevented them from applying earlier. It is wrong that the avenue of redress will be closed to them if this Bill is passed.

When the Ryan report was published in 2009, Irish centres in Britain were inundated with inquiries from people who wanted to apply for redress. Many who have lost all contact with Ireland knew nothing about the Residential Institutions Redress Board and were unaware they had a right to apply for compensation for the hurt they suffered. A number of independent reports have shown that many of the tens of thousands of children who were abused left the country and ended up in the United States. Every opportunity should be given to those victims to ensure they are aware of the redress board and that compensation is available to them.

Members have made reference to the timeframe. It is ironic that while it took ten years to produce the Ryan report given the wealth of knowledge and experience and legal backup made available to those compiling it, we are putting a deadline on the timeframe in which victims will be able to obtain redress. There is something grossly wrong with this. Many survivors will see something wrong with it also. One cannot impose a deadline or put a price on child abuse.

While I have difficulties with the Bill and my party will oppose it, I welcome the view expressed recently by the Minister that every step will be taken by the Government to ensure the lessons of the past will be learned, that the Catholic Church will be taken on, as it should be, that anybody connected with that institution will be subject to the laws of this land, and that children will be protected. Nobody should have to go through the trauma that abused children experienced in the past. As a father of two young children, I would be horrified if I knew that, somewhere in this country tonight, children were being abused while in State care or in the home, or being abused by any member of the clergy. Every step must be taken to prevent this. I welcome the fact that some positive steps are being taken but my party cannot support the deadline established in this Bill for the reasons I have outlined. I will deal with some of these reasons in greater detail on Subsequent Stages.

Photo of John CrownJohn Crown (Independent)
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I do not want to sound corny but believe it is great pleasure to have the opportunity to serve in the same Oireachtas as the Minister, Deputy Quinn. I have regarded him for some time as the perfect model of the modern social democrat and have great confidence in his ability to implement an important agenda. I hope he will not think me unduly personal in saying the skill and great energy he has brought to his new portfolio make me more convinced than ever that my campaign to end mandatory retirement at the age of 65 in the public service can be justified. I have not noticed any particular diminution in the Minister's output since his previous term in government. I base my remarks on what I have read in Wikipedia being correct. Were the Minister working as a doctor in the health service, he would be transformed from being a highly productive worker, carer and researcher into being involuntarily dependent on a bankrupt state.

Let us consider the specifics of this legislation. I echo the words of my colleague, Senator Cullinane, in that I wonder whether this is the right week or point in history for us to even begin to give the appearance of putting a time limit on the activities of a very necessary social function. The disclosure in the Cloyne report that was probably most surprising to those of us who observed the unfolding tragedy of various forms of organised abuse of children by those in whom we would have been expected to have greater trust over the years was that some of the abuses occurred very recently. One wonders whether there are still people harbouring awful memories of terrible things that happened to them but who perhaps lack the courage, motivation and confidence to come forward. Are we giving the right message by appearing to be drawing a line under the scheme right now?

I have been a great admirer of the energy that the Minister has brought to the task of attempting to assemble the wherewithal to fund redress through a fair-minded but somewhat more focused challenge regarding the assets of the organisations that bore the greatest responsibility. Without intending any disrespect, I no longer get the impression there is a game of football taking place between the religious orders and the Government in which both sides are kicking from the same goal, as appeared to be the case in the past.

It is important in looking at this matter that one consider carefully the portfolio of assets that some of the religious organisations had. Has attention been paid to the circumstances of and motivation for changes in ownership of non-academic, non-scholastic major religious-owned facilities, some of which, at corporate level, bore considerable responsibility for some of the worst abuses that occurred although they may have been staffed in many cases by very fine people? Without being too coded about the matter, one wonders about the exact circumstances pertaining to the changes of ownership of certain hospitals and health care facilities and whether they should be examined. I am not making any charges because I do not know the facts.

It always struck me as somewhat telling that there appeared to be major changes in the management and ownership structures of certain institutions just when they might have been regarded as potential assets on a balance sheet. Is it possible for the Minister, as the person responsible for this matter, to ask, perhaps on foot of consultation with his Cabinet colleagues, whether there was any questionable motivation? One wonders whether, in redress of this, we could have for the first time in this country a different kind of ownership of certain health care facilities, perhaps through the proxy of the publicly funded universities. The hospitals would be funded by the State, held for the public good and run by professionals appointed by universities. This is a model that has resulted in some of the finest hospitals in the world. I refer to the Harvard-run hospitals, the University of California-run hospitals and those run by institutions as diverse as Mount Sinai and Cornell, which exist for the care they provide in the context of academic medicine. Has the Minister had the chance to investigate some of the changes of ownership? Are some of the facilities in question ones that should be considered to be on the balance sheet? I will probably make myself very unpopular in my own hospital for making these remarks but believe they need to be made.

Photo of Sean BarrettSean Barrett (Independent)
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I welcome the Minister, Deputy Quinn, to the House. I have had the pleasure of knowing him for many years. Like Senator Cullinane, I fear so much of this is still unresolved that we may find ourselves back here again because even more scandals will have been unearthed. Like Senator Crown, I appreciate the Minister is seeking to draw a line under this but we do not know what lurks around the corner. Only yesterday, we saw in a court case with regard to County Donegal that nobody in the Garda or education seemed to be alert to what had been going on over many years.

Judge Yvonne Murphy submitted her report on Cloyne on 23 December last, and on page 88 of that report she found the Office of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs claimed legal privilege over advice the Child Care Act was not limited to cases of intra-familial abuse. The former Minister of State with responsibility for children and youth affairs claimed privilege over this advice and refused to provide it to the commission. This seems like people looking the other way or finding excuses or legal loopholes and not putting children first, as I know the Minister does so staunchly.

We face failures of governance rather than government, and this is also why the country had to be rescued on 1 December last. No Minister ever came to the House to condone what was going on in these institutions but many other people must have known. Page 307 of the Murphy report on Cloyne states the commission was very concerned that the Department of Education and Science could have misunderstood the terms of reference in the manner described. I am afraid many adult members of society are still covering up. What will happen when the next diocese report is published? Raphoe and Derry have been mentioned in this context.

The report on Cloyne refers to boarding schools which seem to come within the definition of "residential institutions". Most unsavoury incidents have been reported from boarding schools in the Cloyne diocese in Judge Murphy's report. What will we find when we go to other dioceses which also have boarding schools? I presume the victims were somewhat older than the people on whose behalf the Minister has been working in the legislation.

Yet again the call must go out, with the Minister taking the lead and Parliament supporting him, that we must stop the nods and winks and condoning behaviour which we all condemn at moments such as this but which happens again. I do not know how to get the message to all educational institutions, Departments and Garda divisions in the country that we have had enough of this and that we do not want find out yet again in a court case or a report that it is continuing to the present day.

The fact that the Cloyne report was presented to the Minister last December is what makes me wary about putting a deadline on this. I support the Minister personally in what he is trying to do. It is a mark of shame on an adult society that we keep unearthing these appalling situations where people have not put children first but put legal loopholes first or stated it is not their job to work on it and meanwhile children suffer. This cannot be allowed to persist.

Photo of Ruairi QuinnRuairi Quinn (Minister, Department of Education and Skills; Dublin South East, Labour)
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I thank the Senators for their contributions and I will try to respond to the various points made. Senator Jim D'Arcy began by questioning the timeframe for this legislation. The original Bill did not provide for a clear mechanism whereby this temporary body could be deemed to have completed its work or to put a closing date on it. This very short Bill is necessary in the first instance. Societies such as ours are very good at starting organisations but any organisation seems to have an extraordinary reluctance to state it has done its job and will finish. Conducting the termination in the orderly manner set out by the Bill does not mean we will close the door forever on any subsequent responses to new revelations that come out. I heard what Senator Cullinane of Sinn Féin stated on his party's contribution. There is a broad degree of consensus on this.

This body was established in 2002 and was to have a window of three years after which it would close its doors for applications in 2005. We now propose with a precise legal mechanism to close its doors for new applications after 16 September. The publicity that has been generated in recent years has been substantial and was sadly compounded by the revelations about the Cloyne diocese and speculation about the approximately 30 other dioceses. Who knows what happens to be there.

This is a specific response to a specific set of happenings in which the State was complicit in that it subcontracted out to organisations, in this instance 18 congregations and others, to take people into incarcerated care by way of punishment or by way of society's response to people deemed to have misbehaved. It is a complex area and is horrible from the perspective of 2011. One only has to read the literature to get into the background of the way society treated itself and how we behaved as a people 50 years ago. In a number of residential institutions, people were involuntarily incarcerated by the State which contracted out the incarceration to institutions which clearly misbehaved according to the reports we have discussed.

It is necessary to bring this operation to a close. Publicity has been generated in recent days. Senator Power referred to the Government acting on this. In response to Senator Norris, it is the redress board which will decide what newspapers will be selected for advertisement, when the advertisements will be placed and how they will be run because it is an independent body. Out of the horror of the recent revelations will be a highlighted consciousness of what has happened.

Senator Cullinane made reference to the fact that once again people will be reminded they have an opportunity to make an appeal, if they wish. Last week, I attended educational conferences in Chicago and I took the opportunity to visit an Irish heritage centre in north-west Chicago. Generations of people emigrated from this country over many years. Some of the people affected may have gravitated towards the network of Irish societies and through it they will be informed of the possibility of redress. Sadly, some people were so traumatised and damaged that they left this country with hatred in their hearts and never mixed again with Irish people. They wanted to go and never have any connection. Inevitably, some will not have heard, or will not want to hear, of this opportunity. We cannot compel people to avail of it but we must bring it to an orderly conclusion. This is what I am doing and I will move on the termination date of 16 September. I will ask the redress board to ensure the advertisements they run are as effective as possible.

Senator Norris and others referred to Bethany Home. This Bill does not close the door to an appropriate response to the survivors of Bethany Home and the Magdalen laundries. A Member of the House has accepted an invitation from the Government through the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, to chair the body that will examine this situation. I do not want to prejudice its outcome. However, by voting to terminate the work of this redress board, we will not close down any response to whatsoever else might happen and, specifically, the body to which Senator McAleese will respond.

Senator Norris and others also asked about the number of countries to which people travelled. The board has received applications from more than 30 different countries, including Great Britain, Australia, USA, Canada, Spain, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Germany and the Channel Islands and relatively obscure places in the context of the history of this issue such as Morocco, Nigeria, Norway, the Republic of Panama, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and the United Arab Emirates. The total number of applications was just under 14,500. It is not clear whether there will be many more applicants but we will try to ensure anybody who can demonstrate he or she has a legitimate case will be properly heard.

I would like to turn to the issues raised about compensation and our discussions with the religious congregations. The previous Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, and former Minister for Education and Skills, Batt O'Keeffe, met the congregations following the publication of the Ryan report and subsequent debate in the Dáil and they suggested that the congregations would be expected to come up to the plate in the context of a 50:50 contribution. A number of newspaper reports were inaccurate in that while that was said by the Taoiseach and the Minister, the congregations did not agree to it. It is my hope that when I meet them on Friday to reopen discussions that we can get some agreement on what their contribution will be.

When everything is finalised, this will have cost the taxpayer approximately €1.36 billion. Most of that money has been paid out on behalf of the taxpayer at a time the country has lost its economic sovereignty and faces extraordinary difficulties. It is hoped the shortfall of approximately €200 million on the €680 million contribution that one could have expected from the congregations will be found but I do not wish to prejudice the outcome of our discussions. I am strongly empowered by the sentiments expressed in the House to pursue them. As Senator Power said, this is not a matter of who is religious or non-religious. That has nothing to do with it. The issue is people taking responsibility to make a fair contribution to the cost of something that was jointly shared by the State and the congregations and it is in that spirit I intend to approach it.

I accept what Senator Crown said about not necessarily confining assets to buildings and properties used for educational purposes. We will certainly examine the possibility he has opened up. During the previous Dáil, I said this could be done by simply handing over the legal ownership of educational properties. This would mean the congregations making a contribution towards the 50:50 share and, as far as I was concerned, as the Labour Party spokesperson in opposition, they would continue to use the buildings as schools under their current form of patronage until they indicated they wanted to change it. My concern was twofold, and I wanted to ensure the taxpayer would see a fair response from the congregations. I have no intention, nor is it the Government's intention, to attempt to bankrupt these congregations, which have the responsibility of looking after their aging members. That is not my agenda or the Government's agenda. We are trying to ask them to make a fair contribution that does not bankrupt them while, at the same, time, recognises they have an obligation and, in return, the education infrastructure will continue as they choose it to continue until they wish to change it. That was the spirit in which I made those comments and that will be the spirit in which I propose to continue the discussions.

The shortfall was €200 million on the basis of the offers made following the publication of the Ryan repot. However, following the Government's consideration of the properties, only 12 of them with a value of €60 million are of immediate interest and that is why we have arrived at the current position.

Other points could be made but there seems to be a broad consensus to maximise the 50:50 contribution and to make sure there is a final opportunity for those who may have been victims to respond. Given the publicity that has been generated across the airwaves in Ireland, Great Britain and elsewhere and the fact that 30 countries have been accessed so far, we can in all reasonableness bring this scheme to a close on 16 September for new applications. It will take the board some time to process the 1,000 incomplete applications and whatever new applications are received between now and 16 September. I thank the House for its support.

Question put and agreed.

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Photo of Jim D'ArcyJim D'Arcy (Fine Gael)
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