Written answers

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Department of Justice and Equality

Magdalen Laundries

Photo of Joan CollinsJoan Collins (Dublin South Central, United Left)
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475. To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality the progress that has been made on the provision of an administrative scheme, under her Department, to assist Magdalen survivors in availing of complementary therapies. [11581/15]

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Minister, Department of Justice and Equality; Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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As the Deputy will be aware the Redress for Women Resident in Certain Institutions Bill 2014, which was passed by the Oireachtas earlier this month, makes special provision for free access to health services for women who were resident in Magdalen Laundries and similar institutions. The services being provided are precisely those recommended by Judge Quirke.

Judge Quirke made no comment, one way or another, on 'Complementary therapies'. Complementary and alternative medicine includes a group of diverse medical and healthcare systems, practices and products that are not generally considered part of conventional medicine, and they are not part of the routine system of provision in the public health system. In the absence of clear evidence on the efficacy or safety of these treatments, my colleague, the Minister for Health, has reservations about such therapies being provided and funded through the health service and, for that reason, they were not included in the Bill.

On a personal level, I am open to the benefits that may be brought to people by such 'complementary therapies'. For that reason, I have asked my officials to look at the question of providing some funding to the women concerned so that they may avail of such 'Complementary therapies'. This would be a separate scheme run on an administrative rather than a statutory basis.

As the Deputy will also be aware, the provision of medical services is just one of a wider package of supports for these women. The women also receive lump sum payments of between €11,500 and €100,000 depending on their length of stay in a relevant institution. So far, 512 women have received their lump sums payments at a cost of over €18.7m. The women also receive top up pension type payments from the Department of Social Protection.

Photo of Joan CollinsJoan Collins (Dublin South Central, United Left)
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476. To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of liaison officers that will be employed to assist the Magdalen survivors in understanding their entitlements; and if the liaison officers will operate centrally from her Department or on a local basis. [11586/15]

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Minister, Department of Justice and Equality; Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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As the Deputy will be aware a Dedicated Unit was set up in my Department to process applications and to make lump sum payments. Officials in the Dedicated Unit also provide assistance and advice to the applicants on any aspect of the Scheme in a helpful and sensitive manner.

Priority has been given to processing applications, providing cash payments and other benefits to the women. To date, a decision has been made on 88% of the applications received and 512 women have been paid their lump sums at a cost of over €18.7m.

The women are also receiving top up pension type payments which are being paid by the Department of Social Protection. That Department appointed dedicated contact people to whom the women can discuss their entitlement with in confidence.

The Redress for Women who were in Certain Institutions Bill 2014 which was passed by the Oireachtas earlier this month will provide the women with free access to medical services. There is no provision in the Bill for the appointment of liaison officers and there was no such provision in the Health (Amendment) Act 1996, which provides for persons affected by Hepatitis C. However, I understand that once the Bill is commenced there will be liaison people in the HSE to assist the women concerned.

Photo of Joan CollinsJoan Collins (Dublin South Central, United Left)
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477. To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality the way membership of the advisory body to the dedicated unit will be decided. [11587/15]

Photo of Joan CollinsJoan Collins (Dublin South Central, United Left)
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478. To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality when the dedicated unit will be established. [11594/15]

Photo of Joan CollinsJoan Collins (Dublin South Central, United Left)
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479. To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality if the dedicated unit will provide personal advocacy services to women who are living in institutional settings or in the care of the relevant religious congregations. [11595/15]

Photo of Joan CollinsJoan Collins (Dublin South Central, United Left)
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480. To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality when the consultation process for the setting up of the dedicated unit will begin. [11597/15]

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Minister, Department of Justice and Equality; Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 477 to 480, inclusive, together.

Judge Quirke recommended the establishment of a dedicated unit which would assist women getting their entitlements and advocating on their behalf. As the Deputy will be aware a Dedicated Unit was set up in my Department to process applications and to make lump sum payments. Officials in the Dedicated Unit also provide assistance and advice to the applicants on any aspect of the Scheme in a helpful and sensitive manner.

Priority has been given to processing applications, providing cash payments and other benefits to the women. To date, a decision has been made on 88% of the applications received and 512 women have been paid their lump sums at a cost of over €18.7m.

The women are also receiving top up pension type payments which are being paid by the Department of Social Protection. That Department has appointed dedicated contact people to whom the women can discuss their entitlement with in confidence.

The Redress for Women who were in Certain Institutions Bill 2014 which was passed by the Oireachtas earlier this month will provide the women with free access to medical services. I understand that once the Bill is commenced, there will also be designated contact people in the HSE to advise the women concerned.

With regard to advocacy, it is important to point out that Judge Quirke makes a very clear distinction between what is required for most women and what is required for those lacking full mental capacity including those women that are in institutional settings.

I can advise the Deputy that women who were in the Magdalen laundries are already covered under section 21 of the Nursing Home Support Scheme Act 2009 which makes provision for persons to act as care representatives in respect of any person applying for support under that Act.

In addition, the Assisted Decision Making (Capacity) Bill 2014 is awaiting committee stage in the Dáil. This provides for a range of options including decision making assistants, co-decision makers, decision making representatives and the public guardian, which are well suited to look after the best interests of the women who were in Magdalen laundries and have capacity issues.

My Department is looking at options with regard to the provision of advocacy and my officials are currently in discussion with the Citizens Information Board and will have further discussions with the Department of Social Protection on this issue. The advocacy services provided by the National Advocacy Service of the Citizens Information Board is provided for in the Citizen's Information Act 2007. It is important to note that a personal advocate has very limited powers with regard to a person who lacks capacity. A personal advocate does not have power of attorney, to make decision or otherwise to manage the affairs of the person. That is why the provisions of Assisted Decision Making (Capacity) Bill 2014 will be so important.

My officials are careful to ensure that applicants do have the necessary capacity to understand the scheme and sign the relevant legal documentation and they cross check with other Departments to establish if there any issues. A medical assessment is sought if there is any indication that an applicant under our scheme has capacity issues. We have identified about 40 such women to date and are delaying payment until proper safeguards are in place.

With regard to women who do not lack capacity, the Government has provided a grant to the Irish Women Survivors Support Network to provide advice and support to the women who are residing in the UK. My officials will be looking at how to develop the idea of an ongoing dedicated unit to assist the women and advocate on their behalf now that the dedicated unit in my Department has almost completed its primary task of processing applications and paying out cash benefits. I do not see my Department carrying out this role.

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