Caranua Financial Statements 2014 and 2015

Ms Mary Higgins (Chief Executive Officer, Caranua) called and examined.

In our first session we examined the Comptroller and Auditor General's special report No. 96 on the cost of the child abuse inquiry and redress scheme. In this session we will examine the financial statements of Caranua for 2014 and 2015. As I mentioned earlier, Caranua is an independent State body which was set up to help people who had experienced abuse in residential institutions in Ireland and received settlement redress board or court awards. From Caranua, we are joined by Ms Mary Higgins, chief executive officer; Mr. David O'Callaghan, chairman; and Mr. David Yeomans, director of finance and corporate affairs. From the Department of Education and Skills, we are still joined by Mr. Seán Ó Foghlú, Mr. Dalton Tatten, Mr. Martin Hanevy, Ms Catherine Hynes and Ms Mary Cregg.

By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by it to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person or an entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

I call on the Comptroller and Auditor General to make a brief opening statement. For this session he is joined by Ms Ruth Foley, deputy director of audit.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

The residential insitutions' fund board, better known as Caranua, was established, as the Chairman said, in March 2013 under the Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Act 2012. The board's financial statements before the committee in this session are for the financial years 2014 and 2015. Caranua is responsible under the 2012 Act for managing and disbursing funds donated by religious congregations to support the needs of former residents of residential institutions. No Exchequer sourced funds are involved. The Act provides for the donated funds to be used to pay grants to former residents for certain approved services, that is, housing support services, health and well-being services and education, learning and development services.

Following the publication of the Ryan report in 2009, the religious congregations offered cash contributions that totalled a combined €110 million, in addition to cash contributions committed to and paid over under the terms of the 2002 indemnity agreement. By the end of December 2015, €85 million of the total of €110 million had been received into the special fund and some interest had also been earned on the balances held.

From an initial slow start in 2013, Caranua rapidly increased its spending, as shown in the graph, from which members will see that in the first nine months of operation in 2013 the expenditure was negligible. In 2014 there was expenditure in excess of €10 million, while in 2015 expenditure increased to just over €30 million. By the end of 2015 the status of the amounts received from the religious congregations was as follows: a total of €38.6 million had been paid out by way of grants to former residents; €3.4 million had been used to fund Caranua's administration costs and the balance of €43.3 million was being held by Caranua in an investment account with the National Treasury Management Agency.

I issued a clear audit opinion in respect of Caranua's financial statements for 2014 and 2015. However, for both years, the audit report draws attention to the statement on internal financial control which discloses weaknesses in the board's controls over grant payments. The concern was that these weaknesses created a risk that grant expenditure might not have been used for the proposes intended in at least some cases. For example, for 2015, Caranua could not provide evidence that price quotations had been obtained in advance in about one third of a sample of grant applications examined in the audit. Claimants for housing related support grants had provided proof of property tenancy or ownership in only one third of a sample of cases examined in the audit and required follow up by Caranua such as the collection of receipts for grant funded work or purchases which had been completed for only around 15% of the grants paid. The statement on internal financial control sets out the steps being taken by the board to resolve the control weaknesses identified. The adequacy of the controls will be examined again in the audit of the 2016 financial statement.

I invite Ms Higgins of Caranua to make her opening statement.

Ms Mary Higgins

I thank the Chairman and members of the committee for the invitation to attend to review with them our financial statements for 2014 and 2015 and giving me the opportunity to make a short opening statement. By way of context, I will give a brief overview of Caranua, its aims and application process. Caranua was established, as the Chairman said, under 2012 legislation to manage a fund of €110 million to support the needs of survivors of institutional abuse, people who had been placed in the care of the State as children and experienced neglect and abuse in these institutions which had been managed by religious congregations on behalf of the State. The damaging effects of this experience are lifelong and while most survivors have led fulfilling lives, the lives of many others have been limited in multiple ways because of what they endured as children.

In setting out to design a service for survivors we aimed to base it on their expressed needs and preferences and what was known about the effects of adverse childhood experiences and how they could be addressed. This approach was helped by our having four survivors on the board. We also consulted about 200 individuals in Ireland and England during 2013. It was clear that the majority of survivors were ageing and that very many of them were disadvantaged educationally and in other ways and would find it difficult to engage with a service that was in any way bureaucratic or rigid. It was with these survivors in mind that we designed our application process on the principle that if it worked for the most vulnerable, it would work for everyone. Our central aim was, and is, to put survivors at the heart of everything we did. Our application process is values-based, needs-led and person-centred.

It is broken into different stages. When an applicant is ready to apply for services, he or she is appointed a dedicated adviser to provide support, advice and information in making an application to Caranua and, as necessary, make referrals to and-or advocate with other organisations for other services. We try to ensure there are no barriers for someone in applying to us and we pay particular attention to ensuring our application and other information materials are accessible. All are in plain English. We have easy-to-read versions and short films on our website. We organise a number of outreach events every year at which applicants and potential applicants can come to meet advisers and other staff face to face. We hold a monthly clinic with interpreting services in Dublin.

This is not the same as the written statement.

Ms Mary Higgins

It is not substantially different. I just changed the order in order that it would flow better.

It is just that we are trying to follow it.

Ms Mary Higgins

I beg your pardon. I should have said I did some last minute editing.

May we have a copy?

Ms Mary Higgins

I have a copy and can certainly circulate one.

When Ms Higgins is finished, we will circulate it. Is the content of the draft we received-----

Ms Mary Higgins

It is substantially the same. I tried to shorten it because, when I read it, it was ten minutes long and I knew that it was meant to be five minutes.

We will keep going and listen carefully.

Ms Mary Higgins

We organise a number of outreach events every year. We hold a monthly clinic with interpreting services in Dublin for people who are deaf or hard of hearing and offer online face-to-face assessments to them through the Irish Remote Interpreting Service. We protect and promote the confidentiality of survivors in contact with us and do not discuss individual applications without the written permission of the applicant. We receive value feedback from applicants and other stakeholders. We actively seek it through informal conversations, formal feedback mechanisms and our complaints procedure. We use feedback to review and improve our services and processes. Applicants can also avail of the independently established process to appeal decisions made by Caranua.

Engagement in consultation has continued to be a cornerstone of our approach and we work closely with survivor support groups such as the Aislinn Education and Support Centre, SOCA UK, Right of Place, the Alliance Victim Support Group, Whispering Hope, Irish welfare services in the United Kingdom and the dedicated survivor counselling services that were referred to earlier.

The length of time it takes to assess, process and complete an application varies according to the needs and circumstances of each applicant and can span a number of months and involve an average of about 30 telephone calls for each one, in addition to other written communication. We opened for applications in January 2014 and, to the end of March this year, over 5,000 individuals were eligible to apply to us. A total of 4,362 had actually applied for services, 4,000 to the point of payment. We have spent over €56 million of the fund on services for survivors.

The average number of payments each applicant receives is eight. The average value of a payment received by an applicant is €13,000. That is an average figure for a large number obviously and there are outliers within it.

We do not have the document and I would really like to have a copy.

We are at a little bit of a disadvantage.

In terms of referencing, it is going to be hard.

I am going to ask for a copy. There will be time. As soon as Ms Higgins finishes, we will get a copy.

Ms Mary Higgins

This information was contained in the briefing document we supplied last week.

We will have copies circulated in a moment. All I can say at this stage is that members should bear with us.

Ms Mary Higgins

Will I keep going?

Ms Higgins should complete her contribution and we will then make and circulate a copy.

Ms Mary Higgins

After some time being dependent on temporary agency staff, during which there was a high staff turnover, we have, since the second half of 2016, a directly contracted full staff team in place. These staff were carefully selected for their skills, experience and attitudes. They are professionally qualified and experienced in the areas related to their responsibilities. The work of Caranua is complex and an intensive induction programme, with ongoing skills development and opportunities for internal supervision and external support, is available for all staff.

We work hard to deliver a good service, but we do not get it right all of the time. The comments made by the Comptroller and Auditor General are completely warranted. Our systems were imperfect. We accept the recommendations made and are in the process of implementing them, as reported in our briefing document.

We faced a number of significant challenges in achieving good practice standards and controls. For very good reasons, we got started quickly and organisation processes and systems have been retrofitted over time. We are trying to balance the requirements of care and compliance. In considering how best to do this we have concluded that having a range of direct contracts with preferred suppliers, whereby Caranua will contract directly with them for specified services, is the best way forward. All financial transactions are between us and the supplier and there is no need for applicants to get quotes and obtain receipts. Since the beginning of the year, we have in place a contract with the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, for example, whereby it will do the work it does in terms of energy efficiency for applicants who apply to us in this regard.

Caranua is, by definition, a limited fund. It has a sum of €110 million. When that money is gone, we will be gone. We are planning to wind down the organisation by 2019, at the latest. In the interim we will continue to deliver services to survivors and work to support other community-based and specialist services to recognise and respond effectively to the needs of survivors in order that they can be cared for beyond the life of Caranua at home and not in institutions. This will ensure a lasting benefit for the people who have used our services and, I hope, contribute to the prevention of the abuse of children in the future.

I thank members for their attention. My apologies for having caused tremendous confusion. I am sorry.

If that is the worst bit of confusion caused today, it will be quite all right. I thank Ms Higgins for her statement. Somebody will collect it from her and we will copy and circulate it. I know that we had received a briefing note. There will be votes in the Dáil shortly and we will probably have to suspend while they are taking place.

I thank Ms Higgins and her team for coming. The reason it would have been helpful to have had her opening statement is that it is difficult for me to refer to a particular paragraph if the paragraph numbers have been changed.

Ms Mary Higgins

I understand.

It makes my work a little more difficult at the beginning. The first thing I want to say which I said earlier in relation to the Department is that I represented around ten claimants against the redress board in 2007 in my capacity as a solicitor. I just want to make Ms Higgins aware of that. It has no bearing on the matter, but I just want to communicate it in the interests of transparency.

Ms Higgins states in the second paragraph of her written submission that Caranua "is aimed at improving the quality of life of survivors of institutional abuse". To a certain extent, there are many reports that Caranua has actually disimproved quality of life, to some degree, in the sense that there is, of course, a financial aspect to what the organisation, not Ms Higgins per se, is trying to achieve.

In many ways Ms Higgins's opening statement does not add up. She says the staff have been carefully selected for their skills, yet in the last paragraph of her written submission she states, "In addition it is planned to enhance our work with other service providers so that they can be trauma informed and recognise and respond to the needs of survivors". I know from dealing with claimants that they have suffered trauma - a heinous, horrendous trauma. In a sense, many of them are suffering from post-traumatic stress. Ms Higgins is, on the one hand, talking about the fact that she has taken on staff for their skills and, on the other, accepting that she needs to look at the issue in terms of having staff who are trained in relation to trauma. Will she explain that to me? She states in her written submission that "Caranua is engaged in the delivery of a care service to people who may be vulnerable". I suggest they are and continue to be vulnerable. If it is true - I am only putting it to Ms Higgins on behalf of the Committee of Public Accounts - that they have been made vulnerable in the manner they say they have been, they have been made even more vulnerable. I would like to hear Ms Higgins' comments on that issue also.

Ms Mary Higgins

I will start with the last one, the one about survivors being vulnerable.

Ms Higgins said "may".

Ms Mary Higgins

I will explain. The reason for that is because a lot of survivors would not see themselves as vulnerable. They do not describe themselves as victims and they do not like to be put into that kind of category. It is for that reason that I am usually careful with the language that I use.

In my book, I think "victim" and "vulnerable" are different words.

Ms Mary Higgins

Okay, well I am just explaining the rationale for saying they are not a homogenous group of people and some of them are extremely resilient and, as I referred to in the opening statement I made, have had good lives.

In terms of the statement not adding up about the staff and the trauma-informed services, they are two different things. Our own staff are carefully selected. They are supported, managed and supervised to deliver services that are appropriate to the people we are working with. What is not well understood outside of specialist services for survivors are the effects of adverse early childhood experiences and therefore not all services are well attuned to why somebody might be behaving the way they are behaving and what their needs might be. What we are planning to do over the coming years is to work more closely with mainstream service providers and specialist services to ensure that there is an awareness of early childhood trauma and the effects that has for the rest of people's lives.

Does Ms Higgins accept that she said: "You can't control people's experience of what we do for them", some clients "will never be happy" and grievances "suit such a narrative"?

Ms Mary Higgins

I think Deputy Madigan is referring to an article from The Irish Times.

I am just asking Ms Higgins if she made those comments about the claimants.

Ms Mary Higgins

Not exactly. I have the transcript of the interview in front of me and I can tell the Deputy exactly what I said.

Perhaps Ms Higgins could clarify her comments.

Ms Mary Higgins

I have it with me but I do not have it in front of me. The context is that I was being asked about our making people feel like they were begging. I think I prefaced my reply by saying that I can completely understand how somebody who has to come and ask for something might feel as if they are begging but, as I described in my opening statement, we have very consciously and deliberately set out to design a service that does not do that to people. To the best of our ability we do not do that.

Is Ms Higgins saying she did not say "You can't control people's experience".

Ms Mary Higgins

No, I am trying to put a context on the comments that I made.

So Ms Higgins did say it.

Ms Mary Higgins

No, I am going to say-----

Ms Higgins is saying she said it but she is putting it in context. Is that correct?

Ms Mary Higgins

I am saying that, "If people feel" like that - I am quoting now from the interview.

No, I did not ask that, I am just asking whether Ms Higgins made that comment: "You can't control people's experience of what we do for them", as in, ergo, Caranua.

Ms Mary Higgins

What I said was something to the effect that it is not our intention to do-----

Did Ms Higgins say that or did she not?

Ms Mary Higgins

No, I did not say it, because it has been-----

Ms Higgins did not say it.

Ms Mary Higgins

No, and I am trying to explain what I did say, that we have-----

Could Ms Higgins tell me what she did say?

Ms Mary Higgins

I am trying to say we have designed a service specially to meet the needs of the people that we are working with.

I saw that in Ms Higgins's opening statement.

Ms Mary Higgins

We cannot control the experience that people have, and if people have that experience what I was trying to explain is-----

So that is really the same thing, in essence.

Ms Mary Higgins

It is not because we are trying to deny them anything, it is true that-----

I am not saying Ms Higgins is trying to deny them anything but I think she can understand how that can come across as a pejorative and insulting statement.

Ms Mary Higgins

Yes, I do completely.

And that it has quite passive-aggressive undertones. Does Ms Higgins accept that?

Ms Mary Higgins

I do. Absolutely.

So there is an admission that Ms Higgins said it and that she did not mean anything by it.

Ms Mary Higgins

Yes, and I think it is very unfortunate the way it was reported and I certainly regret any pain or offence that was caused by those comments.

Did Ms Higgins say the complaints about Caranua suit the narrative of the big bad State and the big bad religious congregations?

Ms Mary Higgins

I did.

Would Ms Higgins like to explain those comments?

Ms Mary Higgins

I think there is a narrative and for very obvious and justifiable reasons we have a situation where thousands of people were taken away from their families, as children, and put into institutions which were brutal. I do not think as a society we have processed what happened there and I do not think we have faced up to what the effects are on those people and on society as a whole. There is a simplistic kind of narrative-----

The complainants have not done anything wrong.

Ms Mary Higgins

I am not saying that they have.

I know, but by saying that it feeds into that narrative. It can come across as insensitive in effect.

Ms Mary Higgins

Yes, I am trying not to be insensitive but what I am trying to say is that there is more to this situation than the State having done something bad and the church having done something bad. That is part of it but in order to get beyond that it is more complex and we have to come to terms with it.

Yes, I will move on but I just wanted to give Ms Higgins the opportunity to respond to those comments because they are about people who have gone through harrowing times and when they listen to that it complicates the situation for them and compounds their suffering.

In relation to the limit on the number of services one can apply for and the fact that there was a cut-off point in mid-2015, does Ms Higgins think that is directly related to the fact that Caranua itself did not get the €110 million yet? Is there a direct correlation between those factors?

Ms Mary Higgins

No.

Is there no correlation at all?

Ms Mary Higgins

No.

What was the reason for the abrupt withdrawal of services? I will talk more about the figures in a moment. It seems to me that a lot of money was spent very quickly on a small number of claims and it was not anticipated that there would be further claims down the line. Ms Higgins accepted that. I know the Comptroller and Auditor General referred to the control over grant payments and the inefficiencies but I want to hear what Ms Higgins has to say about it.

Ms Mary Higgins

There was not an abrupt cutting off. There was a review that took place over a number of months in 2015.

The files were closed, according to some claimants and they were told they could no longer avail of the services, just like that.

Ms Mary Higgins

I do not know if that was said to people.

Ms Higgins does not know.

Ms Mary Higgins

I know that what we did was-----

Does Ms Higgins think they fabricated that or that it happened?

Ms Mary Higgins

No, I am saying I do not know.

Is there anyone with Ms Higgins who would know?

Ms Mary Higgins

I am going to explain. What we did was we reviewed our criteria in 2015. In reviewing the criteria we took account of what applicants had said to us about the way that we operated and the services that we provided.

So Caranua withheld some of the services that were originally provided? Back in 2014 it was advertised that there was no limit. The guidelines, which were published in May 2014 state that there is no limit on the number of services one can apply for. Claimants made claims and abruptly in 2015 they were told that the services could not be provided. I want an explanation for them. I am just a member of Committee of Public Accounts. This is not personal to Ms Higgins. I ask on behalf of those people.

Ms Mary Higgins

We communicate directly with people to explain this.

Ms Higgins said she did not know whether they were communicated with.

Ms Mary Higgins

No, I am saying that we do not just say to people: "That is it. You are gone. Goodbye." We have a different way of dealing with people, and if people have that experience it needs to be brought to my attention because it means something is going very badly wrong.

As far as Ms Higgins is aware, were there no complaints made to Caranua in relation to the services being cut off or withdrawn?

Ms Mary Higgins

Services have neither been cut off nor withdrawn.

People cannot avail of them.

Ms Mary Higgins

No. Nothing has changed in terms of the range of services that we offer. In fact, we have increased the range of services we offer under the new 2016 system.

That is not my understanding.

Ms Mary Higgins

What we have done is introduced different things. We have introduced household goods. A complaint that was made to us by people, in particular those who were living in private rented or socially rented housing, is that home improvements were not a lot of use to them but that they would like furniture or to replace their kitchen or to do those kind of things.

I will move on because I am conscious of the time. I apologise if I am being abrupt to Ms Higgins now.

I would like her to please look at the expenses, travel and accommodation costs for staff and the board from 1 January 2014 to 21 November 2016. When I looked at this initially for 2014 to 2016, staff expenses, staff accommodation and staff travel looks as if it has gone down but not if one reads it downwards.

Staff accommodation and travel expenses for 2014 and 2015 amounted to €14,834.51 and €14,788.57, respectively. Post-review, in 2016, accommodation and travel expenses amounted to €11,978.04. That does not suggest to me there has been any radical change. In regard to the board, travel and accommodation expenses in 2014 and 2015 amounted to €11,744.03 and €27,170.19, respectively. In 2016 the figure was €10,688.73 which is comparable to the 2014 figure. I will comment later on the services provided by Caranua. In terms of expenses, I do not believe there was any radical change between 2014 and 2016.

Ms Mary Higgins

I am sorry, but I am not sure I understand the Deputy's question on travel expenses and the changes that should have occurred.

The point I am making is that, bearing in mind the level of media coverage, the complaints made and the Comptroller and Auditor General's 2015 report, it does not appear that any of this was taken into account in 2016, given the level of staff travel and accommodation expenses.

Ms Mary Higgins

Is the Deputy saying the expenditure should have decreased?

Yes. Prior to 2013, expenditure on salaries and wages was €188,000. Ms Higgins referred to people being at the heart and centre of the service. In 2014 expenditure on salaries and wages amounted to €791,000. For that amount, Caranua managed 33,751 calls, of which it only responded to 15,348, less than half the number of calls received. In 2015 expenditure on salaries and wages increased to €1.32 million and the service managed 67,604 calls, but, again, it only responded to half of those calls. Despite a massive increase in expenditure on salaries and wages, the service still could not manage all of the calls received. The figures to which I am referring were provided by Ms Higgins. In 2016 expenditure on salaries and wages increased again to €1.492 million and the service managed 44,582 calls, of which it only responded to 19,776.

Ms Higgins referred in her opening statement to 20 to 30 calls per claimant. Despite increased expenditure by Caranua on salaries and wages - I am not saying the 24 staff are not entitled to salary increases - the service is only managing to respond to fewer than one third of the calls it receives.

Ms Mary Higgins

I do not know from where that information is coming.

It is included in the information provided for the committee.

The information provided tracks incoming post only. In other words, there is no tracking of outgoing post. Despite Ms Higgins' comment on claimants being at the centre of the service, that does not appear to be the case.

As a vote has been called in the Dáil and there are likely to be a number of other votes called, we will suspend the sitting until 2.30 p.m.

Sitting suspended at 1.15 p.m. and resumed at 3 p.m.

Apologies for the lengthy suspension but the timing of the voting in the Dáil was outside of our control. In regard to the questions posed prior to the suspension by Deputy Madigan, the Deputy cannot, unfortunately, be here this afternoon but I will allow the witnesses an opportunity later to put any responses they may have in that regard on the record.

Has each of the witnesses read the Ryan report?

Ms Mary Higgins

I have not read it from beginning to end as it is a very lengthy report but I am familiar with it.

It is worth reading. It is the background to what we are discussing now, as it is to the redress board, which we discussed this morning. This is important for survivors because sometimes a blaming attitude comes across from institutions generally. During our earlier session, I read into the record some of the conclusions of that report, including that the deferential and submissive attitude of the Department of Education and Skills towards the congregations compromised its ability to carry out its statutory duty and so on. I do not believe that applies only to the Department of Education and Skills.

In regard to the congregations, one of the many recommendations is that they examine how their ideals became debased by systemic abuse, how they came to tolerate breaches of their own rules, and when sexual and physical abuse was discovered, how they responded to it and those who perpetrated it. It is important to reiterate that the congregations were specifically asked to examine their attitude to neglect and emotional abuse and, more generally, how the interests of the institutions and the congregations came to be placed ahead of those of the children who were in their care. Leaving aside the specifics of that recommendation, there is always a danger that an institution will become more important, particularly so in the case of Caranua.

It is a big challenge to ensure the institution does not become more important than what it was set up to do. Ms Higgins would acknowledge that. It has only been functioning for three years. Is that right?

Ms Mary Higgins

It began at the end of March 2013. It is not quite four years but it is nearer to four than to three.

Let me just put my questions and if I am wrong on anything, Ms Higgins can correct me. It was set up in March 2013. It did not start receiving applications until January 2014. Is that right?

Ms Mary Higgins

That is right.

When it was set up in January 2014, what did Ms Higgins do other than advertise? Obviously Ms Higgins had time in addition to advertising and making these schemes known to work out the processes, policies and mission statement.

May I interrupt the Deputy for one second?

I have to go out for ten minutes to another meeting. Will Deputy Connolly propose that Deputy Cullinane takes the chair in my absence?

Yes. I propose that Deputy Cullinane takes the Chair.

Deputy David Cullinane took the Chair.

Ms Higgins had nine months to sort out all of the procedures and policies.

Ms Mary Higgins

The question is did we do that in the nine months we had.

Ms Mary Higgins

No, we did not. When I was appointed on 10 April 2013, I was on my own.

Was Ms Higgins on her own completely?

Ms Mary Higgins

Yes. I inherited staff from the Education Finance-----

But Ms Higgins was not on her own.

Ms Mary Higgins

I inherited staff from the-----

How many staff did Ms Higgins inherit?

Ms Mary Higgins

I inherited three staff from the Education Finance Board. One left in June, another left in July and one remained with us until last year. Setting up an organisation is not that easy. There is work that needs to be done. It takes time to establish policies, procedures and all of those things. Most of the time spent during 2013 was on staff recruitment and consulting and designing the application procedures and the scope of what it is we would be doing. Then we began very early in January 2014.

Very good. So Ms Higgins had a considerable period within which to look forward, anticipate challenges and problems and work them out. There were no applicants, as it were, bothering Ms Higgins during that time. I will put it slightly more positively. There were no applicants coming in taking Ms Higgins's time during that time.

Ms Mary Higgins

No, there were not applicants coming in taking our time.

Ms Higgins had ample time to foresee and plan.

Ms Mary Higgins

We did spend the time planning.

Good. Then in January 2014 we start receiving applications. Anybody can answer my questions. I am not addressing them to a particular witness. There is a board. Mr. O'Callaghan is chair of that board.

Mr. David O'Callaghan

Yes.

He should feel free to answer these questions. From January 2014 onwards, for the following three months, the organisation is simply overwhelmed. Is that accurate? How many thousand applications came in? I think it was 2,500 in three months. The witnesses should correct me if I am wrong.

Ms Mary Higgins

Yes, it was round about that. There were 1,200 applications in the first month and then 800. I think there were 2,600 in the first quarter.

So the organisation was overwhelmed. Is that right?

Ms Mary Higgins

Yes. The context was that we were not ready because we had five staff and an extra three that came in in December 2013 in order to try to be ready. When the applications came in it was overwhelming.

Absolutely. I have to ask these questions. There were nine months in which to anticipate this. The commission had reported. Ms Higgins knew exactly how many applications were going to come before the organisation. I forgot Mr. Yeomans's role.

Mr. David Yeomans

I have been director of finance and corporate affairs since July 2016.

Where did Ms Higgins go with her difficulties when she had so few staff?

Ms Mary Higgins

I do not understand.

Where did Ms Higgins go? This is a major problem. The organisation is overwhelmed. What happened? Did Ms Higgins report to the board and tell it?

Ms Mary Higgins

Yes, of course we reported to the board.

Mr. David O'Callaghan

Perhaps I could come in here. I became chairman at the beginning of 2014. The previous chairman resigned on health grounds. What I found was an organisation that was overwhelmed by the number of applications. I found an organisation that was understaffed and that did not have proper processes in place. It took time to get those right. The board put them down as a priority. To give the committee an idea of how understaffed the organisation was, in 2015 we got in Mazars, which is an organisational consultant, and it said we should have 24 staff to deal with the volume of work we had. The Deputy can imagine how difficult it was to work with four or five.

When did Mazars come in?

Mr. David O'Callaghan

It came in in-----

Ms Mary Higgins

The recruitment was carried out in the middle of 2016.

The recruitment for Mazars-----

Ms Mary Higgins

For the full staff team.

No. I asked when Mazars came in.

Ms Mary Higgins

The end of 2014.

Mr. O'Callaghan was in the middle of telling me about Mazars and I interrupted him to ask him when Mazars came in.

Mr. David O'Callaghan

We made two attempts to address the staffing issue with the help of the Department of Education and Skills, which was very much appreciated. We got in temporary consultants from a recruitment firm for a short time.

Mr. David O'Callaghan

CPL.

Ms Mary Higgins

We got agency staff through CPL Healthcare.

Mr. David O'Callaghan

That was to help us with the backlog. We realised earlier on that we were just not giving the service we should to the survivors.

That is acknowledged in the report.

Mr. David O'Callaghan

Yes, there is no question about it.

Caranua has acknowledged it.

Mr. David O'Callaghan

We have to put our hands up and admit it. There is no question about it. We were giving an appalling service. We had to do something about it. We first tried agency staff to deal with the backlog.

When Mr. O'Callaghan says agency staff, is that to get employees in to answer the phones?

Mr. David O'Callaghan

It was to answer the phones and talk to survivors to assess their needs and advise and help them to make their applications.

Mr. David O'Callaghan

While we did make some progress, it was not sufficient so the board decided we would get in people who were experts in setting up organisations. That was Mazars, which came in in late 2015. It reported-----

When did Mazars come in?

Mr. David O'Callaghan

It was in 2015. It reported and recommended a complement of staff that could address the type of work we were doing. We got the sanction from the Department of Education and Skills and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to hire those staff and we now have them hired.

Caranua has a full complement of staff now.

Mr. David O'Callaghan

Yes, we have a full complement of staff.

Mr. O'Callaghan can see the difficulty from my point of view.

Mr. David O'Callaghan

Yes. We were not prepared for this. There is no question about it.

Can somebody from the Department of Education and Skills explain how this was allowed to happen? Nine months after the organisation was set up it was completely overwhelmed as soon as it opened for applications.

Mr. Seán Ó Foghlú

We were working with the board and the chief executive. There was a strong desire that the board would put in place arrangements to begin to receive applications-----

My question was that there were nine months so how did the Department or any other Department that was relevant allow this to happen? There were staff in place, albeit not enough, and it goes on until January. I will not waste my time repeating it. How was this allowed to happen?

Mr. Seán Ó Foghlú

There was a statutory body established, which was in a position to undertake the work. We engaged with the chairperson of the board and the senior executives.

When did the board come into place?

Ms Mary Higgins

March 2013.

Mr. O'Callaghan was not there from March 2013. Who was chairman before him?

Mr. David O'Callaghan

Ms Sylda Langford.

She was there before Mr. O'Callaghan as chair.

Mr. David O'Callaghan

Yes, before me.

Mr. O'Callaghan came in in January 2014.

Mr. David O'Callaghan

I came in in April 2014.

Mr. Seán Ó Foghlú

We worked with the board and the agency to support it as best we could in recruiting staff and responding to its needs. We and the board had a strong desire to begin to receive applications because with the establishment of the board it was important that it was able to begin to receive applications. The board indicated, following engagement with the Department, that it was in a position to begin to receive applications from early January 2014 and it proceeded on that basis. We knew it would be a challenge to do that but we felt Caranua was in a position to commence doing that and beginning to provide a service to the members.

Mr. Seán Ó Foghlú

It was not ready.

Mr. O'Callaghan has said it was an appalling service.

Mr. David O'Callaghan

Yes, it totally underestimated the type and quality of the service that Caranua has to provide.

I have over 52 years experience in the public service, 29 of them were in the Revenue Commissioners and I have never come across a service provision quite like this.

Mr. David O'Callaghan

In that this is not the same as an applicant filling in a form for a pension or passport or tax-free allowance. This is about dealing holistically with all the requirements of an applicant, a survivor. It is not just a form which is filled in; an assessor rings them, contacts them, and looks at all their needs and takes them through the whole process in a very sympathetic manner to find out what they need across the broad spectrum of services, whether it is housing, health or education. I do not want to overstate it but it is a very complex operation.

It is not complex at all. I appreciate what Mr. O'Callaghan says and have read about it. I realise that he is talking about a whole-life approach and I take that on board. However, it is not complex. There is €110 million to be administered to a finite number of people - it is the case we know it is finite?

Mr. David O'Callaghan

Yes.

And we know it is even less than the finite figure that is coming from the redress board because of death and age and people not bothering and people worn down by the system.

Mr. David O'Callaghan

Yes we realise that.

All that money was available before the applications opened and Caranua knew exactly what to expect. The maximum was what the redress board had told Caranua, but Mr. O'Callaghan knew from experience that was not going to happen, is that correct? All right. In the space of time Caranua has been there, which is three years, from March 2014, how many outside companies, apart from Mazars, have been brought in for auditing, control, and financial control?

Mr. David O'Callaghan

I think we had three. We had people in to do our internal audit, Capita.

Capita and Mazars were the two I came across, how many others?

Ms Mary Higgins

Our accountancy services are also outsourced.

And there were external reviews. List them.

Mr. David O'Callaghan

We had a firm to help us with our strategic plan.

Could Mr. O'Callaghan list them? In the short period of time this organisation has existed, is it correct that there was a year and a half with no financial controller?

Mr. David O'Callaghan

That is right.

There was no financial controller for the whole of 2015 into July 2016, despite the Comptroller and Auditor General raising issues about internal controls. In fact, he gave Caranua the thumbs up on its accounts but said there were problems with internal processes.

Mr. David O'Callaghan

We are addressing all of those and we are in much better shape.

Caranua may well be in much better shape, but I am about to come to the survivors or the applicants who have dealt with it who might not be in much better shape as a result of the process. I am glad to hear that Caranua might be in better shape. I want a list of the reports commissioned to ensure that Caranua's processes were in order.

Ms Mary Higgins

I can do that. There is a report from our accountants in 2014 on our payments process and another one on our internal controls process.

There were outside accountants for that.

Ms Mary Higgins

That function is outsourced, yes. They did those two reports.

What are they called?

Ms Mary Higgins

Crowleys DFK.

What were they looking at?

Ms Mary Higgins

At the payments process and the internal financial controls.

What did that cost?

Ms Mary Higgins

We will find that figure. The next report was Mazars.

What did that cost?

Ms Mary Higgins

We will get the amount in a moment.

Ms Higgins has heard my question. I have heard of Capita and Mazars and these accountants. Who else is there? List them and how much it has cost so far to ensure proper controls are in place. There is also the Comptroller and Auditor General's office. I will park that for the moment.

I reluctantly return to Ms Higgins' public remarks and my colleague raised them this morning. Does Ms Higgins think it is appropriate to give interviews of that nature and make those comments on "Liveline" and in The Irish Times? Would Ms Higgins like to apologise and withdraw them and move on or does she stick by them?

Ms Mary Higgins

I already addressed that earlier. I said the way in which it was presented was regrettable and I understand that it may have caused offence. If it did I am very sorry. What I said was not quoted exactly.

Let me quote them exactly. I want to get on to the issues. I am not a personality person and I stay with issues but Ms Higgins went on "Liveline". I do not want to insult the applicants by repeating the language that was used, that "these people are damaged, the hole in them cannot be filled by what we do, unfortunately". Did Ms Higgins use that language? Did she say that?

Ms Mary Higgins

I did not listen to "Liveline" while I was on it.

Did Ms Higgins take part in "Liveline"?

Ms Mary Higgins

I did take part in "Liveline". I did not hear it. I do not know for certain that I said that, but it is the reality that the damage that was done to people placed in institutions when they were children is profound and lifelong. Part of the damage causes people to not expect other people to want to do something good. I can understand that. We are the face of the State, the State that did this to people. It is understandable that they would be angry with us.

I want to use my time for the other issues. I am asking Ms Higgins if she withdraws those comments.

Ms Mary Higgins

Yes, I withdraw them.

Ms Mary Higgins

I unreservedly withdraw them.

Thank you. They should not have been made.

Let us move on to what happens when Caranua writes to applicants to tell them their case is closed. Has that happened?

Ms Mary Higgins

Yes, because we complete applications when someone has gone through the process of the needs assessment and identification and agreement has been reached as to what services will be paid for by Caranua. Then the case is completed. We have a finite number of advisers and it is not possible to keep all applications open all the time.

Mr. O'Callaghan is on the board. When did he sign off on this policy that applicants would be written to and told their case was completed?

Mr. David O'Callaghan

I do not think that we signed off on that as a policy.

I am asking Mr. O'Callaghan as chair of the board, about the board.

Mr. David O'Callaghan

We took this as a normal operational matter, the matter of writing to people to say their cases were closed was not a decision of the board.

This board has been set up under statute, and it has a duty. Policy and procedures are set by the board.

Mr. David O'Callaghan

Yes.

The time is up.

I would like to finish on the board. Mr. O'Callaghan is the CEO and he has a job to do. He is paid for that job. The board has a separate job. When did it meet and discuss this and change policy that applicants would be written to informing them their case had closed?

Mr. David O'Callaghan

I do not have a date for it, but as far as I can recall, new applicants were not being dealt with. Existing applicants who had received cheques and had been satisfied in some of their requirements were reapplying and remained top of the queue. The decision we made was to prioritise the new applicants who had not got any attention or any services to date.

I understand that and the board is entitled to look at prioritising.

Mr. David O'Callaghan

We did not make any decision to write out to people, or a certain cadre, to say that their cases were closed.

The board is entitled to make policy and do what it did and we are entitled to see how it arrived at that decision.

Mr. David O'Callaghan

There is no question about that.

There was no decision at board level about instructing the executive to write to people to tell them their cases were completed.

Mr. David O'Callaghan

No, not as such but if operationally, a case is completed-----

Deputy Sean Fleming resumed the Chair.

This is a scheme that was set up to apply on a needs basis. Therefore, an applicant comes forward on that basis. I understand Caranua was applying the policy on that basis and that, therefore, an applicant might have come back again on that basis and been assessed accordingly. I am asking a very simple question. When did that policy change?

Mr. David O'Callaghan

There is no question that people who receive services cannot reapply for others.

I asked when the policy was changed because a substantial number of letters were sent to applicants to state their cases had been closed, or they were told on the telephone that they had one bite at the cherry, or words to that effect. I see a head nodding. I am going to come back to Ms Higgins about how many letters went sent. Mr. O'Callaghan is clearly telling me that no policy decision was made at board level. There was no decision to write-----

Mr. David O'Callaghan

No, not to my knowledge.

I call Deputy David Cullinane.

As I am due to speak in the Dáil at some point, I wonder whether I could let some of my colleagues go first and then come in.

The Deputy will only be away for 20 or 30 minutes. We will be here at least that long.

I thank the Chairman.

The Deputy will get his chance to speak when he comes back.

I asked these questions of the wrong group earlier. I attached them for Caranua.

On the recently introduced funeral expenses, is it true that expenses are paid in advance to undertakers?

Ms Mary Higgins

Yes. That was an additional service we introduced as part of the 1 June changes to our criteria. It was introduced because many survivors had said they really wanted it because the fear they would have a pauper's funeral was very significant. The board considered the issue. We sought legal advice on whether we could, under the terms of the legislation, introduce funeral expenses. Caranua, obviously, is not a permanent institution. It is temporary, but we wanted to make provision for the future for people who were not at the point of passing away. The agreement was that we would prepay funeral costs to funeral directors.

Does that mean that the survivor, or any individual, is not party to the contract? He or she has nothing to do with it because Caranua is paying. The survivor has no say in the matter and cannot enforce the contract. Caranua has limited life expectancy and will close in a couple of years. How will the relatives of the survivor obtain the benefits of the service in years to come? How has it been set up? The funeral has been paid for with an undertaker of someone who is expected to die in ten, 20 or five years' time.

Ms Mary Higgins

Yes. It is not without survivor involvement.

It seems to be a bizarre arrangement.

Ms Mary Higgins

The applicant is involved in the process and selects the funeral director. Applicants come to us with a proposal.

Could family members look after it rather than going to the undertaker?

Ms Mary Higgins

It was expressed to us that they did not want to leave behind a debt for their families or be a burden. There is a fund to help to meet their needs. They identified the issue of funeral costs and we responded.

Is it true that some survivors are approaching undertakers and looking for some of the money? That is a bad system.

Ms Mary Higgins

Yes, I accept that. We built the system on trust and will now have to look at how we put a more watertight contract in place between us, funeral directors and applicants.

As a layperson, the arrangements seem to be very strange.

Ms Mary Higgins

If somebody is making arrangements for his or her funeral in the future, he or she will pay into an insurance or other kind of fund. It is that kind of idea, except that we are paying all of the money at once.

How are funeral expenses in five years' time known? Does the undertaker sign up to a contract?

Ms Mary Higgins

That is what we are putting in place.

I want to ask about people who cannot read or write. I am told that there are some survivors who are not able to read or write and that they were looking for others to work as a third party on their behalf. Because of this, their cases have not been processed. Is that true? Does Caranua allow a third party-----

Ms Mary Higgins

Absolutely. It would not be a barrier in somebody making an application to us because we do not require that somebody to fill in a form. We have forms and it is up to the person concerned to decide if he or she wants to do it by himself or herself, to get somebody to help or not to do it at all. We can help people over the telephone or by some other means.

Will Caranua accept a third party to represent or work on a person's behalf?

Ms Mary Higgins

Absolutely.

I did not think it did. I am told about a survivor who wants to have a hip replacement but was terrified of going into hospital. The lady needs this essential surgery but is afraid. Is there any outreach service to advise and help her along? I am told she is afraid to go into hospital to have a hip replacement.

Ms Mary Higgins

Has she been in touch with us?

I cannot tell Ms Higgins that. I am told that she is waiting for an operation but is afraid to go in for it. Does Caranua have a service to advise her?

Ms Mary Higgins

We can advise her. I encourage her to make contact with us.

Ms Higgins said Caranua would be finishing up in 2018 or 2019. What will happen after that with the funding available? How will it be allocated to survivors? What will happen after 2019, being a fixed date?

Ms Mary Higgins

Our fund is limited. It is €110 million. Our expectation is that there will not be any left by then. The Deputy may not have been here this morning when I read my opening statement-----

Ms Mary Higgins

Our plan is to try to ensure other services will be able to engage with survivors in order that care will continue.

Therefore, it will be continued by some other agency.

Ms Mary Higgins

In a different format. It is about services rather than giving out money to survivors.

Does Ms Higgins think all of the money will be used by that time?

Ms Mary Higgins

That is our expectation. We will be engaging in another exercise shortly to look at targets and projections.

Is it true that the CEO of Caranua gave money back to the Catholic Church for counselling services for which it had already paid? Can Ms Higgins explain that?

Ms Mary Higgins

I can. I think it is-----

What kind of money is involved?

Ms Mary Higgins

The position is not that we have been giving money back to the Catholic Church but that we will pay for counselling if that is what people are looking for. There are a number of counselling services in place. Towards Healing is one of the counselling services funded by the Catholic Church. It has a limit on the number of counselling sessions survivors are able to have and we will pay if there is a need for additional sessions. We also pay for other counselling services.

Is that all Ms Higgins means by "paying the Catholic Church"?

Ms Mary Higgins

I am guessing that is what is meant.

On expenses, representatives of Caranua held meetings in Cork, Galway, London, Manchester and Birmingham. They involved big expenses. The figure mentioned here is €20,000. Is that normal and reasonable, or excessive?

Ms Mary Higgins

That would not be the cost per session but the cost over a period of time which might be one year. Mr. Yeomans will have the exact figures. We are in a situation where we know that there are about 15,000 people who are eligible to apply to us. We even know their names and addresses, but we cannot use that information for any purpose other than verifying that they are eligible to apply to us. We cannot contact them directly or write to them. As we cannot make any contact with them, we are very dependent on trying to raise awareness. We are also conscious - this is the feedback we have received from survivors - that they want to see people. They do not want to deal with them on the telephone. Our outreach clinics and events are one way we do this. We organise the events and publicise them through survivor support groups and in other ways. Advisers are present and they can be in a private room and see people individually. It also gives survivors an opportunity to meet other members of staff and, on occasion, members of the board.

Do Caranua representatives travel to London, Manchester and Birmingham on a regular basis to meet people?

Ms Mary Higgins

We are reviewing the position and what we are looking at is working in a smaller way in local areas where we suspect there are survivors and applicants.

I am sure there are big costs involved.

Ms Mary Higgins

There are costs involved.

I am sure there would be costs involved in flying and staying overnight.

Ms Mary Higgins

There are costs involved, but it costs money to provide a service.

With regard to eligibility and the draft terms of reference, the Minister is reviewing them. As it is a review, certain things could be examined. Will the potential to make a one-off payment to remaining survivors be considered?

Ms Mary Higgins

The review is being undertaken by the Department of Education and Skills. It is a review of the eligibility criteria in applying to us. It might be better to-----

Is Caranua open to suggestions?

Ms Mary Higgins

I think the Department is in the process of seeking suggestions on the terms of reference to be considered in the review. Even though I understand the date has closed, I am sure it would be possible for somebody to submit a late proposal.

All of the proposals I have to make could be examined. They have probably been made already, but I do not know.

Ms Mary Higgins

Quite possibly.

Caranua would look at and take them on board.

Ms Mary Higgins

Of course.

Caranua is still subject to the Comptroller and Auditor General's report every year.

Ms Mary Higgins

Yes.

Therefore, the money would have to be spent every year.

Ms Mary Higgins

Yes.

I thank Ms Higgins.

I am sorry I was not present for the opening statement. Matters moved quicker than anticipated this morning. I thank the witnesses for attending.

The opening statement mentioned the importance of protecting the confidentiality of survivors. The board meeting of 23 March 2017 confirmed the view that Caranua had the authority, in cases where applicants had not provided receipts, to go directly to the supplier without the permission of the applicant. What impact has this had on the survivors? Does it threaten their confidentiality? Is there not a breach in that regard?

Ms Mary Higgins

It is a decision that was only taken recently. Two of the key issues the Comptroller and Auditor General raised with us were about quotations and receipts.

Ms Mary Higgins

In terms of financial controls, not having both is not very good. We have been prevented from following up on receipts because of the way the legislation is drafted and the fact that under section 23 we cannot betray a connection between an applicant and us. It has never been possible for us to go to suppliers to get receipts. We are in a situation where the return of receipts is quite low relative to the number of payments made. That has been pointed out by the Comptroller and Auditor General and is something on which we must take action. We cannot ignore it. One of the ways we can do it is by going directly to the supplier where receipts have not been returned. We would not do this in every case and would not do it without telling people that we would be doing it.

Has it been done so far in any case?

Ms Mary Higgins

No.

What impact does Ms Higgins think it will have on the survivors?

Ms Mary Higgins

I imagine that some people will be quite pleased because they will not have to go to the bother of getting receipts and sending them to us. However, we have not started it yet and will have to do something about it. As I said, the tension between delivering care and being compliant with good financial controls is ever present.

Is the balance wrong?

Ms Mary Higgins

It has been difficult for us for many reasons. I believe the way forward is for us to have contracts directly with suppliers. That would cut out the need for applicants to be involved in the obtaining of receipts and quotes. That is the direction we are taking.

Notwithstanding that Caranua is doing its best and the Comptroller and Auditor General is doing his best under the rules that govern him, is it fair to say the system, as it stands, is inadequate for Caranua to do its work?

Ms Mary Higgins

Our system.

No, the system. The Comptroller and Auditor General has a job to do which involves receipts, auditing and so forth. Given the delicate job Caranua has, is the system inadequate in providing care for the survivors?

Ms Mary Higgins

Yes. In the general system one is looking at people who were very poor as children-----

I know all of that. However, the answer is yes.

Ms Mary Higgins

I think it could be improved.

That is fine. I will move on. I presume the impact of auditing might add stress.

Ms Mary Higgins

Yes, but that is the world in which we live. The challenge is to try to balance those two things.

I know that is how the world is. However, the system is inadequate for Caranua to do its job, notwithstanding that the Comptroller and Auditor General has done an excellent job under the rules that govern him.

Ms Mary Higgins

Let us say it is challenging.

Okay, but that is a nice way of saying it is inadequate.

With regard to the €15,000 limit and bearing in mind that some of the matters included in the Act are extensions, home improvements, upgrades and the like, in a layman's view, €15,000 will not cover much work. Realistically, is that limit prohibitively low in terms of the vision and ambition of the types of service that should be available under the Act?

Ms Mary Higgins

The limit was only introduced with effect from 1 June 2016. To date, the response from the majority of applicants has been very supportive of that approach. However, we said we would review the matter in 12 months and it is something we will be examining.

What does that mean?

Ms Mary Higgins

It means that we do not know. We made the changes partly because-----

How did Caranua come up with the figure of €15,000?

Ms Mary Higgins

I was just about to say that. Obviously, we have a fund that is limited. We have a number of people and do not know exactly how many of them are likely to apply. We were looking at a situation where a small number of applicants had received a large amount of the fund and said that if we were to continue spending money in that way, it would be spent very quickly and that, perhaps, we might not reach all of the people who could potentially apply to us. Under the legislation, we are required to deliver our services in a way that is fair and equitable. To address this, we looked at the sums and decided on a figure of €15,000. In fact, the average value of payments to date is €13,000.

Was it a case of drawing heads together at the board and deciding to divide the number of likely applicants-----

Ms Mary Higgins

Not quite. It was slightly more sophisticated than that, but, in essence, it was about looking at the fund and what was left.

Was actuarial expertise used in the determination?

Ms Mary Higgins

No. Financial expertise was used.

Was it financial expertise in terms of actuarial or certified accountants?

Ms Mary Higgins

Accountants.

Effectively, an accountant made a pitch.

Ms Mary Higgins

Yes.

What analysis was used in terms of the survivors? Were there accountants for them?

Ms Mary Higgins

No. There are four survivors on the board and obviously they were involved.

Okay, but there were no financial people specifically to indicate the types of things that could arise. Unless one is talking about very limited works to a new home, €15,000 will not cut it.

Ms Mary Higgins

Many of the people who were coming to us were saying, "We rent our house, so we are not going to benefit from the home improvements."

Realistically, the schedule of services prescribed under the Act is not available because €15,000 is too low-----

Ms Mary Higgins

No, I do not accept that. That is not true at all. They have only been going for the last seven or eight months and we need to give them another while. We will then review it and if that is what the review tells us, we will have to think about it again.

What proportion of decision-making is weighted towards the budget rather than care?

Ms Mary Higgins

I will say this again because it is really important. Survivors are at the heart of what we do.

However, Caranua does not have the money to do what it wants to do.

Ms Mary Higgins

Yes, but we have to see ourselves in the context of the overall range of services available for survivors. We are in place and time limited. There are public services available. There are possibly other services that could be made available to them also. Part of our role in dealing with individual survivors is ensuing they are getting what they should get. If somebody is looking for home improvements, for example, we will not just say, "Yes, there you are." We look at who else should be providing for them. We look at what the local authority or somebody else is doing also and will continue to do so.

Will Ms Higgins explain the new system of prioritisation?

Ms Mary Higgins

We have two criteria in prioritising applicants.

Ms Mary Higgins

One is that the person be aged over 70 years and the other is having an urgent health need.

On what basis does Caranua consider prioritisation of new applicants, considering the purpose of a needs-based scheme?

Ms Mary Higgins

New applicants are people who have not received anything from us at all. What we call "repeat applicants" are people who have made applications, gone through the process, received payments and whose applications have been completed. As the Chairman described, we were constantly dealing with repeat applicants who were returning for more, which meant that new applicants were not getting a look in. The decision was made - I believe it was in July 2015 - to prioritise new applicants over repeat ones.

July 2015.

How many applicants were left outstanding by that?

Ms Mary Higgins

Outstanding?

Ms Higgins stated that there were repeat applicants. Since they were not new, they fell down the-----

Ms Mary Higgins

None of them fell down. Whatever application is received, be it new or repeat-----

They all get done.

Ms Mary Higgins

-----it is triaged. If a repeat applicant has an urgent need, he or she will be given attention the same as a new applicant. However, where there is no urgent need, repeat applicants are queued behind the new applicants.

How many have been affected by that?

Ms Mary Higgins

Altogether, we had approximately 900, but they are not waiting. We have dealt with a number of those. The current backlog of repeat applicants is approximately 300.

What efforts did Caranua make to consult survivors, notwithstanding the four on the board who have a say, before the implementation of the prioritisation policy or the introduction of the financial limits?

Ms Mary Higgins

We consult survivors on an ongoing basis. We meet survivor support groups regularly. We deal with survivors day in, day out.

I know that, but did a specific consultation process on this €15,000 limit and the prioritisation take place?

Ms Mary Higgins

No, because the prioritisation was something that we had to do in order to be faithful to the legislation.

I am not saying that Caranua did not have to do it. Clearly, it may have been necessary, but was it an oversight not to enter into consultation before determining a prioritisation policy and a €15,000 limit? The accountants were there and there were four survivors on the board, but what of the broader-----

Ms Mary Higgins

The limit came from survivors themselves. Having heard of people who had received a great deal, they felt that it was unfair-----

What was the largest payout?

Ms Mary Higgins

It was €100,000.

Did many receive more than €50,000?

Ms Mary Higgins

Mr. Yeomans might read that out, as I am flustered.

Mr. David Yeomans

This is a list by volume and by value. In bands, two people received more than €100,000 each. There were three in the band up to €90,000. Three received between €80,000 and €85,000. All the way down to approximately €35,000 accounts for 5% by cumulative volume, but that 5% received approximately 20% of payments.

How many received more than €50,000?

Mr. David Yeomans

That was 1%.

No. In numbers.

Mr. David Yeomans

Forgive me. Forty-nine people received more than €50,000. Representing 1% of the volume of the 5,000, they received almost 6%.

When did the penny drop with Caranua that that could not continue, given the potential of 14,000 further applicants?

Ms Mary Higgins

After opening for applications in 2014, it was only towards the end of that year before we made payments, so it was when we moved into 2015 that we could see the spend. The Chairman will see what 2015 looked like from our graph. It was mid-way through 2015.

Could Caranua not foresee some people returning? I will allow Deputy MacSharry back in, as I am probably cutting across his question.

No bother, and I am sorry for flustering Ms Higgins.

Ms Mary Higgins

It was not the Deputy's fault.

We do not want Ms Higgins flustered. I have lost my train of thought, though. Could the Chairman remind me-----

The Deputy is flustered now.

-----what it was before he took over?

We are all flustered.

I will take over if Deputy MacSharry wants.

No, Deputy Cullinane will not. We were on consultation and the lack thereof.

Ms Mary Higgins

Yes.

Would Ms Higgins accept that it was not the best way forward?

Ms Mary Higgins

We spoke informally to survivors when we went through the process, and then we-----

There was no formal process. When Caranua was speaking to people, it might have asked them what they thought of €15,000.

Ms Mary Higgins

No. We do not have a formal process of consultation. It tends to be something that we do on a regular and informal basis.

Might I suggest that-----

Ms Mary Higgins

We are now working on a meaningful engagement strategy. It will be-----

-----Caranua should adopt one?

Ms Mary Higgins

Yes. There are a number of survivor support groups, and they are an obvious place to go, but they do not necessarily represent all of-----

There is no shortage of survivors.

Ms Mary Higgins

No. It is about getting to them.

There are support groups and Caranua knows that they exist, but will Caranua adopt a formal, periodic process?

Ms Mary Higgins

Yes.

Is there any timeframe for that?

Ms Mary Higgins

We consult regularly currently, but we need to deepen it. We will do that this year.

Make it more formal and so on.

Ms Mary Higgins

Yes.

There were changes to the classes of service allowable under the scheme, but I thought that these would have required statutory approval. What changes were made in 2015? This is not Caranua's specific function, but were the changes laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas?

Ms Mary Higgins

No. They did not need to be.

Ms Mary Higgins

Under section 9, the board is responsible for determining the criteria for approved services. It can take account of circumstances and put approved services and applicants into classes.

Caranua could reduce or increase services in line with its own views without consulting the Minister or the Oireachtas.

Ms Mary Higgins

We would not do it without consulting departmental officials. The legislation is clear, in that it is the board's responsibility.

The board decides it.

Mr. Seán Ó Foghlú

Subject to working within the classes determined in the Act. Obviously, the board could not go beyond-----

Ms Mary Higgins

I am sorry. I should have said that.

Were classes determined in the Act excluded or added to?

Ms Mary Higgins

We have added to them. The Act sets out many health services that are somewhat equivalent to those set out in the Health (Amendment) Act. It also refers to housing and education services. We still do housing. Our objective in helping people with housing supports is to ensure that they can remain at home safe, warm and secure so that they are not returning to institutions late in life. Our health objectives - being active and socially connected - are based on evidence of what worked for people suffering the effects of adverse childhood experiences. These are not specified exactly in the legislation, but we have included a number of services that can be claimed under them. I am referring to, for example, social clubs, gym memberships and services like that that are low cost but valuable in terms of their impact on people. Our education objective includes self-development.

The classes of service have not strayed from the legislation. We have strayed a little in terms of funeral costs. They did not clearly fit, but we argued that they fitted in under health and well-being because applicants would feel happier if they knew that their funerals would be paid for.

I have two final questions. Evidence from a health professional is required for all housing and health-related services. Does Caranua pay for that or does the survivor?

Ms Mary Higgins

We pay.

In all instances.

Ms Mary Higgins

Yes.

Even though my application might not be granted, Caranua pays for-----

Ms Mary Higgins

Yes. It is something that is required for us to consider the application.

I understand that, but in the event that I apply and am not approved,-----

Ms Mary Higgins

We pay for that. Often, we arrange it. We have a panel of occupational therapists on whom we call.

What problems were there with preferred suppliers and survivors? Did any arise?

Ms Mary Higgins

We are only just entering into the preferred suppliers business now. We have the panel of occupational therapists.

Did survivors raise issues about that?

Ms Mary Higgins

About preferred suppliers-----

Ms Mary Higgins

-----or the occupational therapists?

Not necessarily them. Has Caranua a broader list? This is not just about occupational therapists, but other services.

Ms Mary Higgins

The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland will undertake energy efficiency work. It will be our preferred supplier.

Has any survivor indicated to Caranua that this is a problem or concern?

Ms Mary Higgins

When we undertook a pilot project in 2015, a couple of people felt that their independence was being challenged by our having preferred suppliers.

We are trying to balance these things all the time. The Comptroller and Auditor General had difficulties with not having quotes and receipts and preferred suppliers is the one of the ways we can do that. If we have panels, there is a choice within them.

I am guessing consultation was not a formal part-----

Ms Mary Higgins

Of preferred suppliers?

Of the organisation's entry into that.

Ms Mary Higgins

We talk to and are in contact with survivors all the time, day in, day out. We listen to what survivors say and we consult survivor groups as well but we have 6,000 applicants.

Notwithstanding that, is it fair to say that there was no formal consultation process?

Ms Mary Higgins

Yes, that is true but we are not in breach of any commitments that we have made.

I am not saying Caranua is. It is not a question of sticking to the rules; it is a question of providing the best service that the organisation can. It is not a box ticking exercise. Is it true that its procedures manual to ensure transparency of decision-making is kept secret?

Ms Mary Higgins

Our procedures are published in our application-----

Is there a procedures manual that is not given out?

Ms Mary Higgins

We have a number of internal procedures manuals. We have standard operating procedures for every action that is done in the course of our work. Has the Deputy a particular procedure in mind?

No, I just wanted a "Yes" or "No".

How is success measured? What metrics are used to establish whether the organisation has met the wishes of survivors under the scheme?

Ms Mary Higgins

We are about to tender for somebody to do an evaluation of the impact of our service on the quality of life and well-being of survivors. That will be one thing that we will do but we are constantly gauging the temperature of satisfaction through our interaction with survivors and we have an internal complaints mechanism. Our statistics show that since we started that in 2015, we have had 154 complaints. Our mechanism has three stages - one is where it gets sorted out where the complaint arose; two is where a manager is involved; and three is where it goes to internal investigation. We have had five internal investigations. Relative to the number of transactions and activities that occur within the organisation, there are few complaints. That is not to say there might be people who are dissatisfied but if they do not come to us, we will not get to hear about it and we are then unable to do anything about it.

This is back to consultation. It seems there is a great deal about to happen.

Ms Mary Higgins

Yes.

I welcome the witnesses. What was Ms Higgins's role before she took up her position in Caranua?

Ms Mary Higgins

Immediately before, I worked as an independent management and social policy consultant. Before that, I was the founding director of the homeless agency within Dublin City Council.

Regarding the first post, who did Ms Higgins work for?

Ms Mary Higgins

The independent consultancy was for me. I was self-employed.

What about before that?

Ms Mary Higgins

Dublin City Council. Before that, I was a director of Threshold. Before that, I worked in immigrant advice. Before that, I was in Cherish, which advocated for single parents.

Ms Higgins did a report in October 2010 for St. Stephen's Green Trust.

Ms Mary Higgins

That is right, I did.

What is St. Stephen's Green Trust?

Ms Mary Higgins

The trust is a philanthropic body which asked me to develop a socioeconomic profile of survivors of institutional abuse because they were thinking of looking at this group for their grant programme, which is how I came to read the Ryan report so thoroughly. Much of what I reported on was based on that.

Is it correct that Mr. O'Callaghan worked for more than 30 years in the public service, mainly in Revenue?

Mr. David O'Callaghan

Forty years or more. I retired as Secretary General of the Department of Defence in 2004. Prior to that, I was assistant secretary in that Department. Prior to that, I was in various grades in the Office of the Revenue Commissioners for 29 years.

Mr. O'Callaghan described the service that Caranua provided earlier as "an appalling service". Could he elaborate on that?

Mr. David O'Callaghan

We just were not treating people properly, mainly because of lack of staff. We were not dealing with applications in a timely fashion.

Will Mr. O'Callaghan elaborate on "not treating people properly"?

Mr. David O'Callaghan

If an application for a service is lying on someone's desk for three, six or nine months, that is appalling.

There was a dire staff shortage that led to pressures on staff.

Mr. David O'Callaghan

Absolutely.

Did that pressure impact on interaction between survivors and staff in terms of the quality or the professionalism of the service?

Mr. David O'Callaghan

I am sure survivors were quite rightly annoyed.

That would be an understatement.

Mr. David O'Callaghan

It would.

Was Mr. O'Callaghan chairman of the board when he said this? When did he make this statement?

He made it earlier when the Chairman was absent. I was in the Chair.

My mistake. Did Mr. O'Callaghan make that statement earlier?

Mr. David O'Callaghan

Yes.

I am sorry. I was out for a few minutes.

Musical chairs. I would like to acknowledge Mr. O'Callaghan's honesty and the fact that he has put that on the record. That is important because we all have received correspondence from survivors who have raised concerns about the level of service they received, the quality of the service, and their interaction with the organisation. There is some acknowledgement that there were problems, albeit that they are primarily being put down to staffing pressures. Mr. O'Callaghan has at least acknowledged that it was an appalling service. Would Ms Higgins describe the service as "an appalling service"?

Ms Mary Higgins

I would not describe it as an "appalling service" because when people get service, they get a very good service, by and large. The fact that people were waiting and we could not tell them how long they would have to wait is definitely not good but I would not like to give the impression that in terms of the interaction with applicants-----

But Ms Higgins's chairman did and he talked about the treatment of people. I asked him to elaborate.

Ms Mary Higgins

And it is about the time waiting.

Not necessarily. He elaborated a little more than that. If the chairman is saying it was "an appalling service" but the chief executive officer does not agree, that troubles me. Why is there a conflict in this regard?

Ms Mary Higgins

We are not at odds. I am just trying to jump in in defence of people who work in Caranua.

I would rather that Ms Higgins did not defend anything; I would rather that she would be honest with us when questions are put if she-----

Ms Mary Higgins

I am being honest in saying that what we do is deliver a good service to survivors. The difficulty has been that people have been waiting.

By extension, that is not a good service.

Ms Mary Higgins

Yes.

Because if someone is waiting too long, it cannot be described as a good service.

Ms Mary Higgins

I completely accept that.

Would Mr. Ó Foghlú describe the service as "an appalling service"?

Mr. O'Callaghan has indicated he would like to contribute.

Mr. David O'Callaghan

I was talking historically of course. I was talking about earlier on; I am not talking about the service we are giving at the moment. I was talking about when we started off in 2014, 2015.

I will not be unfair to anybody. I heard exactly what Mr. O'Callaghan said and I understand the context.

Mr. David O'Callaghan

It was appalling and I gave the staffing as the reason for that. The service we are supplying now is a totally different service.

I understand the context in which Mr. O'Callaghan said this but from its conception until now at some point he said the service was "appalling". I understand the context in which he said that and the time to which he referred. I acknowledge that but I am putting the same question to Mr. Ó Foghlú.

Mr. Seán Ó Foghlú

I do not disagree with the general description put by the chairman and the chief executive officer of the initial service provided.

Given the pressures on staffing levels, the high volume of requests, the difficulty in processing all the information, the tension with the survivors who were trying to access services as quickly as possible, and the organisation not being able to deliver on its mandate, would that have led to an adversarial system?

Ms Mary Higgins

No. I have described the number of complaints we have received. It was very fraught at the beginning. Survivors were very frustrated because the residential institutions statutory fund had taken a long time to be established. They were impatient and they were more impatient when we opened and we were not able to respond.

Who was impatient?

Ms Mary Higgins

Survivors, the applicants and rightly so. I do not say that in a derogatory way.

"Frustrated" would perhaps be a more appropriate word.

Ms Mary Higgins

They probably were frustrated and it was difficult to deal with that because there was a mismatch between the demand for the service and the number of people we had to deliver it.

Okay.

I want to draw Ms Higgins's attention to two areas. She spoke about consultancy firms that were appointed to do certain jobs of work. Mazars was one of them and Capita was the other.

Ms Mary Higgins

Capita is employed as our internal auditor.

Okay. How much did Mazars-----

Ms Mary Higgins

It did an organisational review.

An organisational review, which was essentially to tell Ms Higgins how to do her job. Would that be a fair assessment?

Ms Mary Higgins

No, it was partly to give assurance that we were doing our job and what we needed to do in order to do it better. That review looked at our whole organisation, including our application processes and systems.

Were terms of reference set out for Caranua? A mandate was given to Ms Higgins in terms of her role. Was that given by the Department?

Ms Mary Higgins

The legislation is our terms of reference.

The legislation does that. I am wondering why Ms Higgins would have needed a company to inform her as to what she needed to do. She was employed because she applied for the job, she has a certain skill set, she went for interview and got the job. Other people were working there and with the mandate she was given, she should have been able to do her job. Why was there a need to employ the services of this company and how much did that cost? Did that cost come from the budget or was it a separate cost? Ms Higgins may have applied to the Department to cover those costs.

Ms Mary Higgins

To take the last question first, all costs, including the costs of the independent appeals officer, come out of the fund, and that clearly stated in the legislation. The costs of the Mazars review was €24,666.42.

Some €24,000 was spent on consultants. Has Ms Higgins project management experience?

Ms Mary Higgins

Yes. I have.

Have other staff in the organisation project management experience?

Ms Mary Higgins

Yes, but the point about staff and consultants is that there is an issue of skills and time. We get consultants to give us something that we are not able to do either because we do not have the resources internally or because we do not have the skills.

Ms Higgins can understand why these questions would be put. This seems to be coming up a great deal in organisations funded by the State. We employ people to do a job and they go off and employ consultants at more cost.

Ms Mary Higgins

I think it is true and it is a very good point. There seems to be a pattern of establishing State bodies and each State body seems to go through the same early pain of establishment and trying to get everything in place. That is a good point and perhaps there is a way that could be streamlined for everybody.

How much of the work of Caranua was outsourced? Ms Higgins mentioned something about that earlier.

Ms Mary Higgins

Outsourced?

Outsourced as in work being done by outside organisations.

Ms Mary Higgins

None.

Ms Mary Higgins

No. What was referred to earlier was that we used a company that provided us with agency staff at one point.

Yes. How many agency staff would it have provided?

Ms Mary Higgins

At a maximum, it was about 12

Twelve. On page 6 of the briefing note that Ms Higgins provided, there is table 1 and I ask if it could be put up on screen. I want to raise an issue that is important in terms of doing a look back exercise which, unfortunately for us, is all that we can do. It has been acknowledged that the level of the service for survivors was poor and appalling in the past and, for them, this adds insult to injury. We need to make sure that mistakes are not made in the future in terms of any organisation. There is a pattern here when we see what is revealed by a look back exercise. From table 1 we can see that the audited accounts for 2014 show that the cost of salaries and wages was €791,000, that figure increased to €1.3 million in 2015 and to €1.492 million in 2016 and it is now at its highest in 2016. When we note the volume of work which is set out underneath, it shows there was much more activity going on in 2015 than there was in 2016. At a time when the number of people applying for the service, the number of applications to be processed, the number of telephone calls received and so on are reducing, staffing costs have increased. It strikes me that we have gone the wrong away around on this. At a time when staff were needed, we did not have them and now when the service is starting to be scaled down, the cost of staff salaries is at its highest. Can Ms Higgins see that problem in the first instance?

Ms Mary Higgins

We had a backlog in the beginning and we are only getting to the point now of getting on top of that. What we are presented with as we go forward is the opportunity to enhance the quality of interaction we have with applicants.

Can Ms Higgins stick to the question I asked? I draw her attention to table 2, on the screen, which covers applications by years and associated activity. In 2015, the cost of salaries was €1.3 million, having jumped from €791,000 the previous year. The cost of salaries was €1.3 million in 2015 and €1.492 million in 2016. If we note the activity, 1,228 people applied for the service in 2015 and 585 applied in 2016-----

Ms Mary Higgins

Yes.

-----which was fewer than half number the previous year yet staff costs have increased. In 2014, 3,821 applied for the service and at that time the cost of staff salaries was only €791,000. At a time when 3,821 were applying for the service, the cost of staff salaries was €791,000 and at a time when 585 people were applying for the service the cost of staff salaries is €1.492 million. I am not necessarily blaming Ms Higgins for this, it goes back to points that were made earlier. I suggest that again this is another botched job. We do things backwards. When the organisation needed the staff, it did not have them, and when the activity of the service is beginning to wind down staff costs have increased. Can Ms Higgins appreciate that point?

The Deputy has made the point and he might let Ms Higgins explain the position.

Ms Mary Higgins

The people who came into the service in 2014 did not necessarily get dealt with from beginning to end in 2014 and so they move across the years and we have been carrying a backlog. These are activities that relate to services. Because people come into the service, it does not mean they have come in and gone, they come back. The Deputy is right. I completely understand what he is saying, namely, that if we had the staffing at the beginning, we would not have had the backlog, the quality of services would have been better and perhaps we would be winding down staffing at this stage. We are where we are and we need to realise the opportunity presented by the staff that we have to really make a difference to the lives of survivors.

I do not doubt that is Ms Higgins's intention but the phrase "we are where we are" refers to a situation where the overall cost here is €1.5 billion of the overall cost of dealing with abuse.

Ms Mary Higgins

Yes.

We dealt earlier with the contributions we are getting from the religious congregations, which is quite a small amount. Again, I do not accept the argument that we are where we are. Why do we always end up in that space? We get the forecasting wrong. We did not anticipate the level of activities there would be when the organisation was set up. The same problems keep recurring. People appear before the Committee of Public Accounts, they acknowledge mistakes were made and they go out the door. The Secretary General, who is the Accounting Officer will go out the door, and we could be back here in one, two or five years if the same problems arise. It gets a bit tiring and it is difficult for us because all we can do is put questions.

Ms Mary Higgins

I completely accept that and I can understand that would be frustrating. The evidence is very clear here. In organisational terms, we are a very young organisation and, for us, 2013 was not a full year. We have only a few years under our belt. I agree completely with the Deputy that there are ways that we can collectively do more to get those things right in the first instance.

Ms Mary Higgins

The only thing I can say in this case is that the Comptroller and Auditor General made recommendations and we are in the process of implementing them. We are not going away and not doing anything about them. Similarly, Mazars made recommendations and we have implemented all of those.

I accept that.

I have two more questions. The first concerns the counselling services that were provided. Were some of those provided by organisations funded exclusively by the religious orders, or organisations which are an extension of religious orders?

Ms Mary Higgins

There is the National Counselling Service, which is funded by the HSE and the Connect counselling service, which is an offshoot of that, and it is simply a telephone service. There is the Immigrant Counselling and Psychotherapy service, ICAP which is based in the UK, although it deals with people here and there is Towards Healing, which is the organisation that is funded by the religious orders.

Would survivors have been made aware that Towards Healing was funded by and was an extension of the religious orders?

Ms Mary Higgins

It has been established for a very long time and there was never a secret about it being-----

I am not saying there was a secret. I am asking if, when the service was provided, people were made aware, given the sensitivities involved. Does Ms Higgins understand what I am asking? Were they made aware?

Ms Mary Higgins

I do not know. It was established before my time.

Does Ms Higgins think they should have been made aware?

Ms Mary Higgins

I am sure they were. That is what I am saying. I also-----

Will Ms Higgins find out if they were made aware?

Ms Mary Higgins

I cannot answer because I was not there when-----

Will Ms Higgins find out for the committee if they were made aware?

Ms Mary Higgins

I certainly can. It is interesting; survivors I know are aware that Towards Healing is a Catholic service and do not have a difficulty with it. Obviously, some people do, but it is not something with which all survivors have a difficulty.

Then it comes down to choice.

Ms Mary Higgins

Absolutely.

It is important that people be given information in that respect. Does Caranua have a budget for foreign travel for staff and others?

Ms Mary Higgins

We have applicants living in the United Kingdom. In the last board three of the members - three of the four survivors on the board - were in the United Kingdom. Therefore, there is-----

Where in the United Kingdom?

Ms Mary Higgins

The Deputy is asking where in the United Kingdom.

When Ms Higgins says survivors-----

Ms Mary Higgins

England.

Ms Mary Higgins

We have four survivors on our board. They are appointed by the Minister. The board is about to be renewed, but until recently three of the members were living in the United Kingdom. Obviously, there is an expense for them in attending meetings.

I am not talking about them. I am talking about staff, including Ms Higgins and other board members.

Ms Mary Higgins

We do go to parts of the United Kingdom when we are holding outreach clinics or consulting survivor support groups and Irish welfare organisations in the United Kingdom.

Is there a budget for foreign travel?

Ms Mary Higgins

Yes.

How much is it? The committee might be furnished with a breakdown of the budget. I do not want to pry into people's travel arrangements.

Mr. David Yeomans

We presented our projections for expenditure in the next two and a half years. For travel and subsistence for staff and the CEO, we have budgeted for a figure of about €18,000 a year. That is based on an average figure for the past three years. Every year the board reviews the particular outreach programme and every year the plans would be approved. They keep them under review.

I thank Mr. Yeomans.

Caranua has at least acknowledged today that there were issues with the service, although they have mainly been put down to huge pressures in terms of staffing and the volume of requests coming in. As elected representatives and committee members, we have received correspondence from individuals who feel aggrieved and upset. What measures has Caranua taken to reflect its acceptance, as a corporate entity, that there were failures? How has it communicated this to survivors, given the sensitivities involved? We all know that we needed to make sure survivors would get the best possible service. However, that does not seem to be the case in this instance and it is troubling, notwithstanding the reasons. Has the board of Caranua reflected on this and discussed how it can communicate with survivors that it got it wrong? Without acknowledging that it was necessarily at fault, Caranua should communicate that it just got it wrong and that the service was not what it should have been. Was that message ever communicated to survivors?

Ms Mary Higgins

If the Deputy looks at our annual reports, it is stated very clearly up until this year's report. I think we are saying in the report for 2016 that we have finally got to the point where we are really doing things properly. The 2014 and 2015 reports stated very clearly that the waiting lists were far too long and that people were waiting far too long. We have always accepted that. We apologise to those who are waiting and do stay in touch with them.

Does Caranua apologise to them personally? How is the apology communicated to them?

Ms Mary Higgins

We write to people to say sorry that they have been waiting so long and that we will be getting to them shortly. We stay in touch with them.

Does Ms Higgins understand most people do not read annual reports of any organisation?

Ms Mary Higgins

I do understand that and there are-----

It would not be the best way to reflect an acknowledgement that there were failures.

Ms Mary Higgins

The point I want to make is that we are in touch with survivors on a daily basis. They are in contact with our office and we are talking to them all the time. There is ongoing communication with survivors, of whom 6,000 have applied to us. We have dealt with about 150 telephone calls to our freefone number. We are constantly in contact with people.

I have a number of quick questions. The telephone calls were primarily answered by agency staff?

Ms Mary Higgins

I am sorry-----

I am sorry; I was indistinct. The number of agency staff was extraordinarily high, given the pressure. Caranua had no staff and went for agency staff. Is that right? What was the highest percentage of agency staff?

Ms Mary Higgins

I think we started agency staff in-----

What was the highest percentage?

Ms Mary Higgins

Mr. Yeomans is getting the figures. I am just trying to-----

While he is getting the figures, I want to know the highest percentage and the cost. In addition, I asked a direct question. I hope Mr. Yeomans is coming back to me with the list of external and internal audits - all of the reports. There was one from Mazars and I heard another one mentioned in answer to Deputy David Cullinane. Please give me a list and the price. One figure has been given. If the witnesses could do that before the end of the meeting, I would appreciate it. This is all about value for money. What was the highest percentage of agency staff?

Mr. David Yeomans

I do not have the figures in percentage terms. Table 4 gives the average staff numbers over the year.

That is table 4 in the briefing document.

Mr. David Yeomans

Yes.

It covers temporary agency staff. Will Mr. Yeomans take me through it?

Mr. David Yeomans

The figures are broken down by seconded staff, temporary agency staff and fixed-term specified-purpose contracts.

The figures for temporary agency staff are 7.7 and 13.8. Is that right?

Mr. David Yeomans

That is correct.

Therefore, at one stage Caranua had 13.8 agency staff, meaning that the majority of its staff in 2015 were agency staff?

Mr. David Yeomans

Correct.

There is a huge turnover of staff. Is that right?

Mr. David Yeomans

Yes, there would have been.

What is the total cost of agency staff? While Mr. Yeomans is getting that figure, he might get the information required on the other matter also.

Mr. David Yeomans

I point out that my reply might not be comprehensive. Therefore, I would like to be able to come back-----

That is okay. I am sure the Chairman will facilitate Mr. Yeomans. The witnesses should have these figures. This is a value for money committee. In January, at 14, the figure was appalling. Let me continue with my questions while Mr. Yeomans is looking for the information. Is there rent involved?

Ms Mary Higgins

We have had rent-free accommodation from 2013 until May this year. We will have rental costs for the rest of this year to the end of 2019.

Is the organisation based in an Office of Public Works building?

Ms Mary Higgins

Yes.

It was rent free until this year.

Ms Mary Higgins

It was rent free under the Department of Education and Skills, I think.

Why is rent payable now and what is the cost involved?

Ms Mary Higgins

My memory is that market rent is around €240,000.

Has Caranua moved buildings?

Ms Mary Higgins

We will be moving in May.

Ms Mary Higgins

The lease is up on the building and we have been given notice to quit.

Why is the Department of Education and Skills not renewing the lease?

Ms Mary Higgins

It is the OPW.

Can Mr. Ó Foghlú throw any light on it?

Mr. Seán Ó Foghlú

My understanding is that it is an OPW-occupied building. As such it holds the lease. There are a number of tenants in the building and they are surrendering the lease this year.

Caranua is introducing limits and restrictions to its scheme and it will now have to pay market rent on a building? Does Mr Ó Foghlú think that is appropriate?

Mr. Seán Ó Foghlú

Every agency has to make arrangements for its accommodation. The OPW is not in a position to continue to provide accommodation.

Was this matter brought to the attention of the Department before?

Mr. Seán Ó Foghlú

I was aware that Caranua was moving locations, but I was not aware of the details.

Does Ms Higgins know what rent Caranua will be paying?

Ms Mary Higgins

It is about €240,000. We can certainly get the figure for the Deputy.

That is €240,000 for-----

Therefore, it would be at €750,000.

I am sorry; I did not hear the answer.

She said the figure would be €240,000 per annum, or €750,000 from the survivors' fund.

Let us move on. Under the Act, if local authorities are so directed, liaison officers are appointed. How many liaison officers have been appointed?

Ms Mary Higgins

I think initially all local authorities appointed liaison officers.

The HSE has appointed a high level group.

Has Caranua contacted all local authorities to appoint liaison officers?

Ms Mary Higgins

Yes; we did it in 2013 through the County and City----

I checked with the city council today. It does not have a liaison officer in Galway.

Ms Mary Higgins

I was just going to say that through the County and City Management Association, CCMA, some were appointed. What we have done since is to liaise as and when we needed to.

I ask Ms Higgins to please listen to me. I know that it is Thursday afternoon and we are all tired and mad keen to get home for Easter, none more so than myself. The question is how many local authorities has Caranua contacted to ask who is their liaison officer and state it wants them to have a liaison officer. That is the question and Ms Higgins is not answering it. Weill she, please, come back to me on it? The next question is-----

Does Ms Higgins know the answer?

Ms Mary Higgins

Liaison officers were appointed in 2013.

Ms Mary Higgins

It was done through the CCMA. I think it probably felt it was not necessary to have them in every single area and that one liaison officer would cover a couple of counties. That was done. I can certainly get the list for the Deputy.

This is really important - having a liaison officer in a local authority - because part of Caranua's role is to access other services.

Ms Mary Higgins

I understand.

Ms Higgins understands it all. I want a list of liaison officers.

Ms Mary Higgins

I will get it.

When did Caranua update it since 2013? The city councils are constantly understaffed and staff are constantly moved. Has there been a designated person who stays as the liaison officer and gains experience? If Ms Higgins does not know the answer, she should, please, come back and tell me.

Ms Mary Higgins

I will come back to the Deputy.

What is the name of the counselling group Ms Higgins mentioned? Is it a survivors group?

Mr. David O'Callaghan

Towards Healing.

My next question is for Mr. Ó Foghlú. According to the Comptroller and Auditor General's report the counselling is provided utterly free - wrong word - it is provided by the congregations. They pay for the counselling. The previous organisation was Faoiseamh and this one took over. I have a difficulty with it for some reason. What is the name of it?

Mr. David O'Callaghan

Towards Healing.

All of Towards Healing's activities are funded by the congregations, is that right?

Mr. Seán Ó Foghlú

As I am not involved in the funding of Towards Healing, I cannot comment. Under the indemnity agreement, €10 million worth of services was provided by Towards Healing. As the Department does not fund Towards Healing, I cannot comment in any detail on it.

The Comptroller and Auditor General might comment because I think it is mentioned in his report. Will he clarify the position for me?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

It is mentioned on page 36 of the report. The Department received an assurance from the congregations that they had provided funding towards the cost of providing the service.

I am reading page 36: "In 2011, a new service provider – Towards Healing – replaced Faoiseamh and is funded exclusively by the religious congregations and the Irish Conference of Bishops". Is that Mr. McCarthy's understanding?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

That is my understanding.

I understand the permission of the Minister is needed when Mr. O'Callaghan and the Department of Education and Skills seek contracts. Is that right?

Mr. David O'Callaghan

That is correct.

What contract, if any, did Caranua sign with Towards Healing?

Mr. David O'Callaghan

We did not sign any. We have a service level agreement, a memorandum of agreement, with Towards Healing, but we did not seek the sanction of the Department of Education and Skills.

Mr. David O'Callaghan

We did not see it as a contract as such in terms of a contract to purchase goods or services, no more than we seek sanction to go to the HSE or a local authority in respect of building works or anything like that. This was a service provider we were using to which some of our survivors opted-----

Did Caranua discuss the matter at board level?

Mr. David O'Callaghan

Yes.

When did it discuss it at board level?

Mr. David O'Callaghan

I think as early as 2015.

There was a memorandum of understanding, is that right?

Mr. David O'Callaghan

Yes.

Will Mr. O'Callaghan tell me a little about it? There is no date on the one I have.

Mr. David O'Callaghan

What?

I beg Mr. O'Callaghan's pardon. There is a date, 8 October 2014. Will Mr. O'Callaghan tell me a little-----

Mr. David O'Callaghan

I do not have a copy of it in front of me.

Will Mr. O'Callaghan give me the gist of what he understood in the memorandum of understanding?

Mr. David O'Callaghan

My understanding is that some of our survivors opt to go to Towards Healing for counselling. This counselling service provides 80 sessions free, after which Towards Healing requires payment. Some of our survivors wish to have more than 80 sessions. In these circumstances Caranua has agreed with Towards Healing that it will pay.

How much has Caranua paid to this organisation?

Mr. David Yeomans

I do not have that figure with me. Several transactions are still to be made. I can, however, confirm that it was on 1 October 2014 that the board approved the memorandum of understanding to be signed.

The minutes are all available to us.

Mr. David Yeomans

Of course, they are on the website. I just have a list of-----

That was in 2014. How much money has been paid over to the organisation?

Mr. David Yeomans

I will have to check because it is grants to individuals. It is per individual as opposed to an organisation.

I do not know why Caranua would need a memorandum of understanding. Does the Department know anything about this?

Mr. Seán Ó Foghlú

The Department was informed about it and given a copy of the memorandum of understanding, but it is a matter for Caranua to engage the services.

Does Caranua hand over money to this organisation?

Ms Mary Higgins

The arrangement-----

No, the financial controller, please.

Mr. David Yeomans

Yes.

What is handed over? How and when is it handed over?

Mr. David Yeomans

Six monthly sets of invoices are presented to Caranua. The first part is to establish if the applicant has provided permission to share forms in order that we can deal with Towards Healing.

I am sorry; I missed that.

Mr. David Yeomans

There is permission to share forms in order that we can engage with Towards Healing for the particular individual.

The applicant gives permission to share.

Mr. David Yeomans

Correct. The second stage is that Towards Healing and its independent clinical psychologist recommend that the person should continue to receive counselling beyond the 80 sessions. The third stage is ensuring there is approval for the eligible applicant. We can then settle the matter.

Every applicant has a choice which is made known to them.

Ms Mary Higgins

Absolutely. Mr. Yeomans was not there at the time and part of the reason-----

I apologise to Ms Higgins, but I am going to stay with the financial officer for the moment. There are six monthly invoices.

Mr. David Yeomans

Correct.

That has been happening in the past few years. By whom are the invoices issued?

Mr. David Yeomans

Towards Healing.

Caranua has no up-to-date figures for the amount that has been paid over.

Mr. David Yeomans

No, not at this point.

Ms Mary Higgins

We can give-----

Please, Ms Higgins. These are practical questions.

Mr. David Yeomans

Yes, I can get the figures for the Deputy.

Has Mr. Yeomans any idea or an estimate? Can he remember, as financial officer?

Mr. David Yeomans

The only figure that comes to mind is approximately €96,000 that was paid at one point.

At one point €96,000 was paid.

Mr. David Yeomans

I think that was in respect of 2015. I do not have the up-to-date figures.

Mr. Yeomans will give us a list and have the figures very quickly for us.

Mr. David Yeomans

Yes, I can.

I understand from the Comptroller and Auditor General's report that this organisation is providing free services. Was he aware that it was receiving payments?

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

In the period to 2015 the commitment was to provide a minimum of €10 million for these kinds of service. That is what it committed to provide under the indemnity agreement.

We do not know if it has provided services to a value of €10 million. We do not know if the figure is less or more.

Mr. Seamus McCarthy

That is confirmed.

Mr. Seán Ó Foghlú

It is confirmed that it has completed its commitment under the indemnity agreement. Therefore, my understanding is that any arrangement Caranua has with it involves paying for services on top of services it is providing, of its own volition, for survivors.

I interrupted Ms Higgins. I am now going to give her a chance. I put it to her that letters were sent to tell applicants that their applications were closed or complete. How many such letters have been sent?

Ms Mary Higgins

We have completed over 2,000, about 2,020, applications. Our practice in terms of completions is that a completion occurs when somebody has gone through the process and has received payments. It is done in conjunction with the applicant and the adviser-----

Ms Higgins, please listen to me. There is huge upset. I realise some people are very happy with the service. Other applicants are not. I am simply reflecting what I have read and heard so I am asking Ms Higgins-----

Ms Mary Higgins

I am sorry. I do not-----

Ms Higgins referred to 2,000 letters.

Ms Mary Higgins

I am saying we have completed-----

I did not ask what Caranua had completed. I asked Ms Higgins how many letters were sent out to applicants telling them that their application was complete.

Ms Mary Higgins

And I am saying that a letter is sent when an application is completed following a conversation between the applicant and the adviser. We have completed 2,219 applications. Therefore, 2,219 letters will have been sent.

A total of 2,219 telling the applicants. On every single occasion, was there a discussion with the adviser?

Ms Mary Higgins

That is the procedure.

We are up to here with procedures and policies from every single institution that comes before us. I am talking about the implementation of the policy.

Ms Mary Higgins

The reason one has a policy is so it is implemented. The reason one has a policy is so one can check that it is implemented. I have no reason to believe that the policy is not followed.

When Caranua's staff wrote to 2,219 people saying their applications were complete, was that the policy? What does it mean to say their applications were complete? Is that the end? Is it the case closed?

Ms Mary Higgins

In general, that is what it means. It does not stop somebody coming back if he or she wants to make an application. Under the new criteria, whereby there is a limit, obviously if somebody has reached the limit, that would be the reason for their completion.

When did this policy come into being?

Ms Mary Higgins

It has always been our policy to-----

That is not correct. These letters were not sent out from day one.

Ms Mary Higgins

What I was going to say is that it has always been our policy to complete an application because we cannot keep 5,000 or 6,000 applications open. It is not physically possible for us to manage that number of applications.

Could Mr. Callaghan state when this was discussed at board level?

Ms Mary Higgins

Could I just finish and explain?

If I interrupted Ms Higgins, I apologise. I thought she was finished.

Ms Mary Higgins

I had not completed. It is an interesting thing that has happened to Caranua. As I said at the beginning, we really understand the difficulties that people experience in reading and getting letters. We know that people are very discommoded, and they will say that to us. They are distressed when they get letters if they do not understand them or they are not able to read them. Our practice at the beginning was to talk to people, to telephone them and to advise them on what we were doing. We did not necessarily then send letters. However, it happened that we then got into trouble for not sending letters because we were accused of not advising the applicants of the decision that we had made. Hence, we had to start sending letters.

The most basic requirement is that one would write and convey a decision. What does it mean to say Caranua got into trouble because it did not do it? Is it not the most basic requirement that an organisation would write a letter stating its decision, stating the decision may be appealed, giving the time within which the appeal should be made and stating the appeals officer's name and how to do it? Is that not the most basic requirement?

Ms Mary Higgins

We did not actually see it as a decision because the conversation was to the effect that we had done this and that, telling the applicants they were going to get these payments and that all their needs were met and asking them whether that was okay. That would have been the procedure. We did not actually see it as a decision on an application because it was the end of the application.

Ms Mary Higgins

I am sorry. It was a procedure. It was part of our procedure. It was part of our internal processes in order to manage the applications in an orderly manner.

Could Mr. O'Callaghan state whether this was discussed at board level?

Mr. David O'Callaghan

No, we saw this as purely an operational procedural matter for the executive.

Can I explain the significance of a decision? Somebody is allowed to appeal that so if they are not told in a letter, is that not a difficulty?

Mr. David O'Callaghan

They are told.

Ms Mary Higgins

They are told.

Let me just quote:

Dear [G],

Further to your conversation with your adviser, I am writing to confirm that your application with Caranua is now complete. As you know, we require receipts for all payments that we make to you and I would be grateful if you could return any outstanding receipts to us using the enclosed envelope. We are delighted to have been able to respond to the needs that you presented to us and hope that you will be able to enjoy the benefits of the assistance you have received into the future.

There are a number of difficulties with that letter. First, Caranua is telling the applicant the application is complete. Second, it is not telling him or her that it is a decision that can be appealed and, therefore, the person cannot bring an appeal to the appeals officer. Some people did and the appeals officer said he or she was awfully sorry as that was not a decision or a determination so he or she could do nothing. Does Mr. O'Callaghan understand the significance of those types of letters?

Mr. David O'Callaghan

I do.

Mr. David O'Callaghan

I see it can be very important, if turning someone down, to highlight and inform of the appeals process. Maybe I did not quite catch the letter the Deputy mentioned but it seemed to be positive, to a happy customer whom we were asking to enjoy-----

No, no, no. The happiness is happiness coming from Caranua.

Mr. David O'Callaghan

Maybe the Deputy would read the letter again. Was it to someone in respect of whom the works had been completed? Is that is what she was saying?

I did not say anything of the sort. I am reading from a letter that Caranua sent out, the important point being, "Further to your conversation with your adviser, I am writing to confirm that your application [...] is now complete."

Mr. David O'Callaghan

Sorry, do we not go on in that letter to say-----

Caranua does but it does not tell the applicant this is a decision and that it can be appealed. Therefore, that applicant and the other applicants do not know where they are. They are being told it is complete. They cannot appeal it. The appeals officer will not entertain it - I am sure Mr. Ó Foghlú will confirm that - unless a decision is made and an explanation is given. Mr. O'Callaghan does not seem to be aware of that. I will come back to Mr. Ó Foghlú in a minute, if I can, in relation to a review of the board and who is going back on the board and so on.

In relation to the difficulties that have arisen from the Comptroller and Auditor General's viewpoint and the lack of receipts and internal controls, this does not reflect in any way my reading of his report on the survivors or the applicants; it reflects on Caranua. Caranua's change of policy is now to go directly to the suppliers and it feels that is not in conflict with the Act, and that it is able to disclose. Even though there is a confidentiality section, a decision was made at board level that it can be breached. Is that not right?

Mr. David O'Callaghan

No. We are entitled under the Act to do it.

The Caranua briefing document states the board noted this would not be a breach of confidentiality. Did the board make the decision it would not be a breach?

Mr. David O'Callaghan

That is in relation to receipts.

That is exactly what I am asking about. Caranua is having difficulty with receipts.

Mr. David O'Callaghan

I thought the Deputy said "preferred suppliers".

I beg your pardon. I meant receipts in relation to anything and the procurement of receipts. Obviously, some of us, myself included, have a difficulty keeping receipts. The Comptroller and Auditor General has asked how the organisation knows how the money was spent if it does not have receipts. Does Mr. O'Callaghan accept that?

Mr. David O'Callaghan

Yes.

Then Caranua set about getting receipts. One of its solutions to that at board level is to say it interprets the Act in such a way and can go direct to the supplier to get the receipt? Is that right?

Mr. David O'Callaghan

Yes.

And that does not breach confidentiality. That decision has been made at board level.

Mr. David O'Callaghan

It does breach confidentiality but it is within the law.

Mr. David Yeomans

May I read from the Act?

Let me continue. I am only quoting. I will give the delegates plenty of time, subject to the ruling of the Chairman. I refer to the briefing document's reference to Caranua's board meeting and the thing about receipts. The delegates' document states the board noted that this would not be a breach of confidentiality and that the board agreed to provide this authority and so on, subject to limits. The board noted that this would not be a breach of confidentiality. Is it or is it not, according to the board?

Mr. David O'Callaghan

The Act states a person does not contravene the confidentiality subsection by disclosing confidential information if the disclosure is made or authorised by the board.

That is right. I am not trying to catch the delegates out; I am only trying to clarify something. The board made a decision that this was not a breach of confidentiality. Is that right?

Mr. David O'Callaghan

Under section 23(3)(a) of the Act.

That is right. Ms Higgins, on the last page, the second paragraph from the top, of her three page opening statement dated 13 April 2017 states:

Caranua is engaged in the delivery of a care service to people who may be vulnerable. .... We do require receipts but we are prohibited by the confidentiality provisions of our legislation in seeking these from suppliers and are dependent on our applicants providing them.

That paragraph clearly contradicts what Mr. O'Callaghan has just told me.

Ms Mary Higgins

No.

Let me read it again.

Ms Mary Higgins

Let me explain it.

I understood exactly what has been said. The paragraph states: "We do require receipts but we are prohibited by the confidentiality provisions of our legislation in seeking these from suppliers."

Ms Mary Higgins

Yes. What I was trying to do was address directly the key concerns. The major concerns of the Comptroller and Auditor General's report were in relation to the lack of quotes and the lack of receipts. I was addressing myself to that in particular by way of explaining the difficulty that we have. Under the legislation we cannot go to suppliers directly and get receipts. Our solution to that is, as the Deputy has just discussed with the Chair, the board can make a decision in certain circumstances. If the board instruct that something can be done then we are not in breach of the legislation and that is what the board is proposing to do.

The briefing document was written on 13 April and the opening statement by Ms Higgins was written on 13 April but one contradicts the other. I am glad that Ms Higgins has clarified the matter. She has said that the board has made a decision and the organisation is guided by that.

My next question is on receipts and limiting the suppliers. One of my colleagues has asked the same question. Has Caranua restricted the number of suppliers to applicants?

Ms Mary Higgins

Yes. For example, we have a contract with the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland.

Has Caranua begun the restriction of suppliers?

Ms Mary Higgins

Yes.

Does that come down to small builders?

Ms Mary Higgins

I do not understand.

Has Caranua put a limit on whom applicants can approach?

Ms Mary Higgins

We have a contract with Sustainable Energy-----

Forget that for the moment. I am talking about extensions and similar work in a house. Are the applicants limited?

Ms Mary Higgins

No. We have a contract with the SEAI. That is the only contract that we have at the moment. The SEAI do specific works in relation to energy efficiency. If somebody is looking for those works then that would be our preferred supplier in Ireland. We are also in contact with the City and County Managers Association and looking at its lists of builders so that we can use those lists because that assures the quality of services and that there are checks and oversight of the work that is done. It means that we can be billed directly and that applicants are not involved in having to get quotations and receipts.

Let us say somebody goes back to Caranua and claims he or she has not experienced a good service and the quality was not checked in terms of the chosen project. Will Caranua listen to the complaint?

Ms Mary Higgins

Absolutely.

In terms of receipts, did it occur to Caranua to say to applicants, "Look, if you are like me then don't worry about receipts but give us permission and we will get them directly to save you that hassle" and give applicants choices?

Ms Mary Higgins

What we were doing was giving applicants authority over their own affairs. They took responsibility to return receipts to us and many people do. Obviously there is a time lag between the time we approve and make a cheque available to somebody, the time the work is done and when the receipt comes in. We did not assume that we would not get receipts back. We assumed that we would get receipts back.

This is an organisation that was in trouble from day one, not because of applicants and receipts but because of internal controls. I am still waiting on the figure for the number of companies that Caranua had to bring in to put things right.

The Comptroller and Auditor General has asked how one can know whether there has been an overpayment or underpayment without receipts so this problem has been flagged. In all of the consultations by Caranua, informal and formal, did it ever occur to the organisation to discuss the issue to decide whether the situation is a burden and, if it was, seek permission to do this work directly? Did that occur to the organisation? I presume it is not necessary to say there was a choice. Part of the whole set-up of Caranua is to treat people with dignity and respect. "Empower" was the word uttered by the witnesses.

Ms Mary Higgins

I think it is a very good suggestion.

Ms Mary Higgins

I think it is something that we can look at doing.

Great. I am almost finished, Chairman. Have conflicts of interest been declared?

Mr. David O'Callaghan

This is probably a board matter but I think the answer is no.

Is there a policy and procedure in place to deal with conflicts of interest?

Mr. David O'Callaghan

Yes, there is.

I wish to discuss the board and the three policy changes. This starts off in 2014 and there is no limit. Is that right? Caranua is overwhelmed and at some stage the policy changes to limit the amount of money. Was the decision made at board level?

Mr. David O'Callaghan

Yes.

Ms Higgins, did the policy work on the ground?

Mr. David O'Callaghan

Sorry. That decision was made at board level.

Mr. David O'Callaghan

It was not necessarily connected with being overwhelmed.

That is all right.

Mr. David O'Callaghan

Yes.

Was the decision to prioritise made at board level?

Ms Mary Higgins

July 2015.

Mr. David O'Callaghan

July of 2015.

Ms Mary Higgins

Yes.

Did the priority system operate on the ground before the board made a decision?

Ms Mary Higgins

No. That was brought to the board because it was just impossible for us to manage. We could see very clearly that new applicants were just not getting attention and that was the solution.

I shall again ask both witnesses a specific question. In July 2015 the board made a decision about a priority system. Presumably it was brought to Mr. O'Callaghan's attention. As Ms Higgins has just said, they were under serious pressure and they had to prioritise. Can I presume the matter was put to the board and that is why the board agreed to have a priority system?

Mr. David O'Callaghan

Yes.

Can we see all of that in the minutes?

Mr. David O'Callaghan

Yes. The minutes are on our website.

Mr. David O'Callaghan

Yes.

I will be able to see that in July 2015 the decision was made to prioritise. Ms Higgins, as I have asked already, was the priority system in place, informally or otherwise, prior to the board's decision in July 2015?

Ms Mary Higgins

No.

Ms Mary Higgins

No.

If applicants come forward and say that some member of Caranua communicated with them about this priority list prior to the board's decision in July 2015 then that is inaccurate.

Ms Mary Higgins

Nobody has come to me and said that. I am not aware of that but-----

I am asking black and white questions at this point. We have been told that applicants were told that before the board's decision. Is that wrong?

Ms Mary Higgins

The decision was made on 15 July and we implemented that decision from that date.

Did Caranua implement the decision before that date?

Ms Mary Higgins

No.

Ms Mary Higgins

I am beginning to doubt myself but I am-----

The Deputy can ask her question later if it is not answered.

Can Mr. O'Callaghan tell me when the limit was discussed?

Mr. David O'Callaghan

In the early part of 2016.

What was the reason for the discussion? Why was the limit reached? What was the context? What advice was given to the organisation?

Mr. David O'Callaghan

The advice was that if we continued on the way we were, and remember that we have this fund and we are custodians of this fund----

Mr. David O'Callaghan

-----so we have got to make sure that it is divided among the survivors in a fair and equitable manner. That is our responsibility so when we were told that it was unsustainable the way we were going on-----

Who told the organisation that was the case?

Mr. David O'Callaghan

As we mentioned earlier, we had a presentation from our accountant.

Mr. David O'Callaghan

There were forecasts made as to how, if we went on the way we were, we would run out of funds at an early date. We decided that to be fair and equitable, and at the same time to take advantage of or use the input and feedback that we received from survivors, that the supply of things like white goods, funeral expenses, which were not allowed, should be. The whole thing was packaged together. The feedback that we have been getting is very positive.

How much money has been spent out of the €110 million?

Mr. David O'Callaghan

About €60 million.

That leaves €50 million.

Mr. David O'Callaghan

There is about €50 million left.

Where did Caranua get the idea that it was running out of funds?

Mr. David O'Callaghan

On the basis of financial forecasts made and the average rate of payment that we were making at the time.

Funnily enough, we had financial forecasts from the Department of Education and Skills back in 2002 that were completely wrong in the opposite direction because they underestimated. It seems to me that the number of applicants consistently dropped.

Is that not right? The lowest figure was in 2016.

Mr. David O'Callaghan

Yes, they are dropping, but there is still a steady flow.

I hope there will be more. However, a sum of €50 million remains. Have applications closed?

Mr. David O'Callaghan

No.

Mr. David O'Callaghan

Yes.

When was the meeting at which the presentation was made?

Mr. David O'Callaghan

April 2016.

Are there minutes of that meeting?

Mr. David O'Callaghan

There are and we can give the Deputy a copy of the presentation also.

Ms Mary Higgins

A sub-committee of the board considered it and made the proposals to the board.

It went to the board. There is €50 million in a fund at a time when there is a declining number of applications. Where did Caranua get the notion that there would not be enough money? Was it from an accountant?

Mr. David O'Callaghan

There is a declining number of applications, but it should be remembered that of the 6,000 survivors who have come to us for assistance to date, only 2,000 files have been completed and put away where we have met all of their needs. We have many cases still open.

I know that it is late, but I am unhappy. Have 2,000 files been put away complete?

Mr. David O'Callaghan

There is no ongoing demand. If people have got what they looked for, there is nothing to stop them from coming back again, but they have not come back again.

They cannot come back again because Caranua is writing to tell them that their file is complete. It is simple English. Caranua is writing to them to state, "Your file is complete". Mr. O'Callaghan has confirmed that 2,000 have been put aside and are complete. At what stage will the organisation make it known to the applicants that they can come back if their needs have not been met?

Mr. David O'Callaghan

I am sorry, I do not understand the question. We have people whose cases have been closed by mutual agreement. They are finished.

I refer to the people with whom there is no mutual agreement. They have come to us and, possibly, every Oireachtas Member to say they have gone forward and: "They said they met my needs. I was informed that there was a limit on the services that could be received ... told that there was no hope in hell Caranua would pay for it ... told "wasn't entitled". They said they have dealt enough with me and I had to make an appeal ... said I had reached my limit ... said they were prioritising first-time applicants". I do not wish to interfere with any board decision, but I would like to see decisions based on some evidence that a fund is in trouble, which it is not, and a justification for a change in policy on a number of occasions, I believe, retrospectively. However, I take Ms Higgins's word that it was not retrospective and that it did not happen, but there were different changes of policy over a number of years. How is that communicated to the applicants who believe their needs have not been met, despite having received a payment or two or more? There was no policy in the beginning. Applicants came forward and their needs were met in respect of the initial application. They then came forward with others. At some stage, Caranua's policy changed and officials decided that they were in trouble and would limit the money, notwithstanding the fact that the number of applicants was reducing and there was €50 million in a fund, presumably plus interest as a result of investments.

Mr. David O'Callaghan

We do not want to end up with a surplus. We are not trying to save money on the scheme, but we have a duty to safeguard the fund and make sure it is dealt with in a fair, transparent and equitable manner. Why would we put an artificial limit on it to save money?

I am asking Mr. O'Callaghan to answer that question.

Mr. David O'Callaghan

Perhaps the best way around this is for us to send a copy of the presentation made to the board showing the forecast for how the fund would------

Is the forecast-----

Mr. David O'Callaghan

We can give the Deputy our forecast which is a financial analysis of where we were.

That would be helpful.

Mr. David O'Callaghan

The board had to take a decision. We would have been in breach of our duty if we had allowed things to go on the way they were. What would we do if we ran out of money and still had bona fide applications in hand?

Caranua was not running out of money.

Mr. David O'Callaghan

We have not yet.

Caranua was not running out of money when it made this decision.

Mr. David O'Callaghan

No, we were not, but we had to make it in good time. We could not wait until we had €10 million in the bank.

I do not object to Caranua making decisions; I seek clarification-----

Mr. David O'Callaghan

We will send the Deputy a copy of the presentation on which our decision was made.

Let me finish, please. I am trying to find out how Caranua arrived at the decision and why it was worried that it would run out of funds. That is what I am trying to establish. On the basis of what I have in front of me, I cannot make head nor tail of how one would think the organisation was running out of funds.

Ms Mary Higgins

We can make the proposal available to members, if that would be helpful.

What was the payout in 2016?

Ms Mary Higgins

How much did we spend?

Mr. David Yeomans

The draft figure is €13.2 million in grants in 2016 which is included in Table 1 of the briefing note.

I can see where Deputy Catherine Connolly is coming from. In 2015 Caranua paid out approximately €30 million. In 2013, over nine months, it paid out little or nothing when it was starting off. In 2014, according to the summary presented by the Comptroller and Auditor General an hour ago, the total payout was €10 million. In 2015 the total for grants and administration costs was €30 million. In 2016 the total for grants and administration costs was €15 million. How many years will the remaining €50 million cover?

Ms Mary Higgins

Two.

Therefore, it is a figure of €25 million. Has there been a remarkable increase in payouts this year so far?

Ms Mary Higgins

No, but it is important to understand the figure for 2015 cannot be representative because there was a build up of payments in arrears that were carried forward from 2014. The figures for 2014 and 2016 are probably more normal.

Of the 4,000 cases to which Mr. O'Callaghan referred as not being fully complete, is there much to be paid out? Very few people are now coming forward.

Ms Mary Higgins

We are still receiving applications and part of what we will do in the next year is make a significant effort to try to reach people who have not come to us yet. We will then have to set a closing date beyond which people will be unable to apply. That will help to bring people to us also. People have made initial applications and think they will come back at some point in the future. They need to know that there is a closing date. That will help to bring them to us also.

I am sorry for cutting across Deputy Catherine Connolly.

The Chairman has been generous with time. I am finished. I would like the other matters I raised to be addressed by the agency staff. They should have had that information today. Will Mr. Ó Foghlú confirm there will be a review of Caranua and the board and what is involved? Mr. O'Callaghan should review procedures as a matter of urgency and, at the very least, write to every applicant, whether repeat or otherwise, to clarify that his or her case has not been completed if he or she considers his or her needs have not been met. The procedures should be clarified. The term "case complete" is not appropriate and gives the wrong message.

It was said that the organisation had only had three years and that it was a new organisation but it was never going to be an old organisation because it was given a specific period of time in which to do its work. The extra nine months at the beginning was very helpful and then there were three years to roll out the process in the fairest and most consistent way possible but policy changes have built inconsistency and unfairness into the system. Some applicants have been allowed to apply for more while some have been given a limit. This has built inequity into the process which is totally and utterly against the letter and the spirit of the legislation under which the organisation operates.

Ms Mary Higgins

The Deputy made a number of references to our applicants coming to her or to other people. If people do this and they have concerns and questions, I appeal to the Deputy to make contact with us as we cannot do anything about them if we do not hear about them. We are completely committed to listening to what people have said and to putting right anything that is not right.

I specifically mentioned cases where people had written letters to the Department of Education and Skills, such as one on 16 October drawing its attention to the difficulties, but without reply. These difficulties have been brought to Caranua's attention. The various appeals that have been made have also brought matters to the witnesses' attention and I understand the appeals officer is in constant contact with them.

Ms Mary Higgins

That is right.

Ms Higgins will, then, be fully aware of these things.

Ms Mary Higgins

No, I am not.

Caranua is going to have to pay rent from this summer for the next two or three years and it will have to come directly out of funding that would have previously been available. I am going to ask the Department of Education and Skills for full clarification of that and to see if a public building is available. We have been talking about transferring and receiving assets but it is a bit absurd that part of the scheme is for assets to be transferred to the State while some of the money for the survivors' fund will have to go in rent. We want to avoid this if possible.

Mr. Seán Ó Foghlú

The system does not work like that any more. The OPW provided funding for Departments to rent accommodation but that has now changed and, even where the OPW provides accommodation, the Department or agency has to pay. We will look at the question the Chairman has asked but the system has changed.

Mr. Ó Foghlú said there was a simple answer. We wanted him to explain the current situation and we will raise the issue again.

Has a contract been signed?

Ms Mary Higgins

We are certainly at that stage but I would ask that it not be signed.

I ask the Department of Education and Skills to weigh in behind Caranua to see if anything can be done.

Mr. Seán Ó Foghlú

We hear what the Chair is asking and we will get back to him with an answer.

I do not know what the answer will be but it would be foolish not to at least ask if another option was possible. Do not tell the Comptroller and Auditor General that the OPW is not charging commercial rent, however.

I am a bit confused about confidentiality. Deputy Aylward asked about the people who had work done. Were cheques paid to individuals or the company?

Ms Mary Higgins

Cheques are usually made out to the suppliers, upon being named by the applicant, but they are sent to the applicant to give to the suppliers. The cheques are all third-party cheques and there is nothing to connect us to the payment.

Who is the third party?

Ms Mary Higgins

Fexco.

It is like a bank draft.

Ms Mary Higgins

Yes.

The person does not go in with a Caranua cheque and the person at the other end does not know it is a Caranua cheque. That is important.

The witnesses do not need to go through the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General now but on page 36 it mentions that An Bord Pleanála refused planning permission for a memorial to survivors and the Department was considering how best to progress the project. What is the update on that?

Mr. Seán Ó Foghlú

We have been exploring the option of a permanent exhibition. We are looking into whether it is feasible before we consult on it - it is not a proposal, as such. This is a difficult issue and an advisory group proposed a way forward only for planning to be turned down

When was that?

Mr. Seán Ó Foghlú

It was in 2014.

What is the explanation for the three-year delay?

Ms Catherine Hynes

The winning design was only suitable for a particular site, that is the Garden of Remembrance. We had an excellent memorial committee chaired by Sean Benton. After the planning process there was a final report, one of the suggestions in which was to hold negotiations with Dublin City Council to see if there were alternative sites but none was possible because of the fact that the original design was site-specific. The winning design followed a protracted international competition but the memorial committee considered that only one of the designs submitted was suitable to be built. There was no need for a second round and no other design was even ranked in second place. We considered running another international competition but it would have been another four-year process and we decided our energies would be better directed towards looking at alternatives. We looked at a permanent exhibition to tell the stories of survivors as a permanent memorial to what happened to people who lived in institutional care in Ireland. Our next step will be to see if the memorial committee would be interested in exploring this possibility.

There is a long way to go.

Ms Catherine Hynes

Yes.

It was said that four survivors were on the board of directors. It was also said that 61% of applicants had residency in Ireland so why are three of the four in question based in England?

Ms Mary Higgins

The Minister appoints them.

If the majority of survivors are based in Ireland why is only one of them on the board of directors of Caranua?

Mr. Seán Ó Foghlú

It is because of the selections made by the previous Minister. We are in a process with the Public Appointments Service and the date for applications has passed. The process is under way to enable the service to advise the Minister on the next round of board membership. We expect to hear from the service in the near future.

Would Mr. Ó Foghlú expect changes in the membership as a result of the new process?

Mr. Seán Ó Foghlú

I do not know. I do not know whether people have indicated whether they are willing to stay on. There is a process and the Public Appointments Service will provide the Minister with a list of names from among those who applied.

How much is outstanding? The briefing note states that €110 million was yet to be realised.

That is roughly where we are at. Some of that is outstanding for 15 years. As Accounting Officer, does Mr Ó Foghlú have an date for when he expects the issue to be closed?

Mr. Seán Ó Foghlú

It is not possible for me to have a definitive end date for the land transfers because we are working them through. Complex issues might remain to be addressed. However, the majority of the 11 outstanding properties are well advanced and we hope to have them over the line within the next year or so. There may be one which does not happen and there will have to be a cash contribution instead if it comes to that.

Is that €110 million outstanding listed as an asset in the Department's balance sheet in the appropriation account or is it an intangible asset?

Mr. Seán Ó Foghlú

It is not. We provided an update note to the committee on this matter. It is not in Government procedures that we list those assets. In any case, we are not receiving those assets, some are transferring to other organisations.

It is not directly to the Department, but to, say, the local authority or the HSE.

Can we get a list of the properties?

Please send an update on the properties at least every three or six months, to come to this committee as a matter of course.

Mr. Seán Ó Foghlú

We have updated it on the indemnity agreement, we can also update on the 2009 offer.

We are not asking for every month. We would like six-monthly updates; that is not unreasonable.

It has been a long day. We want to dispose of the financial statement for Caranua for 2014 and 2015; we will agree on that.

On behalf of the Committee of Public Accounts I sincerely thank everyone for their forbearance. It has been a long day, we have been here since early this morning. I thank the witnesses from Caranua, the Department of Education and Skills, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Comptroller and Auditor General's office. I wish everyone a relaxing Easter.

The committee adjourned at 5.25 p.m. until 9 a.m. on Thursday, 4 May 2017.

The witnesses withdrew.