I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I am pleased to introduce to the House the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (Amendment) Bill 2005. The Bill amends the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Act 2000 and the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002 and establishes a statutory body to administer a €12.7 million education fund for former residents of institutions and their families.
Before outlining the purpose of the Bill, it is important to highlight the general background and context of the legislation. In recent years Irish society has been confronted with the reality that many people were subjected to serious abuse as children. This occurred in homes and in institutions charged with the care and protection of children, many of which were orphanages, industrial schools and reformatories owned or managed by religious orders and funded in whole or part from State funds.
There are many victims of this abuse in our community who have grown into adulthood carrying the emotional and psychological scars of abuse. I know that, like me, many Deputies will remember the occasion on 11 May 1999 when, on behalf of the State, the Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, apologised to all victims of abuse for the suffering they endured as children and for our failure as a society to provide the care, attention, love and support to which all children are entitled. On that day the Taoiseach announced a range of Government measures to redress the abuse.
These measures included the establishment of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, amendments to the Statute of Limitations and the establishment of a national counselling service. This initiative was followed up subsequently by the announcement of a financial redress scheme for victims of abuse and the establishment of a statutory Redress Board to administer such a scheme.
The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse was formally established in May 2000. The broad terms of reference were:—
To afford victims of abuse in childhood an opportunity to tell of the abuse they suffered to a sympathetic and experienced forum.
To establish as complete a picture as possible of the causes, nature and extent of the physical and sexual abuse of children in institutions and in other places during the period from 1940 to the present.
To compile a report and publish it to the general public, on the activities and the findings of the Commission, containing recommendations on actions to address the continuing effects of the abuse and actions to be taken to safeguard children from abuse in the future.
The commission through its confidential committee provides a forum for victims of abuse to recount their experiences on an entirely confidential basis. The purpose of this committee is to meet the needs of those victims who want to speak of their experiences but who do not wish to become involved in an investigative procedure. This committee will provide the commission with a general report on the issues encountered in its work. The commission also has an investigation committee. This committee facilitates victims who wish to both recount their experiences and to have allegations of abuse inquired into. This committee will also report to the Commission. During 2002 my Department became concerned as to the apparent lack of progress by the investigation committee and, following a request for a virtual doubling of resources in June 2002, the Department began to explore with the commission the difficulties being encountered by that committee.
Following much consideration the Government decided, on 3 December 2002, to engage in a process of reviewing the operations and remit of the commission and in particular the investigation committee.
The intention behind the original legislation envisaged that the commission would proceed on an informal basis as far as possible. However, as the commission began its investigation process, this proved not to be possible and the hearing process became adversarial. This gave rise to the possibility of legal costs rising to a magnitude of €150 million to €200 million and if the work of the investigation committee were to continue in this format, it would take the commission an estimated eight to 11 years to complete its work. The age profile of many of the survivors was also borne in mind. Many people, including survivors, were justifiably concerned about this lengthy time frame. Accordingly, a review of the commission was carried out by the office of the Attorney General.
Following the resignation of Ms Justice Mary Laffoy as chairperson of the commission, the Government, on 26 September 2003, appointed Mr. Justice Sean Ryan, then senior counsel, as chairperson-designate of the commission. The Government requested Mr. Justice Ryan to immediately undertake his own independent review of the working of the commission. The terms of reference of the review were as follows:
To carry out a review of the working of the Commission and to make all necessary recommendations having regard to the following:
a) The interests of the victims of abuse;
b) The completion of the Commission's work within a reasonable period of time and in a manner consistent with a proper investigation; and
c) To achieve the above objectives without incurring exorbitant costs.
Mr. Justice Ryan's report was published on 15 January 2004 together with the review completed by the office of the Attorney General. Mr. Justice Ryan concluded in his report that a combination of legislative amendments to the original Act and alternative procedures being adopted by the investigation committee would result in the commission being in a position to conclude its work within a reasonable timescale and without incurring exorbitant costs. The Government accepted Mr. Justice Ryan's report. Following publication of the report the investigation committee held meetings with all interested parties and representative groups, to facilitate them in expressing their views on the content of both reports and to enable them to make suggestions on the future operation of the investigation committee.
Following that consultation process, on 7 May 2004 the investigation committee hosted an open meeting at which it presented a position paper entitled Identifying Institutions and Persons under the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Act 2000, and a document entitled Background to Events Surrounding the Re-constitution of the Investigation Committee. This document set out proposals to enhance the workings of the committee. A formal hearing of the investigation committee took place on 24 May 2004 to receive submissions on the matter. Representative groups were also given an opportunity to express their views subsequent to the hearing. Following the conclusion of this process, Mr. Justice Sean Ryan, on 16 June 2004, stated that the commission had decided to proceed in accordance with the position paper published in May 2004.
The confidential committee of the commission continues to operate as normal and by 19 April 2005 it had heard evidence from its 1,060th witness, leaving approximately 35 witnesses waiting to give evidence. The confidential committee will continue to hear evidence in the coming months from the remaining witnesses after which it will prepare its report and present it to the commission.
The investigation committee has held a series of hearings into the emergence of child abuse. In this regard the Taoiseach, former Ministers for Education and Science, Deputies Martin and Woods, and officials of the Department have all given evidence to the committee regarding the background to the establishment of the commission. The aim of these public hearings was to establish on an historical basis how child abuse as an issue emerged in the State. The committee has also called witnesses from other State Departments, the religious congregations and the various survivor groups.
In addition to the public hearings, the investigation committee has commenced its inquiries into specific institutions, commencing with St. Joseph's Clonmel, in September 2004. Hearings on St. Patrick's Industrial School, Upton took place in October 2004; on Our Lady of Succour Industrial School, Newtownforbes in January 2005; on St. Patrick's, Kilkenny in February 2005 and on St. Vincent's, Goldenbridge in March 2005.
Mr. Justice Ryan in his programme for work for 2005 has said that the investigation committee will interview everyone — approximately 1,300 — who decided to continue participating in the inquiry by the investigation committee. This process has commenced and is being conducted by members of the commission's legal team. Information obtained in these interviews will be collected and produced in report format which will then be distributed, as appropriate, to the relevant bodies for comment and discussion. If there are material areas of dispute, the committee will arrange for further investigation, including full hearings if appropriate. In the interview process, witnesses whose experience is required to be investigated further by the committee will be chosen for later appearance before it in full session with cross-examination taking place. While not all witnesses in the largest institutions will go to full adversarial hearing, everybody will be interviewed. Many will have both adversarial hearings and interviews.
The scheme the commission is putting in place has several functions. The investigation committee will have an opportunity to gather a body of evidence at first hand from all people who want to continue with the committee, ensuring that every single person has a role in the work of the inquiry. It will enable the committee, through its legal team, to ensure witnesses put forward for participation in the formal hearing process represent the full range of experiences across time in a particular institution. It will reduce the likelihood of those less able for adversarial hearings being subjected to examination and cross-examination before gatherings of lawyers and other interested parties. It will yield information across institutions under investigation. This will be gathered in a formal process of interview to enable topics to be examined and comparisons between institutions will be made easier. The commission's 2005 investigation committee programme will include interviews with all witnesses, expert investigation and public and private hearings. It is the commission's intention to complete its report prior to the end of its extended remit of May 2008.
The Bill will implement the main recommendation of both the Attorney General and Mr. Justice Seán Ryan to remove the obligation on the investigation committee to conduct full hearings into each allegation of abuse made to it. Instead, the committee will be able to call witnesses to give evidence of abuse suffered by them, to the extent the investigation committee deems it necessary for the purposes of the inquiry. This key amendment is provided for in sections 4 and 7. Persons not called to give evidence to the investigation committee can opt to apply to transfer to the confidential committee of the commission. The Bill also removes the requirement for a two phase process whereby the commission would first have to determine whether abuse occurred before proceeding to consider the causes, nature, circumstances and extent of such abuse. This amendment, provided for under sections 4 and 5, will make the process more effective, less time consuming and less costly.
Sections 4 and 7 extend the remit of the commission and the investigation committee to examine the manner in which children were placed in residential institutions and the circumstances in which they continued to be resident there. This is important to get a full understanding of how and why child abuse occurred and the historical and societal context in which it arose.
Sections 5 and 8 respectively provide that the commission and the investigation committee will only name individual abusers who have a criminal conviction for child abuse or those who have admitted or pleaded guilty to charges of child abuse. The primary purpose of the commission inquiry is to determine the causes, nature, circumstances and extent of child abuse. Given the rights of persons to due process, it is necessary to place certain limitations on the naming of individuals alleged to have carried out abuse. Several other changes proposed include a provision to allow for joint hearings to take place to allow complainants with a common alleged abuser to have their complaints heard simultaneously, provided for under section 6. Section 6 also provides for a division of the committee to operate under a single member of the commission.
Section 8 enables the commission to issue fact-finding interim reports. Section 9 extends the powers of the commission to require persons giving evidence to it to swear the matter in an affidavit and make admissions to, and to answer written interrogatories, under oath so that matters can be dealt with more speedily and at less cost. Section 14 allows a complainant to withdraw a complaint being made subject to the consent of the committee.
Part 3, sections 22 to 33, inclusive, and the Schedule provide for the establishment of an education finance board to administer an education grant scheme for former residents of institutions and their families. Amendments to the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002 are contained in Part 4. Under the terms of the indemnity agreement concluded with the religious congregations, a sum of €12.7 million is to be used for educational programmes for former residents of institutions and their families. The agreement was concluded in June 2002 after the enactment of the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002. As the Act predated the agreement it was not possible to have any legislative provision for the operation of the €12.7 million fund. In view of the urgency of making funding available to former residents wishing to undertake further education, a grant scheme funded by the Department of Education and Science was established on an administrative basis in September 2003, pending the introduction of a statutory scheme. This scheme is administered by the National Office for Victims of Abuse with the assistance of the City of Dublin VEC, with approximately €1.4 million already spent on the scheme.
The Bill establishes an independent education finance board to administer an educational grant scheme for former residents and their families. It also provides a legal basis for the management and investment of the €12.7 million fund provided under the indemnity agreement for this purpose, after taking account of interest accruing on the €12.7 million fund and expenditure incurred to date on the non-statutory scheme. Section 26 provides for the fund to be managed by the National Treasury Management Agency which will make an annual payment from the fund to the education finance board to meet the ongoing costs of the grant scheme. The principal functions of the board, set out in section 25, are to pay grants to former residents of institutions and their families, to determine and publish the criteria by which it will make decisions on applications for grants and to make available to applicants information on the educational services for which grants are available.
Section 29 provides for the board to consist of a chairperson and eight ordinary members. To ensure that survivors' interests are adequately represented, four of the ordinary members will be former residents of institutions. Section 31 provides for the board's annual audited accounts to be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas while section 32 provides for the publication of an annual report on the board's activities. The Schedule deals with the membership, meetings and procedures of the board.
The proposed amendments to the Residential Institutions Redress Act are mainly of a technical nature and have been requested by the redress board and the review committee in light of their experience of the redress application process over the past two years. Established on 16 December 2002 under the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002, the board's primary function is to make fair and reasonable awards to persons who, as children, were abused while resident in industrial schools, reformatories and other institutions, subject to State regulation or inspection. The redress scheme provides an alternative to survivors having to pursue traumatic civil court cases to obtain compensation for their injuries. While the civil courts operate on the basis that a plaintiff must prove their case beyond reasonable doubt, the redress board operates on a generally lower threshold of proof and does not make a finding of guilt of an individual or an institution. The board, which is wholly independent, is chaired by Mr. Justice Sean O'Leary and has nine ordinary members.
This legislation was enacted for the many people who as children were committed by the courts to industrial and reformatory schools and who suffered abuse while resident there. In addition to children committed by the courts, significant numbers were also committed to industrial and reformatory schools by parents and the schools often operated as orphanages. The redress scheme is designed to address how the State and the institutions concerned failed while having responsibility for the care of the child. It acknowledges that because of this, some people who were in institutional care have, through much of their lives, carried serious psychological scars. The scheme seeks to provide reasonable financial compensation for that injury. The Act provides that where a person makes an application for an award to the board, he or she is required to establish proof of identity that he or she was resident in an institution during his or her childhood, that he or she was injured while so resident and that the injury is consistent with any abuse that is alleged to have occurred while so resident.
The board commenced operations in December 2002 and, according to the latest information available, it has received more than 5,900 applications to date and has made awards in more than 3,000 cases. The average award made by the board is €78,000 and total payments to date amount to some €229 million. The amount of award payable in each case will depend on the severity of the abuse and the severity of physical and psychological injury as well as loss of opportunity resulting from the abuse. The board may grant awards up to €300,000 and in exceptionally severe cases it may award an amount higher than this. There is also provision to award additional aggravated damages of up to €60,000 in certain specified circumstances.
Originally, 128 institutions were listed on the Schedule of the Act and section 4 of the Act allows the Minister for Education and Science to make an order for the inclusion of additional institutions. In November 2004, I signed an order allowing for the inclusion of 13 additional institutions. It is possible that a further small number of institutions may be added to the Schedule in the near future as a result of the inquiries still being conducted by my Department.
The proposed amendments to the redress Act are contained in section 34 and include allowing for a two week cooling off period once an applicant has made a request to the review committee for it to review an award offered by the redress board. Survivor groups requested this change and the chairperson of the review committee agrees with it. The proposed amendments also include allowing the Courts Service to administer arrangements for the payment of awards in instalments — the Courts Service has confirmed that it is willing to do so but cannot until a legislative basis is provided and providing that anyone who gives false information to the board may be liable for prosecution for perjury — currently, only applicants to the board can be so prosecuted.
The amending legislation before the Dáil today fulfils three important functions. First, it will greatly assist the commission in completing a comprehensive inquiry into child abuse within a sensible timeframe and at an affordable cost. Second, it sets up an independent statutory scheme of educational support for survivors and their families. Third, it makes a number of legislative amendments to enhance the effective operation of the redress scheme.
Molaim an Bille don Teach.