Tuesday, 19 July 2011
Residential Institutions Redress (Amendment) Bill 2011: Committee and Remaining Stages
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 3, line 15, to delete "17 September 2011" and substitute "17 September 2013".
I oppose the deadline of 17 September. It should in no way be seen as my view or that of my party that the Minister and the Government are trying to sweep this issue under the carpet. They have been forthright in ensuring that child abuse issues are properly dealt with. We do not want to give the impression that not enough is being done by the Government on behalf of survivors of abuse. I welcome the Minister's comments on the Bethany Homes and the Magdalene laundries. When the investigations are completed, there will be a need to ensure similar mechanisms are established to make sure the victims in those institutions have access to redress as well.
Senator Crown and I both referred to the timing not being good. Timing is everything, given the Cloyne report and given people do not believe that we have satisfactorily dealt with these issues. I accept the Minister's statement that the redress board was established for a specific purpose to deal with a specific issue but, in the context of where we are now following the latest report, it may be seen as rash and premature to close the scheme and, for that reason, we are seeking that the board be allowed to remain in place until September 2013 at which point we can re-examine where we are. Despite the fact that the board has proven to be fundamentally flawed, it is, nevertheless, wrong for the Government to introduce legislation that from 16 September will prevent people from pursing this avenue in their quest for compensation. The Ryan report brought us up to 2009, which is only two years ago. This led to Irish centres in Britain being inundated with inquiries from people wanting to apply for redress. Many people who had lost all contact with Ireland knew nothing about the redress board and were unaware they had the right to apply for compensation for the hurt they suffered. As my wife's family is from America, I travel there frequently. Once I met an Irishman living there who disassociated himself entirely from this State because of what happened to him in a residential institution. While I accept the Minister is correct that it is not possible to compel people to come forward, this amendment aims to ensure every opportunity is given to those affected. Due to the recent revelations in the Cloyne report, the closing of the scheme this September may not be timely.
I am concerned that we may be too rash in closing this avenue for redress. I am seeking to extend the closing date to September 2013. I echo the calls of survivors' groups made in 2009 when the Ryan report was finally released to the public. According to Right of Place, at least 150,000 children and teenagers went through orphanages. It is estimated up to 100,000 of these left Ireland afterwards with at least half travelling to the United States. There has, however, not been a significant take-up of applications to the redress board from the US community.
It took ten years to produce the Ryan report but the survivors of abuse have been given a much shorter timeframe in which to make an application to the redress board. In essence, highly paid experts, including judges, barristers and solicitors along with Government and health care professions, are allowed unlimited time to conclude their reports into the abuse that occurred in State institutions. The victims, however, regardless of their trauma, must work to a rigid timescale and deadline. One woman referred to in the Cloyne report stated it took her 40 years to report her abuse. Many of these victims feel abandoned by the State. I empathise with those who are reluctant to come forward because they fear they will re-open old wounds and do not trust the State to give them the redress they deserve.
If the Cloyne report motivates more victims of abuse to come forward, then the deadline for applications must be extended. I accept the Government does not want to deny victims of abuse a right to redress and the Minister's bona fides in his explanation as to why the September 2011 deadline is appropriate. However, there may be victims who, years after the abuse, may take up the opportunity to right the wrong. Accordingly, a deadline until 2013 is important.
I must state for the record that I was referring to 17 September, not 16 September.
I cannot accept this amendment because the Government believes sufficient time has been given for applications and every reasonable effort has been made to alert potential applicants to the arrangements of the redress board. A three-year period for the receipt of applications was originally provided for in the legislation and late applications can be considered in exceptional circumstances.
We have now reached a point where the bulk of the original applications through the redress board has been dealt with. While the board continues to receive late applications, it is necessary to provide a cut-off for the receipt of late applications so that the redress board can be wound down. Over 15,000 applications have been received from over 30 countries. Extensive advertising campaigns have been undertaken and the redress board will again be placing further press advertisements in advance of the 17 September deadline so as to encourage people to submit applications.
We need to prepare now for the board's closure. This Bill will set a date after which it will no longer be possible to receive applications. Closure of the board will be needed at some point and I believe now is the right time. Inevitably, the publicity surrounding abuse in the dioceses of Cloyne and Donegal will highlight the newsworthiness of this particular point. I hope the media makes a connection between this legislation and what has sadly been revealed in the Cloyne report.