I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
Almost three years ago, this House passed a unanimous motion following the publication of the Ryan report, sincerely apologising to the victims of childhood abuse for the failure to intervene, detect their pain and come to their rescue. It accepted all the recommendations of the Ryan report and supported their full implementation, recognising that the victims of these appalling abuses must be consulted on the forms of support they need and that supporting the victims and survivors must be the priority for all concerned. The House called on the congregations to commit to making further substantial contributions by way of reparation, including towards a trust to be set up and managed by the State for the support of victims and for other education and welfare purposes.
The primary aim of the Bill now before the House is to establish the residential institutions statutory fund which was proposed in the motion adopted after the publication of the Ryan report. The statutory fund is a significant additional response to address the horrendous abuse of children that took place in residential institutions under the supervision of the State and run, in the main, by religious congregations. It will fund the provision of counselling, health, education, housing and other services for victims of abuse in residential institutions.
The publication of the Ryan report, with its catalogue of systemic abuse, shocked a nation that thought it was beyond being shocked. The litany and scale of the abuse recounted by anguished voices caused us, as a people, to be ashamed and to apologise to those whose childhoods were stolen and who, in many instances, could not live full lives as adults. The commission's conclusions were unequivocal and damning, detailing the failures of those who managed the institutions and the failure of the State to protect its vulnerable children. Its report justified the decision to establish the residential institutions redress board to compensate survivors outside the court system. The report's findings are an indictment of us all and it is our duty to ensure that the lessons of the past are learned and that such abuse is never repeated. The scourge of abuse and the failure to deal with it promptly and adequately continues to afflict us in a variety of settings.
The Government is committed to fully implementing the Ryan report's recommendations. Significant progress has been achieved and is detailed in the progress reports on 99 individual actions. For example, the new Department of Children and Youth Affairs has been established and will be complemented by the new Child and Family Support Agency. The new Children First national guidance was published last year; the heads of the Bill to put Children First on a statutory basis have been published recently along with the Criminal Justice (Withholding of Information on Offences Against Children and Vulnerable Persons) Bill 2012, and preparations for the children's rights referendum are on target. Together these initiatives will help protect our children and ensure that the horrendous abuses suffered by so many are a thing of the past. We all have a duty to protect children and to act when we know that children are at risk.
A comprehensive response has been put in place to address the abuse suffered by so many in residential institutions. The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse afforded those who wanted an opportunity to tell their story to do so. The Residential Institutions Redress Board provided financial awards. While the board continues to process the remaining applications received, it is likely that some 15,000 former residents will receive awards. The national counselling service and the family tracing service provided by Barnardos are other important elements of the State's response.
As recommended in the Ryan report, the provision of a memorial to survivors is being pursued and I understand that the selection committee expects to announce the competition winner in June. As I stated in the House during the debate three years ago, I believe the memorial should be a place of solace and reflection as well a significant reference back to a very different Ireland to which we must never return.
Many former residents continue to suffer the effects of the abuse they suffered as innocent children, even though this abuse may have taken place many years ago. The establishment of the statutory fundis a further important element in the State's response. While the redress schemedeals with the financial compensation for victims of institutional abuse, the statutory fundwill focus on meeting the ongoing needs of victims by funding the provision of a range of services. This fund will be financed from the contributions offered by the congregations.
As Deputies will be aware, the Government believes that the cost of the response to residential institutional abuse, now estimated to exceed €1.36 billion, should be shared on a 50:50 basis, between the State and those who were responsible for the management of institutions. Under the 2002indemnity agreement,the 18 congregations contributed €128 million, in cash, property and counselling services. Following the publication of the Ryan report, this House called on the congregations to provide further substantial contributions by way of reparation. In their responses, the congregations offered cash of some €110 million and offered to transfer properties,mainly in the health and education sectors and which they valued at €235.5 million,to various State agencies and voluntary organisations. With a 50:50 sharing requiring a contribution of €680 million, the congregations' offers fell short by some €200 million, even had all properties been acceptable and their values confirmed. The Government identified 12 property offers, valued at some €60 million, to be of potential immediate benefit to the State and the transfer of these properties is being pursued.
This House will be aware both of my disappointment at the offers made to date and that I continue to pursue the 50:50 division with the management bodies involved. I have proposed the transfer of the ownership of the school infrastructure they possess, at no cost to the State, as one mechanism to allow those involved the opportunity to shoulder their share of the costs. I reiterate in the House what I have stated many times outside it, namely, the schools that would be transferred into the ownership of the State would continue in their own ethos until the operators of the schools decide otherwise.
I renew the call I have made to congregations to deal with the issue of contributions in a generous and open manner.
I have made clear to them that I have no wish to bankrupt them and I acknowledge the important, positive role they have played in the development of Irish life and society, particularly in the area of education. I also recognise the aging nature of those teaching communities. That should not mean, however, that they do not have to face up to their responsibilities for their congregations' involvement in abuse.
Returning to the statutory fund, which will be funded from the cash contributions received of up to €110 million, contributions of €21.05 million have been received and are held in an interest bearing account in the Central Bank of Ireland. The Bill confirms the charitable status of these contributions and will facilitate the congregations' contributions. While I expect that most congregations will forward their contributions on the establishment of the fund, I am engaging with some to clarify the exact timing of their contribution and expect to be in a position to confirm the position to the House as the Bill proceeds.
The Bill provides that former residents who received awards from the redress board or who received an award or settlement in court proceedings and who would otherwise have received an award from the redress board will be eligible to apply for assistance from the fund. It is expected that some 15,000 former residents, whether living in Ireland or abroad, will successfully complete the redress process and be eligible to apply for services they need.
I am aware of demands to widen eligibility to include all former residents of scheduled institutions and to include relatives of former residents. If eligibility were significantly widened to include, for example, all former residents of scheduled institutions, the amounts available to fund services for individuals could be greatly reduced and the effectiveness of the statutory fund would be put at risk. Having regard to the maximum funds available, €110 million, and the potential pool of 15,000 applicants, our approach is correct. The question of reviewing the eligibility under the statutory fund could, however, be considered following the establishment of the fund in the event of applications not resulting in a significant expenditure of the fund.
Part 2 deals with the establishment of the Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Board, which will operate the fund. I will appoint the board, which will comprise nine members, four of whom will be former residents of scheduled institutions. The other members must include people who have knowledge of, and expertise on, the keeping of financial accounts and disbursement of funds, the management and administration of an organisation, or the provision of an approved service. I intend to seek expressions of interest from suitably qualified and experienced persons for positions on the board and will ensure that the board is gender balanced, in so far as practical. There is no provision for the payment of remuneration to members of the board although reasonable expenses may be approved.
The board will serve a maximum term or four years and individual members can be re-appointed but may not serve more than two consecutive terms. As set out in section 7, the board will, in a manner that promotes the principles of equity, consistency and transparency, use the resources available to it to make arrangements for the provision of approved services to support the needs of former residents, and pay grants to former residents in order that they may avail of approved services. The classes of services from which the board can determine the approved services to be provided are set out in section 8 and comprise mental health, counselling and psychological support services; health and personal social services; educational services; and housing support services, including adaptation or improvement of real property but not including financial aid for the purchase, mortgage or charge of real property.
Many of these services are already publicly available and eligible former residents may have an existing entitlement to receive them, whether living here or in other jurisdictions. If a publicly funded service is already available, there is no need for the fund to be used. If, however, there are restrictions on the availability of public services, for example where there are lengthy waiting lists or limits on grants, the fund may arrange for services to be provided. The board will be conscious of the need to secure the most beneficial, effective and efficient use of the resources available to it. It will provide information regarding its functions and will evaluate the effectiveness of approved services.
Section 9 provides that the board will set out the criteria by reference to which it will make decisions on applications to it. In determining criteria, the board will take account of the individual circumstances, including personal and financial circumstances, of eligible former residents. It will also assess the likely effects of the provision of the service on the health and general well-being, personal and social development, educational development or the living conditions of former residents. The board can apply financial limits to services or grants provided. It can specify minimum standards to be met by service providers and the supporting evidence to be provided by applicants.
The board can also determine criteria for exceptional cases where the standard criteria may be disregarded in order to address cases of hardship. All criteria determined by the board must be freely available. In response to applications made to it by eligible former residents, the board may make an arrangement with a person, whether or not the person is resident in the State, for the provision of an approved service to support the needs of a former resident; and pay a grant to a former resident, to assist them to avail of an approved service.
The board will set out the procedures to be followed when making applications, when considering applications and when communicating with applicants of decisions. Decisions on individual applications will be made by the chief executive or delegated staff member of the board. An independent appeals process is provided for in sections 21 and 22. The appeals officer will be appointed by the Minister and the right of a person, including the board, to appeal a decision to the High Court on a point of law is provided for.
The normal provisions relating to the conditions of employment for the staff of the board and the appeals officer are set out in the Bill and the chief executive is accountable to the board and can be called before the Committee of Public Accounts or Oireachtas committees. Standard accounting and reporting arrangements will apply to the board. As the administration costs of the board will be met from the investment account, every effort is being made to minimise the administration overhead.
Section 24 provides that the residential institutions redress board will furnish the board with the name, address and date of birth of recipients of awards. The board can only use this information to determine if a person is eligible to make an application to the board. This is a critically important feature of the Bill as it means that eligible persons will not be required to submit proofs of residency and abuse in an institution. This measure reflects the wishes of many former residents to have an easy to use application process. They do not have to go through the journey again.
The unauthorised disclosure of confidential information relating to a former resident is prohibited and constitutes an offence. Similarly, the making of a false statement or provision of false information to avail of a grant or service is an offence. Section 25 provides that public authorities will co-ordinate their activities with those of the board. Provision is made that when requested to do so by the board, a public authority will nominate liaison officers.
Part 3 deals with financial matters. An investment account will be established by the National Treasury Management Agency from which the board will be funded. The contributions already received, together with any accrued interest, will be transferred to this account as well as further contributions received lodged thereto, up to a maximum of €110 million, excluding any associated interest. The agency will advance to the board the sums needed to meet its expenditure and the expenses associated with the appeals process. Any costs incurred by the agency will be met out of the investment account.
Standard provisions regarding accounts and audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General are provided for.
Part 4 dissolves the Education Finance Board and transfers its functions to the Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Board in relation to the moneys remaining from the €12.7 million contribution provided by the congregations under the 2002 indemnity agreement. The Education Finance Board advised me late last year that it expected its funds would be fully allocated on applications received by the end of November, 2011. It publicised that it was not therefore in a position to process any applications received after that date and it continues to process its backlog of applications. The current staff of the Education Finance Board will transfer to become employees of the new board. The statutory fund will prepare final reports and accounts of the Education Finance Board which will be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas.
The Bill does not include provisions in respect of the winding-up of the new statutory fund board. While it is envisaged that the board will be dissolved when the moneys at its disposal are expended, the precise timing cannot be predicted and accordingly it would be preferable to introduce amending primary legislation to dissolve the board in due course.
Part 5 deals with two issues. Section 42 addresses the charitable status of contributions by charities which administered ran scheduled institutions. It allows those charities to make cash contributions either to the Residential Institutions Statutory Fund or as contributions towards the costs of the response to residential abuse and to transfer property to the Minister. Such contributions and transfers are charitable gifts and as Minster, I can receive same, with the approval of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and may direct that properties be transferred to other Ministers, to the HSE or to a VEC. The charities require the approval of the Commissioners for Charitable Donations and Bequests for Ireland to sell properties and to use the proceeds to make contributions or to transfer properties. The Commissioners are empowered to authorise property transfers as contributions towards the costs of redress. They are also empowered to authorise the sale of properties to realise cash contributions towards the Residential Institutions Statutory Fund or as contributions towards the costs of the response to residential institutional abuse.
As Deputies will be aware, it is intended that cash contributions, in addition to those for the statutory fund, towards the costs of the response will be used for the national children's hospital. I am satisfied that the provisions of this section will facilitate the making of contributions and the transfer of properties by congregations.
Section 43 amends the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002 to allow the redress board to strike out applications and requests to accept late applications where directions of the board are not complied with. The board is required to give at least 28 days notice of its intention to strike out such applications or requests. Provision is also made to allow an applicant appeal to the review committee a decision of the board to strike out an application under section 13. These provisions will allow the redress board to finalise cases currently on hand and it will assist in the planning for the winding-up of the board. Every effort has been made to design an accessible scheme while operating in an efficient and effective manner. This Bill is an important initiative to support victims of residential institutional abuse and I commend it to the House.