Seanad debates

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Commencement Matters

Residential Institutions Redress Scheme

10:30 am

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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I welcome the Minister and thank him for coming to deal with what I consider to be an extremely important matter, particularly in the context of the various issues of abuse that have been arising in respect of many residential and non-residential institutions run and co-ordinated by the State and its agencies, as well as by religious orders.I have asked the Minister here to clarify and give an update on the status of the residential redress board scheme, which was established by statute to deal with the issue in a fair and reasonable way by giving some redress to people who had gone through the board's pre-scrutiny process. This was not just a hand out of money to people, it was there to support them with counselling, housing and general support. Many mistakes were made in how it was all handled, but it was another time. If it were to go ahead again or if it were reactivated, it would be done somewhat differently. Huge experience was gained in how the compensation scheme was administered.

The other element of my query, on which I hope for clarification from the Minister, is the indemnity scheme to which a previous Administration signed up with CORI. This indemnity scheme was extraordinary to say the least. I have a copy of it, with all of the signatories of all the parties to the scheme, and I am fully aware of its content. What is interesting is the group of religious orders under the umbrella of CORI undertook to give the State substantial money and substantial property. We know from following through on all of this that a number of these properties became quite complicated and could not be transferred for various reasons. Some of them were entailed. There was a measure of commitment by the group under CORI to give some token, and that is all it can be suggested it is, towards what was the institutional residential redress scheme. My query is where is the scheme now? Is it being wound down? Does it have the capacity to be wound up again in light of recent events? How can it be accessed? What are the Government's intentions with regard to pursuing it? I spoke to Deputy Jan O'Sullivan and looked at correspondence she had when she was a Minister. She received a number of responses when the Department was trying to pursue the issue of the properties and money. It is quite a complex issue but we need to know. It is about public transparency in all of this process and with regard to the indemnity scheme. I await the response of the Minister and I thank him for coming to the House.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin Bay North, Fine Gael)
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I thank Senator Boyhan for raising this huge issue. Before I came in I took the opportunity to look back at some of the debate in the House on the Ryan report, which revealed the full horrors of what happened in residential institutions where sexual abuse was reported to be endemic in boys' institutions and physical and emotional abuse and neglect were routine. Members of the congregations who were perpetrators of abuse were never reported to the Garda and cases were managed with a view to protecting the institution and not the children. Children were not believed when they reported incidences. The Department of Education and Skills comes out extremely badly from the report because it did not inspect effectively, it ignored problems which were revealed and it ignored recommendations to respond. As the Senator has said, these were children who often had been entrusted to the congregations by the State. We can only imagine how vulnerable a child was who had been taken away from his or her parents by the State and entrusted to such an institution.

This is the backdrop to the Residential Institutions Redress Board, which was established in 2002 under the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002 to make fair and reasonable payments to those who, as children, were abused while resident in 139 scheduled institutions. To date, the redress board has made in the order of 15,600 awards. Overall expenditure at the end of 2016 was €1.239 billion. At this stage, the work of the board is largely complete. It has dealt with all applications and at present no remaining applications are on hand. A number of judicial review applications are still before the courts and they will have to be dealt with before they are resolved.

The Senator referred to the indemnity agreement. Eighteen of the religious congregations entered an indemnity agreement in 2002, and agreed to provide a collective contribution of €128 million, comprising cash, counselling services and property. Work is continuing to complete the legal requirements to finalise the transfer of the remaining 11 properties. I understand that €113 million has been realised and the remainder is being worked through. It is worth noting that most of the properties are already in use by the intended recipients.

Significantly, today the Comptroller and Auditor General will publish a report on the scheme. It is worth recalling that after the Ryan report was published a commitment was made by the congregations to make an additional contribution of €350 million. Today, the Comptroller and Auditor General will report not only on the indemnity scheme but also on the commitments with regard to the €350 million. The report confirms that when the withdrawal of one offer previously made is combined with some changes in the valuation of properties previously offered, the total value of the offers currently in place and the contributions already made by the congregations comes to €320 million, of which €209 million has been received.

The report also confirms the total cost of all elements of residential abuse, including the inquiry, the redress scheme and related survivor supports, is €1.518 billion. This means that even if all the offers currently on the table are delivered upon, the religious congregations will have funded 21.1% of the total cost of residential abuse while the State will have funded 78.9%. The contributions and offers made by the congregations relate to the €128 million under the 2002 indemnity agreement and the 2009 voluntary offer of €352 million which has been revised to €192 million of which €96.1 million has been realised.

The 50:50 target between the State and the congregations for meeting the costs of abuse has not been signed up to by the congregations. However, it has been the position of successive Governments that given their responsibility for managing the institutions where horrific and life-altering abuse took place, the congregations should meet 50% of the cost of inquiring into what happened and compensating the victims of that abuse. It is also important to note that, given the contents of the 2002 indemnity agreement signed up to by the then Government, the Government today does not have legal mechanisms open to it to compel religious congregations to meet the 50:50 target or to deliver more rapidly on the voluntary offers made in 2009.

Today’s report by the Comptroller and Auditor General summarises and updates us on the response of the State and the congregations to those events. It makes a number of recommendations for the Department of Education and Skills and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in respect of the lessons that have been learned from how this was administered, and all of these have been accepted.

As Minister for Education and Skills I find it very disappointing and frustrating that the organisations responsible for protecting children, which managed the institutions in which these horrendous acts took place, would apparently place so little value on their responsibility. These were institutions where children suffered extremely badly and the organisations have a moral responsibility to live up to the commitments they made. We all know their mission is to protect and serve and uphold moral values, and many ordinary Catholics are dismayed we are not getting closer to seeing these commitments honoured but instead are moving further away. Unfortunately, as a result of agreements put in place by previous Governments we have no legal mechanisms open to us to compel the congregations to meet these targets. Ruairí Quinn, in particular, under the previous Government worked hard in holding meetings and engaging directly with the congregations to seek to put moral pressure on them to deliver on their responsibilities. Unfortunately, after today’s report we have to ask questions as to why organisations with stated missions to serve the public and uphold moral codes apparently place so little importance on these values.

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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I thank the Minister for his comprehensive response. It is something new for me. I will certainly look for the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General. I am conscious of the fact it is an indictment of the system, the State and the Legislature that a previous Government gave an indemnity scheme to a number of religious orders. Many other people who had been in institutional care were barred from going through the redress scheme. It is not correct to state everyone has been satisfied, only those included in the Schedule.A Schedule to the legislation identified a number of institutions but the Bethany Home, for instance, has never been included. People have been on to the Minister's office constantly about that, and I have seen a great deal of correspondence in that regard. There are many such institutions but because there was no proven track record of State intervention or support, access was denied. There is a group of people who feel they got a raw deal. Personally, I know three or four people who are taking judicial reviews at no cost to themselves because decent solicitors' firms in Dublin are supporting them, based on the huge amount of evidence they have presented.

I thank the Minister for being very frank, honest and upfront. I can see he empathises with the issues around this. As he raised it, I ask if he can come back to the House on the Comptroller and Auditor General's report, which is a concrete bit of work and about which we will know more today. In that, there will be lessons for all of us to learn. Clearly, there will have to be other forms of redress for other people which we will discuss in both Houses over the next few weeks. These people got a raw deal and deserve justice, fair play and redress. I thank the Minister for the detailed report and express the hope that we will look at this, if appropriate in one of the joint committees, with a view to the social implications, in particular. While we may not have a legal option to pursue these religious orders, we have leverage. A number of these institutions are operating schools under the Minister's remit. They are also operating hospitals and availing of public funds. Perhaps that is the leverage we can use. While the public can ultimately name and shame them, we must at the end of the day examine whether it is right and proper to fund and assist these congregations where they fail to face up to their responsibilities.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin Bay North, Fine Gael)
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I share the Senator's disappointment that today's report from the Comptroller and Auditor General reveals that we are not moving further to a position in which the church honours even the two commitments it made. The indemnity commitment was €128 million and there was an additional commitment of €352 million. We have not succeeded in seeing those transfers being made. They will move to completion on the first €128 million but we are a long way from seeing the second commitment made after the Ryan report being met. It was only after the Ryan report that we realised the full scale of what was involved and the systematic and horrific nature of it. The fact is that some of the most vulnerable children were entrusted at a very vulnerable point in their lives to the care of these institutions. I agree with the Senator that there is a moral responsibility to honour the commitments which have been made and to move to respect the view of Government, which has been held by successive Administrations, that a 50:50 share out is correct.

As to the legal or moral mechanisms open to Government, Ruairí Quinn tried extremely hard to approach this but we have not moved forward having made that effort. Once again, I appeal to the institutions to honour the commitments they made. We have seen again this week other examples of cases where children were treated in an appalling way. We must approach this openly and try to resolve it while supporting those who have been very adversely affected. When it comes to the State, its liability will always be determined on the extent to which it was involved, regulated or oversaw an institution. That was the basis on which the 50:50 split was deemed a fair allocation in the case of residential institutions. In those cases, the State took the children away from their parents through the courts and otherwise and entrusted them to the care of the congregations. The State had a responsibility and, through the Department, oversaw the regulation of those institutions. As such, a share of responsibility fell on both sides. If we are to put this behind us, that share out must be respected.