Thursday, 19 July 2012
Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Bill 2012: Second Stage
The primary purpose of the Bill is to provide for the establishment of the residential institutions statutory fund to support the needs of victims of abuse in residential institutions by the provision of a range of approved services. These services include counselling and mental health services, health and personal social services, and education and housing services. The establishment of the fund was proposed in the unanimous motion passed by Dáil Éireann when it debated the Ryan report some three years ago.
As we all know, the Ryan report catalogued horrendous abuse of children in residential institutions. The statements made in this House on the report reflected the shock felt by the nation at the findings of the commission. The litany and scale of the abuse recounted by those who suffered as children affected all of us. We, as a people, rightly felt shame for the abuse that we collectively perpetrated on innocent children. This tragedy was not perpetrated by the Vikings, Cromwell or the Sasanaigh; it was something we caused ourselves. Many of the victims continue to bear the scars of their experience. Consequently, the Bill before the House is intended to support those victims.
While I do not propose to address the Ryan report's findings and recommendations in detail today, I reassure the House that the Government is committed to implementing the recommendations fully. Significant progress has been achieved across the 99 individual actions and is detailed in the progress reports, which have been laid before the Houses. The new Department of Children and Youth Affairs has been established and will be complemented by the new child and family support agency. The new Children First national guidance was published last year, and the heads of the Bill to put Children First on a statutory basis have since been published. The Criminal Justice (Withholding of Information on Offences against Children and Vulnerable Persons) Bill 2012 has now been passed by both Houses. Preparations for the children's rights referendum are on target. Together, these initiatives will help protect our children and ensure that the horrendous abuse suffered by so many become a thing of the past. We all have a duty to protect children and to act when we know that children are at risk.
A comprehensive response has been put in place to address the abuse suffered by so many in residential institutions. The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse afforded those who wanted an opportunity to tell their story to do so. The Residential Institutions Redress Board provided financial awards. While the board is continuing to process the remaining applications received, it is likely that some 15,000 former residents will receive awards. The national counselling service and the family tracing service provided by Barnardos are other important elements of the State's response.
As recommended in the Ryan report, the provision of a memorial to survivors is being pursued. In that regard, I am pleased to report that the announcement of the winning design is due to be made tomorrow. The memorial should be a place of solace and reflection as well as a significant reference to a very different Ireland to which we must never return. I hope it will serve as a constant reminder that we must never let such horrendous crimes against our children happen again. The memorial is not just for the survivors; it is a reminder to us all.
The establishment of the statutory fund is a further important element in the State's response. While the redress scheme deals with the financial compensation for victims of institutional abuse, the statutory fund will focus on meeting the ongoing needs of former residents who suffered abuse, although that abuse might have taken place many years ago, by funding the provision of a range of services. The statutory fund will be financed from the contributions offered by the congregations.
Senators will be aware that the Government believes that the cost of the response to residential institutional abuse, which is now estimated to exceed €1.36 billion and reach €1.5 billion, should be shared on a 50:50 basis between the religious congregations that delivered the services and the State, which asked them to do so. I have put this to all 18 congregations in the past year or so and, as yet, have not received formal recognition by them, collectively or individually, that they accept they should meet 50% of the cost.
Under the 2002 indemnity agreement, the 18 congregations contributed €128 million, bearing in mind the cost is expected to exceed €1.36 billion. They contributed in cash, property and counselling services. Following the publication of the Ryan report, three years ago, the then Government and Dáil Éireann called on the congregations to make further substantial contributions by way of reparation. In their responses, the congregations offered cash of some €110 million and offered to transfer properties, mainly in the health and education sectors, which they at the time valued at €235.5 million, to various State agencies and voluntary organisations. The Government has identified 12 property offers, valued at approximately €60 million, as being of potential immediate benefit to the State and the transfer of these properties is being pursued. However, the contributions fall well short of the 50:50 target and with the cost of the response likely to rise, this gap is now widening.
Senators may be aware that I continue to pursue the 50:50 division with congregations. I have proposed the transfer of the ownership of school infrastructure at no cost to the State as one mechanism to allow those involved the opportunity to shoulder their share of the costs. I have given an assurance that the schools involved would continue in their ethos until they decide otherwise. I am also exploring the possibility of including health care properties in the ownership of congregations to be similarly transferred on the same basis.
I have made clear to congregations in my discussions with them that the Government has no wish to bankrupt them and I acknowledge the important positive role they have played in the development of Irish life, particularly in the area of education. I am a beneficiary of a superb education from wonderful men I encountered during my time. I am among the many lucky people who had this experience. However, it is not an experience shared by every young man and woman in the country. Having recognised all of this and the contribution they have made, I believe they have a 50:50 responsibility for the damage done and through whatever mechanism - I have offered one that will not in any way diminish their contribution to Irish life - they should discharge their responsibilities and the State can obtain a material good whose value is enormous.
The statutory fund to be established under the Bill is to be funded from the cash contributions received from congregations of up to €110 million. Contributions of €21.05 million have been received and are held in an interest bearing account in the Central Bank of Ireland. The Bill confirms the charitable status of these contributions and will facilitate the congregations' contributions to the fund and towards the costs of redress. While other congregations will forward their contributions on the establishment of the fund or at specified future dates, I continue to engage with some congregations on the timing of their contributions.
I will now address the key provisions of the Bill. The Bill provides that former residents who received awards from the redress board, or who received an award or settlement in court proceedings and who would otherwise have received an award from the redress board, will be eligible to apply for assistance from the fund. It is expected that approximately 15,000 former residents, whether living in Ireland or abroad, will successfully complete the redress process and be eligible to apply for services that they need.
Demands have been made to widen eligibility to include all former residents of scheduled institutions and to include in addition relatives of former residents. If eligibility were significantly widened to include, for example, all former residents of scheduled institutions, then the amounts available to fund services for individuals could be greatly reduced and the effectiveness of the statutory fund could be put at risk. Having regard to the maximum funds available of €110 million and the potential pool of 15,000 applicants, I believe the proposed approach is correct. I know people differ with me in this regard. I have always acknowledged that the question of eligibility could be considered following the establishment of the fund in the event of applications not resulting in a significant expenditure of the fund. Having regard to the views expressed during the passage of the Bill in the Dáil, I gave an undertaking earlier this week, which I repeat today, that the operation of the fund could be reviewed two years after its establishment and suitable adjustments made if this is the consensus on its operation. I believe this is a prudent approach. My priority is to establish the fund and to enable those 15,000 potential applicants already determined to be victims of the experience to access services.
There have also been some calls for the available money to be distributed on a simple per capita basis, while others refer to the possibility of a pro rata distribution based on the redress board awards, in other words equivalent to the amount of compensation received earlier. However, I must stress the purpose of the fund is not, and never was, a form of additional compensation. As far as we are concerned this issue has been dealt with by the redress board. The purpose of the fund is, as advocated in the original motion passed by the Dáil, intended for the support of victims. Eligible former residents will have a range of needs, with some likely to require more significant interventions than others. The approach set out in the Bill is intended to support these needs and I believe this is the correct approach.
Part 2 provides for the establishment of the residential institutions statutory fund board which will operate the fund. I will appoint the board, which will comprise nine members, four of whom will be former residents of scheduled institutions. The other members must include people who have knowledge of and expertise in the keeping of financial accounts and disbursement of funds; the management and administration of an organisation; or the provision of an approved service. It would be my intention to seek expressions of interest from suitably qualified and experienced persons for positions on the board and I will ensure the board is gender balanced, in so far as practical. Members of the board will not be remunerated although they will be paid reasonable personal expenses. The board will serve a maximum term of four years and individual members may and could be re-appointed but not serve more than two consecutive terms, in other words a maximum of eight years.
Section 7 provides for the functions of the board. These are that it will, in a manner that promotes the principles of equity, consistency and transparency, use the resources available to it to make arrangements for the provision of approved services to support the needs of former residents, and to pay grants to former residents in order that they may avail of approved services. The classes of services from which the board can determine the approved services to be provided are set out in section 8 and comprise mental health, counselling and psychological support services; health and personal social services; educational services; and housing support services, including adaptation or improvement of real property but not including financial aid for the purchase, mortgage or charge of real property.
Many of these services are already publicly available and eligible former residents may have an existing entitlement to receive them, whether living here or in other jurisdictions. The board will have regard to the availability of such services and it is charged with securing the most beneficial, effective and efficient use of the resources available to it. The fund will not be used in substitution for publicly available services, rather it will supplement such services or if there are restrictions on the availability of public services, for example if there are lengthy waiting lists or limits on grants, then the fund may arrange for services to be provided. The board will also provide information regarding its functions and will evaluate the effectiveness of approved services.
Section 9 provides that the board will set out the criteria by reference to which it will make decisions on applications to it and it will do so publically. In determining criteria, the board will take account of the individual circumstances, including personal and financial circumstances, of eligible former residents. It will also assess the likely effects of the provision of the service on the health and general well-being, personal and social development, educational development or living conditions of former residents. The board can apply financial limits to services or grants provided. It can specify minimum standards to be met by service providers and the supporting evidence to be provided by applicants. The board can also determine criteria for exceptional cases where the standard criteria may be disregarded to address cases of hardship. These criteria will be freely available and open to public scrutiny.
In response to applications made to it by eligible former residents, the board can undertake the following approaches. First, the board can make an arrangement with a person, irrespective of whether the person is resident in the State, for the provision of an approved service to support the needs of a former resident. Alternatively, it may pay a grant to a former resident, to assist him or her to avail of an approved service.
The board will set out the procedures to be followed when making applications, when considering applications and when communicating with applicants on decisions. Decisions on individual applications will be made by the chief executive or delegated staff member. An independent appeals process is provided for in sections 21 and 22. Let me be clear with the House. An application for a service will be made to the board and it will be decided by the chief executive or a person appointed by that person. If the applicant is unhappy or dissatisfied with the response then there is an appeals process and that is set out in sections 21 and 22.
The normal provisions relating to the conditions of employment for the staff of the board and the appeals officer are set out in the Bill. The chief executive is accountable to the board and can be called before the Committee of Public Accounts or any other joint Oireachtas committee. Standard accounting and reporting arrangements will apply to the board. As the administration costs of the board will be met from the investment account every effort is being made to minimise the administration overhead. I will, for so long as I have the responsibility, keep a tight account and oversight of that particular provision.
Section 24 provides that the Residential Institutions Redress Board will furnish the board with the name, address and date of birth of recipients of awards. The board can only use the information to determine if a person is eligible to make an application to the board. This is an important feature as it means that eligible persons will not be required to submit proofs of residency and abuse in an institution. We are not putting people through that process again. We believe that the measure reflects the wishes of many former residents to have an easy to use application process. They will not have to make that journey again.
The unauthorised disclosure of confidential information on a former resident is prohibited and constitutes an offence. Similarly, the making of a false statement or provision of false information to avail of a grant or service is also an offence. Section 25 provides that public authorities will co-ordinate their activities with those of the board. This is another very important provision and provision is made that when requested to do so by the board a public authority will nominate a liaison officer to deal with any queries that it may have. Many former residents have an understandable reluctance to engage with State services and these provisions should enable the fund to support applicants in this regard.
Part 3 deals with financial matters. It provides for the establishment of an investment account that will be established by the National Treasury Management Agency from which the board will be funded. The contributions already received, amounting to over €21 million, together with any accrued interest will be transferred to the account and further contributions received lodged thereto, up to a maximum of €110 million, excluding any associated interest. The agency will advance to the board the sums needed to meet its expenditure and the expenses associated with the appeals process. Any costs incurred by the agency will be met out of the investment account.
Part 4 dissolves the Education Finance Board and transfers its functions to the Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Board with regard to the moneys remaining from the €12.7 million contribution provided by the congregations under the 2002 indemnity agreement. The current staff of the EFB will transfer to become employees of the new board. The statutory fund will prepare final accounts of the EFB that will be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas.
The Bill does not include provisions for the winding-up of the new statutory fund board. While it is envisaged that the board will be dissolved when the moneys at its disposal are expended, the precise timing cannot be predicted and accordingly it would be preferable to introduce amending primary legislation to dissolve the board in due course and not anticipate in advance how long it will have to do its work.
Part 5 deals with three issues. Section 42 addresses the charitable status of contributions by charities that ran scheduled institutions. It allows those charities to make cash contributions either to the residential institutions statutory fund or as contributions towards the costs of the response to residential abuse and to transfer property accordingly to the Minister. Such contributions and transfers are charitable gifts and I, as Minister, can receive same with the approval of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and may direct that properties be transferred to other Ministers and other organisations, for example, to the HSE - soon to be abolished so that will mean properties are transferred to the Minister for Health and his Department - or to the VECs - soon to be abolished so that will mean the educational training boards. As congregations require the approval of the Commissioners of Charitable Donations and Bequests for Ireland to sell properties and use the proceeds to make contributions or to transfer properties, following detailed representations the Bill empowers the commissioners to authorise such property transfers and sales as contributions towards the costs of redress. These provisions will enable the congregations to make contributions towards the cost of redress.
Section 43 makes specific provision for the receipt of cash contributions that are in addition to those for the statutory fund. It provides that these contributions will be used towards the cost of the new national children's hospital. I shall explain the provision for the people in the audience. The fund has been established at €110 million. In my personal estimation we will be lucky to get that amount of cash. The motion of the Dáil was to fix the fund at €110 million. In the unlikely event that we get more than €110 million - and I want everyone to be clear that it is unlikely - that money will go towards the national children's hospital.
Section 44 amends the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002 to allow the redress board to strike out applications and requests to accept late applications where directions of the board are not complied with. The board is required to give at least 28 days notice of its intention to strike out such applications or requests. Provision is also made to allow an applicant to appeal a decision of the board to strike out an application under section 13 to the review committee. These provisions, in our view, will allow the redress board to finalise cases that it has on hand and will assist in the planning for its winding-up.
The Bill is an important initiative to support victims of residential institutional abuse. It is intended to provide compassionate support for those who continue to suffer the effects of abuse. This has been a long journey for all of us but the longest journey was travelled by the victims, some of whom are in the Visitors Gallery. There are no words of mine that can ever address the hurt that they endured. In my name, and in the name of every citizen of this Republic, I personally apologise to you. The Bill is one way of trying to compensate the victims but we will never fully do so and I want you to personally understand that. I commend the Bill to the House.
I thank the Minister for his address to the House and for being here for the debate. I shall start where he finished and before dealing with the technicalities of the Bill by offering my sincere sympathy to the victims of residential child abuse. As he said, many of the victims are in the Visitors Gallery. Earlier I met Christine Buckley on my way into the Chamber. To everybody in the country, she is testament to the bravery and dignity of victims who were subjected to unspeakable horrors. As the Minister rightly pointed out, it was done not just through the religious orders but with the acquiescence of the State and often with the direct knowledge of the State. The victims have travelled an incredibly long journey to get to where we are today both with the redress board and to finally introduce the statutory fund and other measures. I was quite young when I first heard Christine Buckley's interview on "The Late Late Show" on Goldenbridge and I could not believe that something like that had been done to children in this country. It is hard to speak on the subject and debate technicalities when the reality of personal stories is so evident. The abuse that children suffered will cast a scar long after this debate into the future. Member of this House will look back on this abuse as a dark and horrible part of our history. As legislators, the least we can do is to co-operate on the Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Bill to ensure we get it right for the people relying on us.
In that context I welcome the Bill, however we believe it is flawed in some respects and I will go into greater detail on that on Committee Stage. We are concerned that it is too restrictive. It is unfair to restrict it to people who received awards from the Residential Institutions Redress Board or an equivalent court settlement and not allow other groups to be eligible for redress. I want to read an e-mail from a survivor who articulates the restrictiveness of the provisions. He states that eligibility to the fund is being confined to those who received an award from the redress board or who have received awards pursuant to court action and who otherwise would have received awards from the board. However, this definition will exclude many of those who have suffered most from institutional abuse. There is strong evidence of high levels of abuse among people who are homeless, in places of detention and in mental health services who were therefore not in a position to make claims. Therefore, people who have not come to terms with their abuse have not heard of the redress initiative or are so damaged that they did not have the financial or psychological resources to attend will be unable to receive assistance from the fund. In other words, some of those who have suffered the most and are most in need of help will be unable to benefit from a scheme designed to help survivors because of Government legislation. The State will have failed them not once but twice.
I hope the Minister will reconsider the amendments we tabled in the Dáil and that I will retable on Committee Stage. It is unfair and unnecessary in the greater scheme of things to exclude those who have suffered most.
One of the other gaping gaps in the Bill is to provide for the former residents of the Magdalene laundries and Bethany Home. I appreciate that work is ongoing on that issue and that Senator Martin McAleese is chairing the interdepartmental committee. As we all know from our time in the House, Senator McAleese is a man of extraordinary integrity. I have no doubt that victims will get a good hearing from him. I hope his report will bring justice to the victims of the Magdalene laundries and this legislation may need to be revisited in that context later.
On the broader issues of child protection, I welcome the Government's commitment to put the Children First guidelines on a statutory basis. It is important to ensure there is consistency across the country on how the guidelines are implemented. It is vital that all of the recommendations of the Ryan report are implemented. The Minister stated that 99 recommendations have been implemented to date but will he update the House on the expected implementation date for the remaining recommendations? The scale of failure identified in both the Ryan and Murphy reports means that the least we can is implement their recommendations.
It is welcome that the referendum on children's rights will be held by the end of this year. I hope this is still on target. It will address the weaknesses identified in cases such as the Baby Anne case among others. All of the legislation relating to children refers to the child's interest being first and paramount, which is a key aspect of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, but the reality is that does not seem to be our constitutional position. I hope we can agree a wording on the referendum. I know the Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children has done a lot of work and that all parties will get out and campaign hard to address it.
I now wish to raise an issue with the Minister which is in his area of responsibility, namely, the vetting of existing teachers. Yesterday the Teaching Council appeared before the Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection. While all new teachers are being vetted, the Teaching Council stated that it was still the case that 42,000 existing registered teachers have not been vetted. The reason is twofold. There is an issue with the Garda vetting unit but more importantly from its point of view, the Teaching Council is incapable of processing more vetting applications through the Teaching Council because of lack of resources. Given that the Teaching Council is self-financing and teachers pay their subscriptions to the council, I understand that it is consequence of the staffing embargo and the overall employment control framework, but there must be flexibility to apply commonsense. I know that is not just an issue for the Minister for Education and Skills but for his Cabinet colleagues. I appreciate that vetting is only one part of the solution for child protection, and that it will only pick up prosecutions or convictions. We have not yet legislated, but I hope it will soon happen, for soft information. I appreciate that it is only one aspect and that we need to put other safeguards in place. It is the least we can do. It gives some reassurance to parents that if somebody has a prosecution or a conviction, we will know and ensure the person is not in a classroom with children. We must address the issues that are preventing the Teaching Council from vetting teaching staff and I hope the Minister will ensure these issues will be addressed.
I am committed to ensuring the religious orders step up to the plate. I am angry. The Minister expressed his disappointment that the religious orders have not stepped up to the plate and provided the 50% contribution that they should.
They have not accepted the principle that they should. I would go further. It is ten years since this process started. It took a long time before the journey started. It was a long journey for the survivors in the Visitors' Gallery to get an apology from the Taoiseach. The then Taoiseach apologised in 1999. The redress board was set up under the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002. Ten years later, the religious orders still have not accepted the principle of redress.
Nobody wants to bankrupt the religious orders, but as the Minister rightly said they have assets which should be transferred without further delay. No amount of money can make up for the horrors that children were subjected to both at the hands of religious orders and as I said from the State. It is an utter disgrace that the Minister still has to talk to them at this stage and we are debating legislation to provide for a statutory fund to which they still have not contributed their share.
This is a disgrace. All parties should publicly state that they will back up the Minister and tell the orders to do the right thing.
I speak on this Bill with a deep sense of humility and inadequacy. I too welcome the survivors in the Visitors' Gallery. Unfortunately some of the victims did not make it this far. I took my daughter to the film "The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas" which is about a little boy in the concentration camps. She thought it was the saddest film we had ever seen. It was sad but it was not as sad as what happened in Ireland. I know the Minister is deeply affected by this and is fully committed to doing what he can to redress this terrible abuse of children, which cannot be redressed adequately.
We must remember that in April and May 1999, RTE broadcast the documentary series "States of Fear", produced by the late Mary Raftery. The documentary detailed the abuse suffered by children between the 1930s and the 1970s in the State child care system, primarily in reformatory and industrial schools. This documentary was the catalyst for the recognition of the pain, isolation and abandonment of many of our nation's children. With all the furore and anger over some of the "Prime Time" documentaries and other RTE investigations, we must also acknowledge the work done by RTE's investigative teams in this area. There must be a balance.
I noted Senator Power's points on eligibility and how some people may not have come to terms with their victimhood which in turn prevented them from applying to the redress board. However, that should not be a reason for blocking this Bill and its intentions. I welcome the Minister's commitment in the Dáil and here that the operation of the fund will be reviewed in two years. We all know the Minister for Education and Skills has been very accommodating compared with some other Ministers and I trust him 100% to undertake this review.
The Minister stated the religious institutions must be more forthcoming in the amount of money and assets they will hand over for redress. The transfer of schools, hospitals and lands to the State would be welcome. I hope in his negotiations on school patronage and pluralism, as well as on the 59 designated areas, that he will be able to work out an arrangement with the religious orders that will take these transfers into account.
I hope not but I think the Minister is getting what I am saying in that regard.
When the Bill was introduced in the Dáil, the Minister stated the litany and scale of abuse recounted by anguished voices caused us all as a people to be ashamed, a point he repeated here. He apologised to those whose childhoods were stolen and who in many instances could not live full lives as adults as a result. As a school principal for over 30 years, I always told the staff at the beginning of the year that they were more fortunate than the horse trainers, Vincent and Aidan O'Brien. While they would have the top two-year old horses with Derby, Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe and Kentucky Derby winners, the staff had the greatest gift in the world, namely, the children they taught. I always told them to take on their responsibilities on that basis. If an educator is not prepared to take this on, he or she should not be in education. At the recent INTO conference, the president of the Froebel College of Education informed me the college has linked up with Maynooth university for its new two-year training course. At the interview stage, the college will see if the candidates are suitable for teaching before embarking on the course.
The statutory fund is a significant additional response to address the horrendous abuse of children in residential institutions. It will fund the provision of counselling, health, education, housing and other services for these victims of abuse. It is expected 15,000 former residents will be eligible to apply. I welcome the establishment of the fund board which will be suitably qualified with a gender balance. Many of the services are already publicly available and eligible former residents may have an existing entitlement to receive them. If publicly funded services are already available, there is no need for the statutory fund to be used in this regard. However, with the county council grant system so narrow now, perhaps some of the victims will need access to the fund to avail of certain services.
Some have said the fund should be made available for relatives of victims. There are needs which may not be apparent now but will be in the future. In 1989, the Haemophilia HIV Trust was established in response to a call from the Irish Haemophilia Society for financial assistance for their members who had been infected with HIV through blood and blood products provided by the State. This fund is still in operation providing assistance for people with these needs. I see the statutory fund performing a similar function.
I salute the courage of the survivors of abuse in residential institutions. Some of their representatives are in the Visitors' Gallery. Like all the Irish people, I honour them for the integrity, great dignity and courage they have shown. This is very personal information and the abuse they suffered was of a highly personal and damaging nature. Without their testimony, I doubt we would be here today. There was, for example, the testimony of Mannix Flynn who I am glad to say has managed to sustain a successful career as a creative artist and joined politics as a member of Dublin City Council. This gives meaning to the word "survivor" and that the people in question are not just victims. The people here today and those they represent are survivors in the positive sense. One can never overcome the kind of appalling trauma that was visited upon these citizens. However, they can and have shown they have the capacity through their struggle to achieve dignity. They have shown they can become survivors not just in a negative but also in a positive sense.
I welcome the Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Bill 2012. I remember when the then Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, made an apology to the survivors of residential abuse on behalf of the Irish people. That was a moving occasion and the apology was appropriate. At that point compensation was promised. This Bill is a fulfilment of that promise and a necessary and appropriate one. I salute the Minister for Education and Skills for the determined way he has pursued this matter.
I was, however, frankly appalled at the deal done in the dying days of a former Government by the then Minister for Education and Science, Michael Woods. It was shocking, particularly because the then Attorney General had not been properly consulted nor had the appropriate advice been taken from the legal authorities in the Department.
It was a shoddy and disgraceful arrangement. However, it is in place. One of the most significant aspects of this Bill and of the Minister's attitude is that he has determinedly pursued the demand, not just on behalf of the survivors but the people, that there should be an equal sharing of the burden of compensation. I stand 100% behind the Minister in looking for a 50:50 arrangement between the State and the religious institutions. They are getting off lightly.
However, the State was also involved. The State sent people to these institutions knowing some of the conditions that obtained in them. The State sent children, who were not represented in court and who had committed no crime except to have been born, to these places.
For that reason, it is welcome that a monument will be erected. That could be seen as a gesture. In the beginning, I was undecided about it and wondered if this is merely another way of washing our hands in public. However, such monuments have a certain power.
For example, in visiting Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, or on Holocaust Memorial Day, usually held in either City Hall or the Mansion House, with which the Minister is directly associated and which is always dignified, the reading of the names of the places where these events occurred is electrifying - Auschwitz, Belsen, Majdanek, Stuffhoff. There is the same kind of list here, with names like Letterfrack, Goldenbridge, Artane. It is astonishing for those of my generation who remember seeing the Artane Boys' Band in Croke Park. I thought how wonderful and fantastic it was that those young people were given this glorious opportunity to celebrate our Irishness and we were so lucky to have such institutions. I was stupid enough to believe that but I think an enormous number of Irish people felt like that.
I do not intend to revisit the Ryan and Ferns reports, etc. The records of this House will show that I spoke in detail on those. I spoke forensically, but not in any sectarian way. It is not appropriate to be sectarian or to batter particular churches, or even particular orders, because within each one of them there were good persons and there were also victims. I remember the days when I used to see crocodiles of 11 year old boys walking along, who had very little money but who had been enrolled into a free education on a kind of half-promise that they would join the priesthood before they ever had the opportunity, as mature adults, to reflect on what would be required of them. I remember hearing one man, who did not sexually abuse children but who physically punish them, his voice laden with emotion, state on RTE radio that he wanted to apologise for this. He had been a child when he was put in. His family would not allow him home. He came from a small farm in the west. He ran away and they sent him back stating that if he ever ran away again, they would disassociate themselves from him forever. He suffered there in that place. He got no instruction in how to teach except to belt the children with a strap, and he said he did. He managed to get out and he was given a £5 note, a cardboard suitcase and a second-hand suit. However, he got himself together, he got married and he had children, and he also is a survivor. I think that was a form of abuse, although I excuse nothing that was done. I have visited abroad where some of these orders have done good work. I have never believed in labelling any group. I would not categorise survivors of abuse. I would not categorise religious orders.
I want to raise a couple of questions with the Minister. By and large, it is a good Bill. Like others, I want to see something done for the survivors of the Magdalene laundries. This issue is under review. This is another shocking matter. Apparently, people did not realise it. I understand that, for example, laundry went at one stage in the 1950s from Áras an Uachtaráin. Obviously, if the first citizen did not know, it is simply bizarre.
The other issue is the inclusion in some way at some point of Bethany House. The former Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin, the Most Reverend Dr. John Neill, wrote and asked that this should be redressed. That was an act of courage on his part. I attended a ceremony at a point in Mount Jerome Cemetery where there were 300 children buried in an unmarked grave.
I am glad that there is accountability. That is very important in financial matters.
The question of confidential information is to a certain extent covered. I am a little concerned about the question of the Freedom of Information Act being applied. I hope that this would not be done in any way that would impinge upon the rights and privacy of those involved.
With regard to the board, I trust this Minister but, usually, I am very much against the idea of a board being appointed. The balance is reasonable. I am glad that there are survivors.
Finally, I raise the exclusion of anybody who is nominated to Seanad Éireann for a particular reason. I mentioned Councillor Mannix Flynn. I see no reason for it and think this House would be enhanced if, for example, one of the survivors was in a position to stand for election. When the Senate is reconstituted, including the nominating bodies, perhaps the survivors of abuse should be one such body. The debates in this House, particularly on these continuing reports, would be enhanced rather than diminished by a representative voice which could speak authoritatively from that experience, rather than persons sitting in the Gallery.
I welcome the Minister back to the House. I thank him for his speech today which I found powerful and for his work throughout the year in the Seanad.
The Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Bill provides for the establishment of the statutory fund to support the needs of former residents of residential institutions as endorsed in the unanimous motion of the Dáil following the recommendations and publication of the Ryan report. The Bill is necessitated by the long-standing failure of the State to take proper care of its young and most vulnerable citizens and is only one element of the State's response to the litany of horrific abuse carried out in these institutions.
Cash contributions of over €110 million from the religious congregations who managed these institutions will finance the fund. I welcome the Minister's comments today that €21 million has been received from such religious congregations to date and his commitment today on continuing to work on the progress on agreeing to obtain the balance.
Eligibility for the fund, as the House now will be aware, is confined to those who received an award from the Residential Institutions Redress Board or who received an equivalent court settlement. The Bill also provides for the dissolution of the Education Finance Board and the transfer of its functions to the Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Board.
It is estimated that approximately 15,000 potential people will benefit from the fund. I welcome the Minister's comments that those who gave evidence in the commission on child abuse will also be eligible to apply where they received redress board awards and his firm commitment that eligibility is not confined to those living in Ireland, as former residents who received redress board awards will be eligible to apply for assistance irrespective of where they live, which is important as 40% of the applicants to the redress board now live outside Ireland.
The Ryan report revealed one of the darkest eras in the history of the State in the 20th century, and there were many dark times in that period. Ireland let these innocent children suffer. As the Minister stated, we cannot blame any other country. We cannot blame any other system for the wrongs. These injustices were carried out on our own people, in our own country, by our own people. It was a contradiction that, despite being run by many of the religious institutions, the treatment of many of the residents of these institutions by the religious congregations goes against core Christian beliefs of love and honouring one another. Indeed, we now know that the abuse that these children underwent in so many industrial schools operated by the Catholic Church has caused lifelong damage and deep scares for the survivors. The Ryan report exposed horrors which confirmed that these children were often treated like prisoners and slaves rather than persons with legal rights and human potential.
However, it is not only the church authorities that were at fault. The State also turned a blind eye to what was going on with Government inspectors failing to stop these ongoing abuses. They also turned a blind eye to what was going on with Government inspectors failing to stop these ongoing abuses. We owe it to the survivors to make amends for the terrible injustice done to them.
The Bill is a continuation of the process of making amends by the State for the abuse and suffering of a particularly vulnerable set of children. I welcome Ms Christine Buckley and the other survivors who have joined us in the Gallery today. As other Senators have done, I commend them on their courage, bravery and perseverance in trying to get justice. I salute them as citizens of this country. I was also delighted to have had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Paddy Doyle, the long-time disability rights campaigner and advocate for victims of institutional abuse, when he received the lord mayor of Dublin award two years ago for his outstanding work in this area. It is a testament to their bravery and strength as victims of these institutions that they never gave up and continually fought for justice. I thank them for giving other survivors the courage to come forward when they otherwise might not have had the courage to do so.
The establishment of the fund follows extensive consultations with the survivors of residential abuse and a public consultation process. The fund will now take on responsibility for providing information for survivors and therefore the funding of survivor groups will end. I stress the importance of transferring the responsibilities with the greatest of care so that no mistakes are made. The fund will have the power to hold and dispose of land and may acquire, hold and dispose of any other property. I greatly welcome that four of the members of the nine member board will be former residents of institutions. Their insight and experience will be invaluable for the success of the board. I agree with Senator Norris that we need to hear the voices of survivors such as Councillor Mannix Flynn and Ms Christine Buckley. I thank them from the bottom of my heart for giving us such an insight.
There is some discrepancy between parties on the needs of the eligible former residents. Those needs will vary with some requiring more assistance than others. The essential function of the fund will be to use its resources to provide the services and supports for the former residents. The Minister in his contribution referred to the services, which will include counselling, psychological and mental health services, health and personal social services, educational services, and housing services. Provision is made for the Minister to prescribe further classes of services to be added to those set out in the Bill. I welcome his courage in committing to review this in two years, which indicates his seriousness.
I also refer to the erection of a memorial for the victims. As the Ryan report stated, this is invaluable as a place to be visited by not only the victims but also their families and other people who have just learned about it. It will be a communal place where we can all share and remember so that we will never make the same mistakes again.
I urge the Minister to pursue the 50:50 proposal with the religious congregations. As a person who received a convent education, I do not want to see any ailing congregations being bankrupted. Many have stated that they have no more money to give and that valuations were carried out in the time of the boom. I fully support the Minister in his bid. It is appalling that they have got away with it for so long. The responsibility must be shared equally between the State and the religious organisations. I admire the Minister for asking them to hand over the title deeds of the educational and medical infrastructure they own. Many of the convents are becoming empty owing to dwindling numbers and the old age of those who remain.
I wish to mention a very dear friend of mine who was a resident in an institution in my home area. She recounted tales to me that owing to a slight disability - she had a turn in her eye - she was not allowed to answer the door of the convent when people came because she did not look well enough to be there. She was not even deemed well enough to polish the front hall in case people might see her. We need to bring closure to this matter and move on. I again apologise on behalf of us all.
Our starting point must be to accept a number of facts, many of which have been laid out already. We need to acknowledge the suffering and bravery of the victims and survivors, some of whom are in the Gallery. It is humbling to hear their stories and how they continue on despite all that has happened to them. We must also acknowledge that they were failed not only by the church and the institutions but also by the State. Government after government tolerated this brutal situation for decades. The purpose of what we are doing today is to allow the State to right in a very small way the wrong it did or allowed to be done to its citizens. That is not in any to detract from the culpability of the individuals who perpetrated these horrendous crimes and the organisations and church which defended and hid those criminals. The legacy of the religious orders in these institutions is one of sexual, physical and mental abuse. The State compounded the pain and damage to our most vulnerable children by its decision to turn a blind eye to what was happening.
In that regard I record my party's disappointment at the State's refusal to acknowledge its role in the abuses that took place in Bethany Home and the Magdalene Laundries, and therefore the rights of victims of those institutions. In opposition, the Labour Party took the position that the survivors of those institutions should be included in the redress process. We are disappointed that many other victims are excluded under this legislation. Those victims, who for very understandable reasons of mistrust or fear did not avail of the current redress board, should not be excluded under this scheme. That would be a terrible injustice and we have tabled amendments to correct this on Committee Stage. Survivors living outside the State are still Irish citizens who are owed compensation from the State and should not be excluded. Their needs must be met regardless of where they are in the same way that those survivors living at home are entitled to have their needs met. These people account for 40% of all claims and must be included.
When the Ryan report was published in 2009, Irish centres in Britain were 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 a right to apply for recompense as an acknowledgement of the hurt they had suffered. There were serious problems with informing people of their entitlements under the redress board, and publishing advertisements in a handful of Irish and British-based newspapers failed to take into account the wider diaspora spread throughout the globe who were unaware they could apply to the board. According to Right of Place at least 150,000 children and teenagers went through orphanages, industrial schools and centres for young offenders, with many suffering abuse at the hands of religious orders and others in charge of their care. An estimated 100,000 left Ireland afterwards with at least half believed to have travelled to the US. However, it is believed that only a fraction of those are aware of the existence of the redress board. Earlier I mentioned that the State compounded the pain and damage of their most vulnerable children by the decision to turn a blind eye to what was happening. The State, these Houses, the Minister and all of us here cannot now turn our backs on those survivors who are excluded from the fund through the stringent eligibility criteria.
These survivors have waited an incredibly long time for justice, or at least for recognition, and the legislation needs to be tightened to ensure it does not become another excuse for drawing out the suffering any longer. That means inserting time limits within which the State must act and in which the religious organisations must pay up or face fines and additional costs. Sinn Féin believes the idea of means testing is wrong and we will table amendments to rectify the injustices not addressed in the legislation. The aim of the amendments will be to make it an inclusive fit for purpose fund that will help survivors, wherever they are, to benefit from the possibility of redress. This is the last chance we as representatives of the people have to stand up for those in the State who have been let down in the past. The fund can be a symbolic way of addressing the past but if it is not a practical fund for aiding survivors, wherever they are, and their families, it will be a failure. Eligibility is confined to survivors who received an award from the redress board or an award following a court decision or a settlement who would have otherwise received an award from the redress board. Sinn Féin cannot support the Bill because in our view this definition of eligibility is not good enough. People deserve better after all these years and all their suffering.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire go dtí an Teach. I will not go over ground which has already been covered in the contributions made on all sides of the House, which have been very powerful. The Minister's contribution was worthy of him and we know his capabilities and his genuine interest in doing things the right way. I acknowledge the people in the Gallery, many of whom suffered, particularly Christine Buckley with whom I had the pleasure of spending an evening this time last year.
What happened over the past number of decades and the failure by the State and the religious orders to do the right thing is a shame on society. As has already been said, we cannot blame anybody for it but ourselves. This is why we must take responsibility and do the right thing. The Bill is a step in the right direction to try to ensure the right thing is done and make a fund available for this necessary work. It is appalling to think the 50:50 understanding which was envisaged has not been honoured.
Absolutely. It was appalling. The behaviour of previous Governments in this regard was appalling. To be frank, it is not too late for the religious orders to do the right thing and step up to the plate and it would be the greatest recognition of wrong if they did so. The Minister is prepared to work with the religious orders once they do the right thing and I call on them to do so. However, when one sees the behaviour of Cardinal Brady in recent times and his sloping shoulder syndrome it is regrettable. The shame is that many decent people in the Catholic Church have been tarnished by this behaviour.
This is important legislation and I support it. I acknowledge the Minister has given a clear commitment that in two years time he will review it if necessary, and the work being done by Senator McAleese may very well make such a review necessary. We will have to wait and see. I spoke to Senator McAleese recently and I know he is putting in many hours of effort to get the report done as quickly as possible. We have somebody of the highest integrity working on the report-----
-----and I have enormous faith in him. The result will be another step in the right direction.
This is a difficult subject to speak on without being emotional. The sense of shame we all feel is palpable. The contributions made today reflect this sense of shame. All we can do now is try to do the right thing. It makes no difference to what happened in the past because nothing will ever compensate for it, but all we can do is try to take steps in the right direction and do what is correct and proper.
I welcome the Minister to the House. I have been involved in many debates in the House but I have never been involved in one so sensitive and I have never seen such an emotional response from a Minister. I welcome the visitors in the Gallery. I apologise for being emotional but many of my colleagues do not know that my father spent his early years in an orphanage. He was one of the lucky ones who was, along with two other boys, adopted by a lovely couple. He died a young man and to the day he died he never once spoke to us about his days in the orphanage.
I welcome the establishment of the statutory fund to support requirements of survivors of residential institutional child abuse. I welcome the fact the fund will provide counselling, health, education, housing and other services for those victims of abuse. I salute their courage for having come forward. If they had not come forward to speak this may never have come to public knowledge. We give out about the media but on this occasion we owe them a debt of gratitude that this entire affair was blown open.
The publication of the Ryan report shocked us all. We must do everything in our power to support the victims of institutional abuse. These people lost their childhood, their lives and their meaning for existence because of the time they spent in these institutions. The appalling and systematic abuse by those who should have been protecting, nurturing and educating them is beyond comprehension. It leaves us lost for words.
I note from the Minister's speech that the fund will not be used in substitution for publicly available services. I agree with this because we all know the length of waiting lists in the country at present. I can see there being a big demand for private counselling. As 40% of the people are living abroad, and we cannot control the public services in other countries, there is only one way they can access such services and that is through the fund. A great deal of money will be required from the fund. We have €21 million where we require €100 million and I am concerned about this.
There are some explanations which I will offer in my response. There is money ready to come in but there is a delay because of certain issues. It is not a reflection of a reluctance to pay.
Nor did I indicate this; I am concerned about the amount of money available to us at present to proceed with providing the services the people need.
I also welcome the contribution being made to the new national children's hospital. However, we will not hold our breath on this. I will not take up too much time because I am aware the Minister wants to respond.
No money will ever make up for what people went through in these institutions. However, through this fund I hope extra support can be given to those who continue to struggle and are affected by the after-effects of what they went through. It is a damning indictment on all of us as a society that this abuse was allowed to happen in the first place. I hope the child protection legislation and the Garda vetting legislation will go a long way to ensure it never happens in our country again. When we look at the people today we see adults but we must never lose sight of the fact these were vulnerable little children who were put into care and the trust was broken. It is horrible. I hope the establishment of the fund will go some small way to help people on the road to a normal life, to leave behind their horrendous memories and cast aside the shackles many of them have carried through their lives. Like everyone else I offer my sincere apologies for what the children had to go through.
Go raibh míle maith agat. Ba bhreá liom fáilte a chur roimh an tAire. I welcome the Bill in so far as it goes. It is good and wholesome that we are at this point with a statutory fund and that more will be done to assist those who suffered abuse of any kind in institutions over the years. I was not in a position to hear the Minister's comments. Am I correct in thinking that the only people who will benefit from the fund are people already included in the redress scheme?
If that is still the case then the provision undermines all of the Government's pretensions to goodwill on this issue. Either the Bill cares for people who have suffered or it does not. It may not be fashionable to say the following but among the people who have made the case most strongly to the Minister are some of the religious orders who have contributed to the fund. They have sought to have greater responsibility placed on the members of the statutory fund to seek out beneficiaries. They believe that beneficiaries should include persons who are former residents of the institutions.
There are two issues here. First, what people who have suffered abuse over the years deserve. Second, how the State should interact with other players, particularly the religious orders, around apportioning responsibility retrospective for costs. I do not see how the Minister can have any moral authority by calling on religious orders to contribute any percentage of the funds if he does not see that it is fundamentally unjust to exclude people who did not come under the remit of the old redress scheme, not least when one considers the fact that many people were out of the jurisdiction. We all know that people, for various reasons, times and place, are not in a position to seek the help that is available. Perhaps he will give me a good and humane reason for the exclusion.
I admire the Minister's intellect and determination to deal with the issue even though I do not always agree with him. I am open to hearing a good explanation from him. If the legislation is about bean counting, bureaucracy and the State covering its ass then there is no excuse for it. There can be no moral authority behind such a position. In that context it renders somewhat fraudulent, to say the lest, any portrayal of the issue. The Government holds all of the PR cards over and against the religious orders who, as we all know, are very poor at playing the PR game. Fair is always fair. I do not believe and would discourage the religious orders from buying into the notion that they have 50% financial responsibility. The history of the issue is that the State quite rightly wanted to put redress in place in order to prevent people from having to go through courts and experience difficult adversarial processes which would be even more hurtful to them. By doing that it opened up the State to a degree of risk because when the probative burden comes down a greater risk is created. Everybody agreed, as a matter of societal justice, that it should happen. It was in that context that the State approached religious orders to contribute but the State did not have a clear handle on how much the matter would eventually cost. The religious orders did want in, for good and pragmatic reasons, and were afforded certain protections for joining the redress scheme. The State, even in these times of tremendous difficulty, has much less finite resources than individual religious orders who have varying levels of commitments and one cannot compare the two. Those commitments involve not just looking after their older members, but ongoing pastoral care and they do so much good work in the State even now. The Minister and the Government have made passing reference to that from time to time.
There is a tendency here to shift a moral responsibility onto the religious orders without being open to a proper assessment of all of the religious orders and their members and the vast majority of good ones have contributed over the years. If the Minister were to put a value on that then he might change his tune about the 50:50 sharing of cost. There is a fundamental dishonesty underlying the issue and that in no way undermines the cause of redress. For example, the Christian Brothers will put in another €30 million or €10 million in cash over a period. The organisation has already given the Minister a cheque for €4 million. To be honest, if the holes that I think are in the Bill exist then I would encourage the order to stop its cheque until changes are made. The only reason that I would not encourage the orders to do it would be because I would not like to see a delay, even by one day, in the help and assistance that is people's due. It is entirely wrong to mix the issue with the divestment of properties in the context of education. That serves another agenda and does nothing to assist the cause of people who deserve redress. That is all about the State working out its particular agenda on education. It is wrong to mix those issues and I have said so to the Minister before. The Minister and I addressed Jesuit boards a number of years ago and I warned him then.
I welcome the Minister and thank him for doing such important work in this regard. I welcome the fact that he will continue to pursue a 50:50 scheme and that he has committed himself wholeheartedly to doing so. I hope that he gets the same commitment from the religious orders. We do not seem to have got that up to now but I am sure that pressure will come to bear on them.
I wish to read a few quotes from the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse into the record, particularly chapter 8 which deals with the Letterfrack Industrial School, County Galway. It stated: "Corporal punishment in Letterfrack was severe, excessive, pervasive and created a climate of fear," a fear that we cannot begin to imagine. The name "Letterfrack" strikes terror into the hearts of many people. Further in chapter 8 it stated: "Sexual abuse by Brothers was a chronic problem in Letterfrack." Well known abusers were sent to Letterfrack which was found to be "an act of reckless disregard", especially in a place so remote and isolated. Abuse of unimaginable terror went on in industrial schools around the country and, as a primary schoolteacher, I cannot even begin to imagine that terror. I welcome some of the victims and survivors here today and their testimony speaks for itself. Last summer I visited Letterfrack when I was on my honeymoon.
I went there to reflect and pay my respects to the thousands of people who have passed through its gates. The industrial school was opened from 1885 to 1974. It was with great difficulty that I found the school because there was no signpost and nothing to indicate where it was.
Exactly. It is like the place was swept under a rug and painted over so that we would all forget. After touring around the site I was disturbed to discover that there was no physical reminder to inform people and visitors of what went on there. Eventually I came across a sign for a graveyard up a side road and across from a building that housed the brothers that is now being used as a hostel. The sign was only the size of an A4 page. I had to go through a thicket of trees to eventually discover a small graveyard with 77 little headstones and a cross at either end. I walked around and read the names and ages etched on the gravestones. I found it quite shocking. What was most poignant, and I would urge Members to visit there and bear witness, were the little colouring pages, toy cars, dolls and footballs, the things we associate with childhood. The Minister can correct me if I am wrong but I found some evidence on the site that it is in the ownership of the VEC. I do not know if it is being used for adult education or is a Youthreach facility.
I welcome that there will be a national monument. However, Mannix Flynn has said this was our holocaust. I have been to Germany and have visited Auschwitz and other concentration camps which have been preserved as a reminder of what can happen. I urge the Minister to do something with that site; perhaps he could make it a memorial site. He should put the testimony from the survivors on the walls, as well as the pictures of the brothers who perpetrated that violence against the children, for all to see. That will bring it out into the open so we will all ensure that this type of thing can never happen again.
I thank all the Senators who contributed for the sincerity of their contributions. I particularly thank Senator Averil Power of the Fianna Fáil Party for her opening response. This is an emotional time for all of us, but it is also time to look at what we have said and what we must do. I will address the issues that must be addressed in the limited time available. If I do not refer to all of the points that were made, I apologise. We can discuss it in further detail on Committee Stage tomorrow.
With regard to including other categories, the Government has had to make the difficult decision to form a benchmark, which includes 15,000 people who have gone through the process. It does not include all of the people who have gone through the institutions, no more than the victims of bullying in our primary school system include all the people who have gone through our primary school system. There were those who were abused in the institutions and there were some who may have had very lonely and horrible experiences, but they were not in the category of being physically abused in the way that others were. There must be a cut-off point so the fund of €110 million will have some remedial and effective impact on the survivors. I accept the point made by Senator Norris, that there are victims and survivors. There are victims and survivors in the Visitors Gallery today, and I salute them.
Why do we not include Bethany House, all the people who have been through the system and people in the Magdalene Laundries? It is for another time to address the Bethany House and Magdalene Laundries people. I will refer to the points that Senator Mullen made but in some cases, sadly, some parents felt so ashamed of their daughters that fathers voluntarily put them into the Magdalene Laundries. Where did that shame come from? It was from an authoritarian church that said one cannot have a sinner living in one's house.
I will quote the Senator shortly, but I will first deal with the general point. Not everybody who went to the redress board either got compensation or had recommendations made and not everybody completed the application, for all sorts of reasons which we will never fully understand. We can guess, but we do not know. Given the limited amount of money, we have had to confine it to the category of people who were victims of abuse, went through the process and were recognised. At another time this House will hear from Senator McAleese about his recommendations relating to the Magdalene Laundries. The issue in Bethany House is more complex.
However, my undertaking to review the operation of the fund in two years is sincere, and I will formulate some concrete proposals for Report Stage as to how I propose to do it. The review will not commence after two years. There will be an ongoing review and there will be a report on progress achieved at the end of two years. That is my intention but I wish to discuss with colleagues and officials how we can do that. It is my intention, in principle, to tell the incoming board when it is appointed to keep a running record, so to speak, so we can review progress, as one would in any normal organisation, to assess whether we are achieving the objectives we set out to achieve and whether the money will be drawn down. If there is spare money available, we can look at where that is but we must get the money in first.
Senator Kathryn Reilly, whose presence in the House I welcome, put some statements on the record relating to the attitude of the Government. That is her right as a Senator in the Opposition. I have used that position myself in the past. However, in return, I make a request to the Senator. She is a young woman with a long career ahead of her and she belongs to an organisation that has a long history. She could address the hurt of the relatives of the disappeared, whom the Provisional IRA murdered and some of whom are buried in this State. She could call upon some of the veterans who are cherished and celebrated in her party's ranks to come forward in whatever way they can to inform the authorities where the remains of the disappeared are so their relatives can give due recognition to the rites of passage and burial. The Senator has the influence to do that. She is a respected Member of the Oireachtas and has authority in her party. I ask her to consider using her influence in that respect.
I will quote Senator Mullen. He can correct me if I am wrong but the record will show it and we have tomorrow to discuss it in detail. The Senator said I do not have the moral authority to call on the religious orders to come forward on the principle of the 50:50 ratio.
I have repeatedly said that I am a very happy adult who received a wonderful education from what is now the Spiritan Congregation in Ireland, formerly the Christian Brothers. The Senator has heard me say this many times in private and in public. Incidentally, in my 12 years with that order, I did not know anybody who was the victim of abuse. However, the reason I have asked the religious authorities for the 50:50 deal and that I have said that we do not wish to bankrupt them as we respect very much the contribution they have made-----
Okay. Then I invite the Senator to look at the title deeds and the legal documentation of the trust. The Senator is a qualified person. In the event of the trust disintegrating or disappearing, am I correct in understanding that the properties managed and administered by the trusts would revert to the religious order? The Senator will find that I am correct, but we can have that discussion tomorrow.
I am saying this because in my constituency two secondary schools were closed unilaterally by religious orders, in some cases where money had been provided by the State to build the buildings. Happily, in one case, that building has now been repurchased by the State. I know the religious orders do not have the financial resources available to reach the €100 million that would be required.
I will address that question momentarily. Let me address the first question. These are the owners of a massive infrastructure, including two hospitals in this city, St. Vincent's Hospital and the Mater Hospital. It will cost us €600 million to build a new children's hospital. The religious orders own the two buildings and, when they are no longer using the buildings as educational buildings under the patronage they choose, they could deed them to the State rather than sell them off. That is all I ask. It continues as a Catholic school under the patronage and ethos they choose but, if they are to dispose of them as they have done in the past, the State will have first claim on them.
The religious orders were 50% complicit in the abuse to which Senator Heffernan referred but so were the rest of us. Civil servants examined those places and saw what was going on but they did not report it. Why did they not report it? Why was the predominant culture of Catholic Ireland in the 1950s-----
Why did observant Catholics in the Civil Service, in the Department of Education and elsewhere, feel so compelled that, in some cases, they were not prepared to act? This has been speculated on because we can only imagine. I am not quoting any document or evidence. Why was there an atmosphere such that, when the Garda Commissioner communicated with the late Dr. Charles McQuaid about suspicions of abuse, the file was left sitting there? In so many other cases, there was a sense of self-censorship for whatever motivation or reason.
The religious orders have a particular vocation and I admire and respect them for what they have done, but they are representative of a wider Catholic community. I think Senator Mullen will accept that definition without prejudice.
I respectfully suggest that, had Senator Mullen been present at the beginning of the debate and heard my original comments, we might have had a different exchange than the one we are having.
I thank the Acting Chairman for the extension of time and for her tolerance. I will address a number of points on Committee Stage tomorrow but, in respect of the cheque to which the Senator referred, the fund does not yet exist and therefore we cannot cash it. I note that Senator Mullen is encouraging them not to pay it or to endow under it.
We are drifting into a premature debate on Committee Stage. I propose to conclude on this point. There are points about information and communication and the reason why the original redress board fund was extended a number of times. I commend the Bill to the House and I thank the House for the debate.
Question put: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."