Other Questions

Residential Institutions Redress Scheme

Maureen O'Sullivan

Question:

70. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the reason An Grianán is not included on the list of institutions covered by the restorative justice scheme; and if she will make available the list of institutions excluded and the basis for their exclusion. [26574/14]

My question relates to why An Grianán was not included in the list of institutions covered by the restorative justice scheme, the other institutions that were not included and the basis for their exclusion.

The ex gratia scheme covers the ten Magdalen laundries that were the subject of the McAleese report and two other institutions that were subsequently included, those being, St. Mary's training centre, Stanhope Street, and the House of Mercy training school, Summerhill, Wexford. To date, 754 applications have been received and 357 applicants have received their lump sum payments at a cost of €12.8 million. A further 106 formal offers have been made and letters of provisional assessment on the length of stay in a relevant institution have issued to an additional 35 applicants. A substantial body of work and engagement has already taken place as regards those who are eligible for the scheme.

Of the 754 applications received, 71 have been refused because the applicants were not in one of the 12 specified institutions.

Some 24 applicants listed An Grianán as the institution in which they spent time. There is an independent appeals process operated by the Office of the Ombudsman. Any woman whose application has been refused is advised that she may appeal against the decision to the Office of the Ombudsman. I understand that five applicants who were in An Grianán have appealed to the Office of the Ombudsman and decisions are awaited in respect of these cases.

I am sure the Deputy is familiar with An Grianán but I will put on the record of the House that it was established by the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity in the 1960s specifically for the care of teenagers. Though it was on the same site as the Magdalen laundry, St. Mary's refuge in High Park, Drumcondra, it served a different purpose. There were a number of different institutions on that site.

The different nature of An Grianán was recognised by its inclusion in the Residential Institutions Redress Board scheme. All girls admitted to An Grianán were entitled to full compensation for the entire duration of their stay under the Residential Institutions Redress Board scheme.

I want to put on the record of the House two letters I received from ladies who were in An Grianán as I think they show the difficulties unique to that institution. A woman I will refer to as Anne wrote to me on behalf of "An Grianán girls" who were refused the ex gratia scheme. She was 11 years old when she was sent to An Grianán and put in time at the laundry. She did not put in the same amount of time as those residents called "the seniors" because she was a "junior". While other children played with their friends and did homework she was cleaning dirty prison sheets. She received a small sum from the redress board and did not know at the time that another scheme would emerge. She was precluded from availing of the later scheme as she had received money from the redress board.

I will call the second lady Maria. She spent three years in An Grianán and worked in the laundry. She says she did the very same work and was treated the same as the seniors. She was made handle filthy sheets and lift, push and pull this bedding. For various reasons, some very personal, she and a number of others applied late to the Residential Institutions Redress Board and are stuck in their situation. Maria said not to include An Grianán would be a great injustice to those refused by the redress board.

I ask that individual cases such as those I have outlined be considered.

I thank Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan for the points she has raised on those cases. I have outlined the different situation relating to An Grianán. One of the women Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan refers to went to the redress board. Does the Deputy expect that people should have access to both the Residential Institutions Redress Board scheme and the Magdalen laundry scheme? It was not intended that people who had already been dealt with through a redress scheme would also be dealt with by this scheme.

The Deputy also points out that a person, for whatever reason, did not avail of the redress scheme. If a person falls between two schemes I think the appropriate action is an appeal to the Ombudsman. I am sure the Ombudsman will make a ruling on this matter and I will monitor the Ombudsman's rulings.

The woman in question did appeal to the Ombudsman and I saw the letter received in reply. The Ombudsman said he understood the rationale behind this person's arguments in support of her case and he was sympathetic. However, he was prevented from acting because of the nature of the scheme.

This all illustrates that the industrial schools, Magdalen laundries and mother and child homes should all have been included in a single, thorough, independent investigation. At the moment it is a piecemeal process. An Grianán presents a particularly difficult situation because of the other centres on the same site. Women were moved from one place to another on the same site. The woman in the first case I outlined received a sum of money due to the fact that she experienced the industrial school but she has not received anything for the time she spent in the laundry. No scheme is perfect and it is only apparent how these schemes have failed when individual cases are examined. I feel what I have outlined furthers the case for the inclusion of the Magdalen laundries in the inquiry into mother and child homes.

The Taoiseach made the apologies and Mr. Justice Quirke carried out his investigation and submitted recommendations in relation to the Magdalen laundries. Women who were in the Magdalen laundries have applied for benefits under that scheme.

This morning, the Government, on my proposal, agreed to the publication of the scheme of a new Bill to provide for services and supports for women who worked in the Magdalen laundries. The purpose of this Bill is to make additional provision for access to health services, the exempting of payments which have been made by the State to these women from means-test criteria in respect of certain State services, for example, the fair deal scheme. It also provides for legal provision for relatives or other appropriate persons to act on behalf of any of the women who do not have the capacity to act on their own behalf. The heads of that legislation were agreed this morning. It is hoped it will be published and enacted soon.

I accept the point that there are some women who fall outside the scheme. In terms of the numbers of women who ended up in industrial schools, as I understand it the cross-over between industrial schools and the Magdalen laundries was 4%. As I said, the scheme is primarily for women who were in the laundries. The relevant institutions under the scheme are named. Obviously, we are in a different situation now with a new inquiry to be initiated following on from the Tuam situation.

EU Conventions

Ruth Coppinger

Question:

71. Deputy Ruth Coppinger asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if she intends to bring forward the ratification of the terms of the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26759/14]

When does the Government intend to sign the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence. While this was signed in 2011 it has not yet been ratified by the Irish Government. This is an important landmark for women. Gender-based violence is at epidemic levels and one in four women in Ireland have experienced domestic violence. Perhaps the Minister will indicate when that convention will be ratified.

I am anxious to see Ireland in a position to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence - the Istanbul convention - as quickly as possible. However, I will only be able to proceed with ratification when we have in place measures that match the requirements of the convention. This will require changes to our domestic legislation. This is a matter of priority for me. To this end, the Department is working on a number of pieces of legislation which will assist in Ireland ratifying the convention.

The legislation under development to allow us ratify the convention includes the Government commitment to introduce consolidated and reformed domestic violence legislation to address all aspects of domestic violence, threatened violence and intimidation, in a way that provides protection to victims. This legislation will enable requirements of the convention to be addressed. Substantial progress has been made by the Department in formulating legislative proposals in this regard.

It is anticipated that the legislation to transpose the EU victims directive will also implement articles contained in the Istanbul convention. The victims directive is another important part of ensuring we can sign and ratify the convention, the deadline for which is November 2015. I am not suggesting that ratification will not take place until then but that is the actual deadline for Ireland to sign that directive.

In addition, Cosc, the national office for the prevention of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, an office of my Department, is working with a substantial number of external Departments and other agencies to identify other possible legislative and administrative issues and solutions necessary before Ireland can ratify the convention. We will have an action plan to enable Ireland to ratify the convention provisions. I have asked for this to be progressed as quickly as possible, having regard to the various obligations of other Departments. I want to assure the Deputy that this is a priority for me. I believe Ireland should sign and ratify the Istanbul convention.

There was some concern that our legislative provisions on barring orders might serve as a constitutional impediment to signing. I asked for further advice on that and got some. I hope there will not be an impediment so it will be a question of legislative change as opposed to constitutional change.

One of my concerns was that our very old Constitution would prove an impediment to women in terms of their being able to gain access to emergency barring orders. It is quite incredible that constitutional change on property rights would take precedence over the rights of women and their lives, health and children. I hope constitutional change will not be required. What has been said just reaffirms how outdated and outmoded the Constitution is in regard to any progress in society.

I am not surprised that there is difficulty implementing the convention given the bedraggled condition of refuge services and services addressing violence against women in this country. Solas Family Resource Centre reports that demand for a refuge place is four times greater than what it can supply. Many refuges around the country have had to beg for money from their local councils because of Government cuts. I would imagine that considerable investment is required if Ireland is to be in a position to sign the convention.

As the Deputy will know, it is not unusual for constitutional sensitivities to be raised when bringing forward important legislation like this. I have said that the most recent advice I have on constitutional difficulties suggests constitutional change may not be required. I am ensuring that we are preparing for the legislation that will be needed in order to sign and ratify the convention. That is certainly my goal. I have said the Bill is a priority. I will be meeting Ministers of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch and Deputy Jan O'Sullivan in regard to some of the issues the Deputy mentioned on housing and refuges. International best thinking suggests that more preventative work and supporting women in their homes is preferable to requiring women to use refuges. I accept that women need to use refuges very often. Having more supported services for women in their local areas is very much preferable, as is the effective use of court sanctions against those who perpetrate violence against women.

I agree the refuges are a last resort but we need massive structural, cultural and social change in society in order to end violence against women, not only in Ireland but also around the world. This, however, does not absolve the Government of its responsibility to provide emergency services for women who need them. Another requirement under the convention is education in schools. A host of educational changes is required.

It is quite incredible that the austerity agenda that has been pursued continually over the past six years has hit women and children in particular, making it more difficult for women to leave violent relationships and gain access to the help they need. On one day last November, there was a census of the services addressing violence against women. It was reported that, on that day alone, 537 women and 311 children were accommodated or in receipt of support. The Minister will have to agree there is a need for massive change in respect of what the Government gives to combat violence against women. It must ratify the convention immediately.

I agree with the Deputy that there is no room for complacency on the issue of violence against women. Some years ago, people might have felt this was less of a problem but evidence suggests it remains a very serious issue, very often associated with drug and alcohol use. Tackling the alcohol issue is necessary, therefore. This morning we saw a very disturbing report on Irish patterns of alcohol consumption. This House must take that report extremely seriously in so far as legislation is a factor.

According to the recently published Council of Europe analytical study of the results of monitoring the recommendations in regard to domestic violence and violence against women generally, Ireland is only one of nine member states where the ratio of shelter beds relative to population is higher than 1 per 10,000, that being the recommended rate. Ireland has 1.29 shelter beds per 10,000 population.

I make that point in terms of our own particular responses but, clearly, countries vary enormously in terms of how seriously they deal with this issue. I want to assure the Deputy I will deal with it with the utmost seriousness and, whatever legislation is needed, I intend to prioritise it.

I very much welcome the fact the Minister has prioritised this matter. The Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality recently held hearings in regard to reviewing the domestic and sexual violence laws. Deputy Anne Ferris and myself are the rapporteurs and we hope to have the report completed before the Dáil goes into recess and to make it available to the Department. This matter was raised by a number of contributors to the hearings, who felt it was imperative that the convention be ratified at the earliest possible opportunity. I join with Deputy Coppinger in urging that this be the case. I welcome the fact the Minister has made a priority of it.

I welcome that work and the committee's report, which I look forward to receiving. I take this opportunity to thank the committee for the focus it has put on this area. It is extremely important that it should be the focus of discussion and debate in this House.

Direct Provision System

Joe Higgins

Question:

72. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if she will end the system of direct provision for asylum seekers; and her views on the number of children in the system, the length of time spent by asylum seekers in direct provision centres, the living conditions and standards, and the absence of independent inspection or complaints procedure. [26757/14]

I would like to ask the Minister to deal with the issue of direct provision for those seeking asylum and the unsuitability of continuing with those arrangements in view of the effect on the human beings who are the subject of this, particularly children.

As the Deputy knows, the Reception and Integration Agency, RIA, of my Department is responsible for the accommodation of protection applicants in accordance with Government policy in this country. I spent some time recently visiting Mosney and met with many of the residents there as well as staff and management. I acknowledge that the length of time residents spend in direct provision is an issue to be addressed. My immediate priority is to ensure that the factors leading to delays in the processing of cases are dealt with so that protection seekers spend as little time as necessary in direct provision.

A key priority for Government is legislative reform aimed at establishing a single application procedure for the investigation of all grounds for protection and any other grounds presented by applicants seeking to remain in the State. I believe such reform would substantially simplify and streamline the existing arrangements by removing the current multi-layered and sequential processes that people get caught up in, choose to use or have to use. This would provide applicants with a final decision on their application in a more straightforward and timely fashion.

I am reviewing the work done to date in respect of the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill and will then decide how best to progress the implementation of this priority, in particular with regard to expediting the aspects of the Bill that will lead to the establishment of a single application procedure.

With regard to the more specific matters raised by the Deputy, there are 4,353 persons availing of direct provision accommodation in 34 centres, some 38% of whom are children under 18, as the Deputy pointed out. Sixty-eight percent of those residents first claimed international protection in Ireland three or more years ago. I want to put on the record of the House that centres are inspected three times a year, once by an independent company. Obviously, various clinics and support services are made available to residents in direct provision, as I saw in Mosney - for example, young children can attend the early childhood care and education, ECCE, programme.

The child protection and Garda vetting policies are in place for all centres. It is very important to record the fact that all of these safety policies apply to the centres as much as to anywhere else. There is also a complaints mechanism. I have asked the RIA to highlight the statistics relating to children in direct provision accommodation and ensure as much information on them as possible is given. The Deputy will notice that it is included in its annual report this year.

A child protection policy based on the HSE's Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children is applied. I take the overall point made by the Deputy about the difficulties experienced in spending long periods in direct provision accommodation.

Everyone agrees that decision-making needs to be significantly expedited. I thoroughly agree, but my question deals with existing conditions because the people in direct provision accommodation still face a long period of time in the system. Does the Minister agree that the living conditions enforced on people as a consequence of the current method used are inhuman? As she noted, 38% of those in direct provision accommodation are children. Is it not unsuitable for children to be in such an environment for three to five years in which they will never know a mother or father who cooks a meal because it is not possible to do so in such cases, in which they will never see a parent or an elder sibling go out to work because they are prohibited from doing so, in which there is very little privacy and no right to education resulting in de-skilling and in which there is isolation from society? Does the Minister agree that this is inhuman and should be changed while she is trying to deal with a process to hear people's stories?

I certainly believe we must ensure the best possible standards are applied in the centres in which people are living. I recently visited the centre in Mosney and met the staff and management. I am sure the Deputy has visited some of the centres. Clearly, a lot of work is done to ensure, given the circumstances that apply, that people's needs are met as much as possible. Of course, any provision system is inextricably linked with the surrounding international protection process. As the Deputy is aware, countries vary in how they deal with the challenges posed by the numbers seeking refugee status or asylum and the type of accommodation provided. Clearly, Ireland has taken a decision to provide a certain type of accommodation. The biggest problem, certainly one of the key issues, with the current system is the one I mentioned, namely, the length of time people spend in direct provision accommodation. I want to bring forward legislative reforms aimed at establishing a single application procedure in the investigation of all grounds for protection and any other ground presented by applicants seeking asylum because if we deal with that issue and the length of time involved, it will go a long way towards improving the position.

I will not make any suggestion concerning how some of the horror stories we have heard in recent weeks about our past and how children were treated can be equated with what is happening today. However, I will make the general point that we have learned lessons from the horrors inflicted on people, including women and children, particularly in the past. Taking into account what I said, I put to the Minister that we should realise people are being damaged by living conditions in direct provision accommodation.

It has a dehumanising effect on children. Is the Minister aware that in some cases women, in particular, are more vulnerable in these circumstances? Where they might be subject to violence and assault, these conditions exacerbate that. That is what we are told by those who work with those in direct provision and we have to take this seriously. As well as pushing forward on the processing of people seeking refuge, this issue needs to be urgently examined and direct provision changed fundamentally.

I welcome the Minister's reply and I acknowledge that 60,000 people have received citizenship since the Government came into power. Has she considered putting a process in place whereby the people who are waiting longest on their application to be dealt with would be prioritised? Some of the families have children who have been in such accommodation for up to nine years and they have been known nothing else.

Clearly, where is it possible to make the decision Deputy Humphreys referred to, that will be done, but frequently, the reason for the long delays is that individuals have taken a range of judicial reviews and other legal remedies regarding their case, which then prohibits the discretion she suggests.

With regard to Deputy Higgins's question, until this year it was difficult to compare how Ireland was doing relative to other countries, but we now have a report by the European Migration Network which examined 23 countries and made recommendations about good practice and dealing as sensitively as possible with people seeking asylum, and we will examine that. I agree with him that women and children are vulnerable in these circumstances. That is why we have inspection regimes and we apply the Children First guidelines. In addition, young children in direct provision have access to the ECCE scheme and attend local primary and secondary schools. However, I reiterate that the time families are spending in direct provision is a key issue that needs to be addressed urgently, and that is why I am considering dealing with it before dealing with the immigration Bill.

Magdalen Laundries

Maureen O'Sullivan

Question:

73. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if she will provide statistics on the number of women applying to the Magdalen fund who have accepted compensation from the fund to date; the number who have had their applications denied on the basis that the institution in which they spent time is not covered by the scheme; the numbers who listed An Grianán as the institution in which they spent time; the number of applications pending; and the number of women who are appealing their offers of compensation. [26575/14]

The Minister answered part of the question earlier. I sought statistics regarding those who have accepted compensation under the Magdalen fund and those who have applications pending. However, another few aspects need to be addressed.

In the light of the Government decision to implement the scheme recommended by Judge Quirke, my Department established a dedicated unit of nine officers whose sole task is to assist in the implementation of the scheme. A total of 754 applications have been received to date and 357 applicants have received their lump sum payment so far. The cost is €12.8 million to date. I may have said €10 million earlier. A further 106 formal offers have been made and letters of provisional assessment on the length of stay in a relevant institution have issued to an additional 35 applicants.

The remaining cases require further investigation. There is a problem. If the relevant religious congregation has no clear record, as is often the case, my officials will carry out a thorough examination to check whatever records are available to support the claim. Applicants consented to the provision of personal information to my Department by any Department, health or educational institution and the religious congregations for the purpose of verifying their claim. That work is under way and huge support has been offered to individual applicants where no records are available. Every effort is being made to work with other Departments to check where the possibility of a record exists. The applicants have given permission to gather that information together and that will help in order that corroborative information can be used to verify that the applicant was in an institution for a given period.

I acknowledge what has been done to date and the Minister's response when I raised this issue on Leaders' Questions recently. However, there is a problem in that only 50% of the applicants have been dealt with and the pace is slow. Can those who are of advanced years or who have serious health problems be prioritised? Is the Minister satisfied that the Department is in receipt of all the records that are available, not only from the religious orders that were involved but from other sources, and is she satisfied that they have been co-operating?

There is also the issue of those who have been refused. Is the Ombudsman their only recourse or is there another way they can be advocated for? I refer to ladies who have mental health issues and are unable to advocate for themselves. They either had a mental health issue that caused them to be placed in an institution or the issue emerged or was exacerbated because they were institutionalised. What is the position in this regard? What is the position of ladies who are in nursing homes and still under the care of a religious order? I acknowledge that the quality of care is excellent. These are outstanding issues, including the pace of the inquiries. I hope those living outside the State and those with serious medical issues can be addressed as a priority.

We have a mechanism to support those who are outside the country to ensure they access medical services, which was agreed by the Government this morning. The issue of vulnerable persons was also included in the heads of the Bill that went to Cabinet earlier to ensure there is legal provision for relatives or other appropriate persons to act on behalf of the women who do not have the capacity to act on their own behalf. That is included in the legislation that will come before the House. That will deal with the issues the Deputy raised regarding women who have mental health difficulties or are vulnerable, or those who are in living in nursing homes and need support.

The Deputy also asked whether all the records were being made available. Every effort is being made to get them and all the applicants have agreed that the Department can approach other agencies to get whatever information is available. It is probably difficult to judge precisely how much co-operation there has been but, clearly, every effort is being made to ask for the records and I hope people will co-operate.

With regard to appeals, one can appeal to the Ombudsman, but if applicants disagree with the provisional assessment made by the restorative justice implementation team, they can request an internal review of their case. If there are cases the Deputy feels require a further internal review, that will be possible. There are five internal review cases on hand and ten applicants have lodged an appeal with the Ombudsman's office.