I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I am pleased to bring the Residential Institutions Redress (Amendment) Bill 2011 before the House. The Residential Institutions Redress Board, established under the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002, formed a central part of the range of measures put in place in response to child abuse in residential institutions. Set up as an independent body, the board's purpose is to provide fair and reasonable awards to victims of institutional abuse. While the redress board focuses on the injury suffered by abuse victims, the causes, nature and extent of the abuse were investigated by the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse. The national counselling service was set up to help victims cope with their experiences, while the Origins family tracing service offered assistance to former residents wishing to trace their families of origin. The Educational Finance Board was established to pay grants to former residents and their relatives to assist them in availing of educational services. Funding was also provided to survivor groups for information and referral services. Together these measures constituted a comprehensive response to the revelations of the horror of child abuse in residential institutions.
The publication of the Ryan report in May 2009 shocked the nation, and this House expressed its revulsion at the extent, severity and nature of the abuse suffered by children in residential institutions. The commission's conclusions were unequivocal and damning, finding that:
A climate of fear, created by pervasive, excessive and arbitrary punishment, permeated most of the institutions... Children lived with the daily terror of not knowing where the next beating was coming from... Sexual abuse was endemic in boys' institutions... Children were frequently hungry and food was inadequate, inedible and badly prepared in many schools... A disturbing element of the evidence before the Commission was the level of emotional abuse that disadvantaged, neglected and abandoned children were subjected to generally by religious and lay staff in institutions... Separating siblings and restrictions on family contact were profoundly damaging for family relationships. Some children lost their sense of identity and kinship, which was never recovered.
The publication of the Murphy report into the Cloyne diocese reminds us once again of the horrors of child abuse and has highlighted the need for all involved to accept their role and responsibility. It is in this context that the Government has called on the congregations to meet the costs of the response to residential institutional abuse on an equal basis with the taxpayer. For our part, the failure of the State to protect its vulnerable children is an indictment on us all and it behoves us to ensure it is never repeated.
As others have before me, I acknowledge the courage of all those victims who went to the commission to share their stories of what they endured during their childhood. The Ryan report justified the decision to establish the Residential Institutions Redress Board to compensate survivors outside the court system. Making awards on an ex gratia basis, involving no finding of fault or declaration of liability, the redress board requires a much lower burden of proof than would have been required in court.
The scheme was introduced as an exceptional measure to provide compensation for people who were sent as children to, and who were victims of abuse while resident in, industrial and reformatory schools, orphanages and children's homes in respect of which a public body had responsibilities relating to inspection or regulation. As was acknowledged from the outset, it is not, and was never intended to be, a panacea for every injustice committed on children, rather it is intended to deal with a very particular circumstance. While the Schedule to the Act specified 123 institutions, section 4 enables the Minister for Education and Skills to provide for the insertion into the Schedule of "any industrial school, reformatory school, orphanage, children's home, special school which was established for the purpose of providing education services to children with a physical or intellectual disability or a hospital providing medical or psychiatric services to people with a physical or mental disability or mental illness in which children were placed and resident and in respect of which a public body had a regulatory or inspection function".
In response to requests to include specific institutions, two orders have been made in November 2004 and July 2005, specifying 16 additional institutions bringing the total number of scheduled institutions to 139. As required by the legislation, resolutions approving drafts of these orders were first passed by each House of the Oireachtas.
Religious ethos was not an eligibility criterion and while Catholic religious orders ran the majority of specified institutions, others were managed by other congregations, State bodies, voluntary bodies, management committees or pursuant to trusts. Following the publication of the Ryan report in May 2009, there were a range of demands for the redress scheme to be extended, including demands to include specific institutions and categories of institutions. Having considered these demands, the previous Government announced its decision not to revise the arrangements, in its press statement of 15 April 2010.
To qualify for an award, an applicant must prove his or her identity and establish to the board's satisfaction that he or she was resident in a scheduled institution while under 18 and that he or she was injured while so resident and the injury is consistent with any abuse that is alleged to have occurred while so resident.
Awards are made by the board in accordance with the framework set out in Towards Redress and Recovery, the report of the independent compensation advisory committee which advised on the appropriate levels of compensation. Awards are determined by the board having regard to the severity of the abuse and the severity of physical and psychological injury and loss of opportunity resulting from the abuse. The resultant weightings produce an overall assessment which the board reviews to ensure that it is reasonable in all the circumstances for the particular applicant. The amount of redress payable is then determined according to the redress bands.
Independent legal advice is available to applicants and the vast majority chose to avail of this. It is open to each applicant to accept or reject an award made by the board and the review committee provides an appeal mechanism by which an applicant can seek to have his or her award reviewed. The review committee, which is chaired by Mr. Justice Frank Murphy, can uphold, increase or decrease the amount of the award. Of the awards made to date, 78% were made following settlements with a further 19% made following hearings. The remaining 3% were made following reviews by the residential institutions review committee under the independent appeals mechanism. Applicants may also reject awards. To date, 13 people of more than 13,700 have rejected their awards. Where an applicant does not accept an award, he or she retains the option to pursue any legal avenue which may be open to him or her.
The redress board commenced making awards in May 2003. Wholly independent in the performance of its functions, the board has processed more than 14,600 cases, resulting in more than 13,700 awards to date. The redress board is currently chaired by the Mr. Justice Esmond Smyth. There are ten other members of the board, who are appointed by the Minister and drawn from the legal and medical professions.
In accordance with the terms of the 2002 Act, applicants had a period of three years in which to submit an application to the board. This meant that the closing date for receipt of applications was 15 December 2005, some five and half years ago. However, section 8(2) of the 2002 Act allows the board to extend the period for receipt of an application in exceptional circumstances while section 8(3) requires the board to extend the period when it is satisfied that an applicant was under a legal disability.
At the end of June 2011, the board had received a total of 15,173 applications and had finalised 14,645 cases. Of the total number of applications processed, 13,720 have resulted in awards being made by the board, with the remaining 925 either being refused, withdrawn or resulting in no award. In terms of the late applications, that is, those received after 15 December 2005, a total of 1,540 have been received by the board at the end of June 2011. Of these 725 have been allowed; in 494 cases, the board is awaiting further information to complete the application process; 220 have been disallowed, withdrawn or had the file closed; 36 were not valid applications; and a further 65 remain to be considered by the board.
The average value of the awards made is €63,000. Up to the end of 2010, some 36% of awards were in the first redress band attracting awards of up to €50,000; 49% were in the second redress band attracting awards of between €50,000 and €100,000; 13% were in the third redress band attracting awards of between €100,000 and €150,000; while the remaining 2% of awards were in the fourth and fifth redress bands, attracting awards of between €150,000 and €300,000. The overall cost of the redress scheme had been estimated to reach €1.1 billion and actual expenditure on the scheme and associated litigation reached €1.05 billion at the end of 2010. This figure includes some €836 million in awards made by the board and €158 million in associated medical and legal costs.
As outlined previously, while section 8 of the Act provides for the acceptance of late applications by the board, it is necessary to amend the primary legislation to provide for a final date for the receipt of such applications. The effect of the legislation before the House will be to remove the power of the board to consider applications made on or after 17 September 2011. It also requires the board to advertise this fact, at least six weeks before the effective date, in Iris Oifigiúil, two Irish daily newspapers and two UK daily newspapers.
The Government is satisfied that the redress board, which has been in operation since December 2002, has provided former residents of institutions with a mechanism by which they could obtain fair and reasonable financial compensation for abuses suffered while resident in certain institutions, without the necessity to pursue long and often traumatic cases via the court system. It has been accepting applications for the past eight and a half years, a period which is considered more than adequate for this purpose.
Members will be aware that my colleague, the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, recently announced that the Government is proceeding with legislation to provide for the establishment of the residential institutions statutory fund to support the needs of survivors of residential institutional abuse. Such a fund was unanimously endorsed by the House in the period following the publication of the Ryan report. The fund will utilise €110 million of the contributions, essentially the cash element offered by the congregations, and will target support at survivors needs such as counselling services, psychological support services and mental health services, and such health and personal social services, educational services and housing services as the fund may determine.
The fund will also promote understanding of the effects of abuse on former residents among service providers and will evaluate the effectiveness of the approved services in meeting the needs of former residents. To date, €21.05 million of the contributions pledged have been received and lodged in a special interest bearing account in the Central Bank, pending the establishment of the statutory fund. It is hoped that the necessary legislation will be enacted in the autumn session.
The Government strongly believes that the costs of the response to residential institutional abuse should be met on a 50:50 basis by the taxpayer and those responsible for managing the institutions. Both Government parties called for the costs of redress to be shared equally between the State and the religious when the Ryan report was published. The view was adopted by the then Government in 2010 and is a fair and reasonable approach.
The final cost of the response is estimated to be in the region of €1.36 billion. However, the offers from the 18 congregations to date are significantly short of the €680 million needed to meet half of the costs. The Government believes that the transfer of school property currently owned by the congregations offers an opportunity to reach this target. The agreement of the congregations is being sought to a legal mechanism which would ensure that title to school infrastructure properties would be transferred to the State, at the State's request.
In addition, agreement is being sought that title to such properties could not be altered, whether by sale on the open market or by transfer into any trust arrangement, without the prior consent of the Department. The Government is also requesting the congregations to offer to transfer their properties that are currently rented by the State and properties that are identified as being of specific interest to the State. This overall approach aims to ensure that if the State were to seek the transfer of any of the school infrastructure owned by the congregations, it could then do so.
My colleague, the Minister for Education and Skills, has invited the religious congregations to meet him later this month to pursue this goal. At the same time, the management bodies of other institutions included within the redress scheme have also been approached to make a contribution towards the costs involved and their potential to similarly transfer school infrastructure will be explored.
On behalf of the Government, I thank all those involved in the operation of the Residential Institutions Redress Board for their hard work and commitment to the performance of their duty. I look forward to hearing the views of the Members of this House on this important Bill and their assistance in facilitating its early passage into law. I commend the Bill to the House.