Leaders' Questions

I want to raise a legacy issue which affects all parties that have been in government over the past several years. I am not doing this in any political point scoring manner and I accept previous Governments were equally culpable in this regard. It is about the legacy issue of how the State dealt with child sex abuse in national day schools. The State fought against any idea of culpability for that until Louise O'Keeffe won a major breakthrough case in the European Court of Human Rights in 2014. The Taoiseach will be familiar with that case.

The State's response to that European Court of Human Rights judgment has been a significant failure, leaving much to be desired, however. The State introduced an ex gratia payment scheme but, in many respects, the limits were too low. The prior complaint expedient that was inserted effectively debarred many from seeking justice. Only seven settlements so far have been reached out of 210 cases, with the remainder still going through the courts.

Recently, I met a victim who has been involved in this situation for some time. He was the victim of horrific abuse at the hands of a Christian Brother in a school. The abuser was subsequently convicted in this and other abuse cases. There are a number of other victims out there at the moment. The man in question has been up and down through the courts and the religious orders but has received no compensation or a cent from the State.

Many of the people in question discontinued their cases when the Supreme Court ruled the State did not have an obligation. Recently, the High Court stated it will not uphold their rights to pursue their cases again in law. In his ruling, Mr. Justice Max Barrett said, "[But] the Irish people, with their great and proper sense of justice, may well conclude that the path of rightness in this matter should lead ultimately to a different end". He added, "As an Irishman, I would respectfully agree".

Essentially what has gone on is unacceptable. After the Ryan report, the Taoiseach then said the response of the State should "draw together all the generosity, sensitivity and compassion that should have been shown to survivors when they were children". He went on to say Ireland should become a world leader in reconciliation and reparation. According to the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Richard Bruton, in a parliamentary reply, there are 210 cases. By any objective standard, that is a finite number. Either through the criminal injuries tribunal or some other method, I implore the Taoiseach - I am willing to be open and responsive - to get a mechanism to ensure the victim I met, as well as others, will be properly and duly responded to by the State.

I know the Deputy has raised this out of a sense of seriousness because it is ultimately the most personally invasive and sensitive issue which could arise. I remember meeting Louise O'Keeffe with the then Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan. There was a huge file on the case, leaving aside her courage in pursuing her case in the European court.

I do not know how many victims of sexual abuse there have been over the years in the primary school system. It is no more than the secondary school system, I assume. We had the redress scheme, the case of all the Magdalenes - not that there was sexual abuse in the vast majority of cases - and the mother and baby home report which will come before the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. We will have to see what that means.

I cannot recall all the details of the file in this case. Deputy Micheál Martin's asked if something can be done about this. I have no idea of the scale of what might be involved. I need to read the detail of the file and the legal outcomes.

People who were abused have to live with that for all of their lives. It is a horrific issue to have to contend with every waking moment. I do not want to go beyond that. To commit to something that I do not have the full facts or details about would not be appropriate on the floor of the Dáil. The sexual abuse of children is a horrific crime. Those who perpetrate such crimes, if they are still around, should be brought before justice. To go back the distance involved here would present an enormous scale and challenge. Deputy Micheál Martin has made a point. I will have to look at the scale of what might be involved to answer his question on whether anything might be possible. I do not want to give a commitment without focussing on the potential scale of what is involved.

In July 2016 on Leaders' Questions, the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Richard Bruton, quoted a figure of 210 victims whose cases are going through the courts. There is a sense there is a finite number which can be dealt with. As late as this summer, some of these victims were threatened with legal costs. From the victims' perspective, the State is adversarial the whole way through, even where convictions have been secured against the abusers. By any objective yardstick or analysis of it, particularly given that a 17-judge European court made it clear the State was liable, there is a sense the State is welching on its liability in trying to circumvent it. It is not being holistic, generous or following through in the spirit which most Members would have thought would have been the order of the day.

I know the Taoiseach is very busy, but I am raising this in a non-political way. Every Member will agree we need to look afresh at the cases involved and we, as a State, should be approaching this far differently than we have been. The State has been too punitive and too adversarial against the individuals concerned. The individuals in question have been to hell and back.

Deputy Micheál Martin mentioned seven out of 210 cases have been settled. That is 210 cases before the courts. However, we have no idea of the numbers who might wish to come forward to say they were sexually abused in school X or Y by teacher or person X or Y. We have no idea of the scale of that.

When the State dealt with the Louise O'Keeffe case on 28 January 2014, when the judgment was issued, it made awards both in respect of pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages, costs and expenses. It also agreed in December 2014 that out-of-court settlements will be offered to those extant cases of school child sexual abuse being brought against the State where the cases came within the terms of the European Court of Human Rights judgment and satisfied the Statute of Limitations. In that regard, the State Claims Agency, which manages such cases on behalf of the State, has made settlement offers which have been accepted in six cases. In July 2015, the Government approved proposals to offer ex gratia payments of up to a maximum of €84,000 to those who initiated legal proceedings in such cases against the State, but who subsequently discontinued their claims against the State and where, similarly, the circumstances of the claims came within the terms of the European Court of Human Rights judgment, and where the claims were not statute barred prior to the proceedings being discontinued. I will follow through on the Deputy's question.

On Monday the First and deputy First Ministers, Ms Arlene Foster and Mr. Martin McGuinness, with the First Minister of Scotland, Ms Nicola Sturgeon, and the First Minister of Wales, Mr. Carwyn Jones, met the British Prime Minister, Ms Theresa May, in London. It was the first meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee in almost two years. All of those involved demanded that be fully involved in the British Government's negotiations in leaving the European Union. However, it is clear that the British Government has no intention of allowing this to happen. Instead, the leaders were offered access to the Tory Government's Brexit Minister. Downing Street officials were busy warning against any attempt by Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to undermine the British Government's position. The British Government's approach is to negotiate Brexit in its entirely for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland without any recognition of the "Remain" vote in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

What happens in Scotland is a matter for its people and what happens in the North is our business. In their joint letter to the British Prime Minister on 1 August the First and the Deputy First Ministers outlined their agreed key priorities, which included the cross-Border movement of people, goods and services; trading costs; business competitiveness; certainty in the draw-down of funding and support for the agrifood sector. The Taoiseach is well aware that the DUP and Sinn Féin hold opposite positions on Brexit, but this should not be used as an excuse by the Irish Government to resile from its responsibilities to the people of the Six Counties. It must be remembered that the DUP is formally opposed to the Good Friday Agreement, but as we all know, the Agreement must be upheld and advanced. The DUP knows this and that it also applies to the "Remain" vote in the North. The role and responsibility of the Irish Government, as co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, must be to defend the integrity of the Agreement and ensure the "Remain" vote is respected and upheld.

Some in this Chamber have complained about the absence of concern on the part of the British Government about how Brexit will impact on Ireland. There is nothing new in the current British stance: it was always thus. Wolfe Tone would hardly be surprised. We should not spend too much time blowing hot air about Perfidious Albion. What we need to do is get our own house in order. It is vital that the Irish Government have an informed strategy for how our national interests will be protected and this means having an all-island vision. I cannot say often enough that what we need is a 32-county vision. Does the Taoiseach agree that the all-Ireland civic dialogue should identify and charter a course to ensure the whole island will remain within the European Union?

I have written twice to the Taoiseach's Department to ask what bodies and organisations have been invited to participate in the dialogue, but I have not received a reply. Will the Taoiseach tell us how often the all-Ireland civic dialogue will be convened and whether it will meet in different parts of the country, including the North?

We will not resile from our responsibilities. We are well aware of the fact that we are a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement. That is the very point I have been making for quite some time. For all of the leaders I have met at European level, the first point of contact for their interest in this country is the protection of the peace process and all that it brings with it. Our priorities are citizens, the economy, job retention, the Border area, not returning to a hard border, the common travel area, the peace process and all that goes with it.

The Deputy will be aware that I have made it perfectly clear that we should have an all-island conversation. It will take place next Wednesday, although it will be disrupted a little owing to the recall of the Dáil. Be that as it may, it is important that we hear all voices on the entire island of Ireland, including of those in the South who export to the North and vice versa, on issues such as cross-Border activities and activities east and west between Ireland and the United Kingdom which, as the Deputy will be aware, represent a figure of over €1 billion in trade every week.

The civic forum will meet on Wednesday and I understand approximately 300 invitations have been issued. I will publish the list of all those who have been invited to attend. It will be the first in a series of meetings to be held. There will also be meetings to discuss individual sectors, be it the agriculture sector, the hospitality sector, the financial sector and so on. All sectors must be conversed with and heard in order that we will know exactly what we are talking about. The Deputy will be aware that I have instructed every Minister to engage directly with his or her counterpart in Northern Ireland before the North-South Ministerial Council meets on 18 November. I hope that, following the comments made by the First and the Deputy First Ministers on Downing Street which I noted with great care, the focus will be on reaching an agreed position in the Northern Ireland Executive on the priorities for Northern Ireland. That will be difficult, politically, but that is what politics is about. The DUP has a particular view on the vote and every other party has a different one. It is the bringing of these two positions together in the interests of the people of Northern Ireland that concerns me. In so far as that is concerned, I hope the first meeting of the civic forum next Wednesday which, as I said, will be the first in a series of meetings will bring about cohesion and a real focus on people's concerns, anxieties and fears arising from the many comments made on the nature of what Britain will look for, be it a hard Brexit, a soft Brexit, removal from the Single Market, the customs union and so on, all of which will bring their own challenges. We cannot, however, decide on what we need to negotiate on until we know what Britain is looking for. The British Prime Minister has clarified that she will trigger Article 50 before the end of March, but long before then we will have to have a detailed analysis of the contingencies that might have to be played out.

I will publish the list of those who have been invited to attend the civic forum. I expect Deputy Gerry Adams to attend on Wednesday, too.

I thank the Taoiseach for his invitation. I would like to ask him about the reports that the Irish Government has reached an agreement with the British Government on immigration controls at Irish ports and airports. This is my fourth attempt to get an answer to this question. I should caution the Taoiseach that I have written to the Ceann Comhairle under Standing Order 44A about his refusal to respond and that anything he might say could be written down and used in evidence against him.

In what type of court?

The British Government announced on 9 October that it had put in place a range of measures to further combat illegal migration, on which it is working closely with the Irish Government. In this regard, it was stated: "Our focus is to strengthen the external border of the common travel area, building on the strong collaboration of our Irish partners." In other words, the British Government is claiming that, with the agreement of the Irish Government, it will move the front line of its immigration controls to Ireland. That is not viable. The Tánaiste has been reported as saying there is nothing surprising about this. For his part, the Taoiseach has said nothing. Will he comment and make a public statement on the matter today?

It was made clear after my meeting with the Prime Minister in Downing Street that we did not want a return to having a hard border and that we did not want to see an end to the common travel area, which has been in place since 1922. It worked well when the two countries were outside the European Union and has worked well with both inside it. It has been untested with one and one out. There is a strong belief we can retain it. On not having a hard border, we have made it clear that we do not want to see a return to customs posts in the traditional manner that led to all sorts of incident, including smuggling and much more serious life and death matters, as Deputy is well aware.

The Deputy asked if we had an agreement with the British Government on the use of Irish ports. We do not have an agreement because we do not yet know whether the British Government is looking for a hard exit from the customs union and the Single Market and controls at its own borders or something else. We must wait until such time as it decides to say what it is looking for. Ireland will remain a member of the European Union. If, for instance, the United Kingdom removes itself from the customs union, it will lead to a serious challenge in terms of the imposition tariffs by the World Trade Organization. If it removes itself from the Single Market and tries to control its own borders, it will not have access to the Single Market without the freedom of movement of people. These are all challenges. I hope that answers the Deputy's question. If he has taken it down to be used in evidence against me, he can use it again.

There seems to be a very softly-softly, kid-gloves treatment of certain well-heeled taxpayers by the Minister for Finance and the Revenue Commissioners. Did I say "taxpayers"? Sorry, I meant to say wealthy people who are abusing our tax laws in some cases or, in other cases, engaging in outright tax evasion. In the first group, wealthy people are using a loophole to transfer wealth to their children without paying inheritance tax. They are using the dwelling house exemption section 86 relief that was introduced in 2000. Under section 86, second and, in some cases, third and fourth homes are being bought for children, often for more than €1 million. The children live in these homes for a period and can then inherit them tax free when their parents die. Ordinary people do not have that choice and must pay inheritance tax at 33%. In many cases, families have to sell off their family homes to pay inheritance tax. The abuse of the scheme has been of concern to Revenue for years. It was expected the loophole would be closed in budget 2017 but it was not. The Minister has said he is considering the issue. What is there to consider? It is a loophole and as such one closes it. The opportunity is still there but I have read through the Finance Bill and it is not even mentioned. I was also amazed to see tax evaders use offshore companies. People who have already been identified by Revenue have been sent a friendly letter warning them and giving them six months to get their tax affairs in order. Why is that? Any ordinary taxpayer who owes money to Revenue is told he or she must pay upfront and over a period of time.

Why is there such reluctance on the part of the political establishment to make very profitable companies and wealthy individuals pay tax in this country? I want the Taoiseach to explain to the people of Ireland why the opportunity is not being taken in the Finance Bill 2016 to close the tax rule on the dwelling house exemption in respect of the section 86 relief.

The Finance Bill is on Second Stage in the House and is being taken by the Minister for Finance himself. If the Deputy has an issue in respect of inheritance tax, I suggest she puts down an amendment and has that discussed on Committee Stage.

I welcome that and I will do so. I have often raised issues in regard to Bills and they are never taken on board. I wanted to raise this in the Chamber with the Taoiseach to ensure that it is dealt with. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, admitted recently that the tax provision was being exploited by wealthy people. Tax experts say well-heeled people are now gifting houses worth €1 million or more to their children and using the inheritance tax exemption to avoid tax. As well as avoiding tax, many of those exploiting the dwelling house exemption are renting out their properties, which breaks the rules attaching to the relief. This information comes from Susan Murphy of Make My Will Solicitors who says the last few years have seen a large increase in the number of section 86 claims. Last year, approximately 741 people claimed the exemption, which number was up from almost 500 in 2012. They are blatantly abusing this tax scheme. I ask the Government side to ensure that any amendment I put down is supported and to support my position in relation to evasion by wealthy companies in respect of moneys owed to the State.

The Minister has made some changes to the threshold in respect of inheritance tax.

He has not made it yet. He said he would.

The Minister has also made changes in respect of section 110 with regard to vulture funds and all of that. It is obvious the Minister does not favour either tax avoidance or tax evasion and has closed many loopholes in his time as Minister for Finance.

Obviously, he does.

Deputy Collins is entitled to raise the issue and air it here, of course. I suggest that if she wants a further discussion on it, she should put down an amendment on the specifics of what she is talking about.

Why does the Minister not put in an amendment?

I want to bring to the attention of the Taoiseach and, in particular, the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, the report published in 2011 entitled, Time to Move On from Congregated Settings. This was a strategy for community inclusion. I agree that there are people in institutions who should not be there and who should be integrated into our community. However, there were 72 institutions which were, in fact, living breathing communities. The example I give today is St. Mary of the Angels in Beaufort, County Kerry, which provides an excellent service, as did the other 71 centres. In Kerry, we also had Glebe Lodge in Castleisland and Kerry Cheshire Home in Killarney. My problem with the report is that it is closing these facilities down. These facilities were centres of excellence for dealing with people with intellectual and physical disabilities. I refer to people who have profound disabilities and who are incapable of living in communities. Their parents and carers realise this but the institutions are no longer taking in new residents with these disabilities. What is the answer for the young parents of today who have children for whom they are not able to cater at home? There is no place for them to go while we are closing down centres of excellence.

There is confusion.

There is no confusion.

In yesterday's Irish Examiner, Claire O'Sullivan reported that the manager of St. Mary of the Angels said it is not closing. However, the Minister of State, Deputy McGrath, said the HSE had met public representatives and was clear in stating that St. Mary of the Angels will close over time. My problem is that we do not want it to close. It is doing excellent work. With 4,000 people living in the 72 communities covered by the report, it is proposed to ensure that there will be no further admissions and no further need for congregated settings. If nobody is being taken in, that is, in effect, to close every one of those facilities down. What is going to happen to young people who need somewhere to go because they cannot be kept at home? I want the Taoiseach and the Minister of State to come to Kerry to look at St. Mary of the Angels as an example of the service being provided to these people. I ask them to then go on a forum like Radio Kerry to explain to mothers, fathers and relatives why these people are going to see their excellent facilities closed down. I appreciate that when the report was compiled, it was done in good faith and with good reason. However, the message here is that one shoe does not fit all sizes. This is a retrograde step.

I thank Deputy Healy-Rae for his question. The Time to Move On from Congregated Settings report found that there were a number of people still experiencing institutional living conditions which were not right in this day and age. Good progress has been made. In 2008, 4,000 people resided in congregated settings whereas in September 2014, that number was approximately 3,200. Today, the figure is under 2,225. The Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, announced funding of €20 million in June for the HSE to move people out of congregated settings and that funding will be used to relocate approximately 165 people living in 14 institutions nationally.

The focus here has to be on the person concerned, as Deputy Healy-Rae is well aware. With regard to St. Mary of the Angels, it is important to say that there is no imminent closure involved here. The HSE is consulting with the families and local communities to find the best solution for each individual. I understand that the St. John of God services have acknowledged that communications could and should have been better in this regard so that everybody knew what was involved. It is important, however, to point out that it is the policy of Government and the HSE to move on from congregated settings in the best interests of individuals and to do so in a planned and phased manner.

On 18 September, a family forum meeting took place. Discussions were held around HIQA inspections and decongregation and concerns were raised. Many family members were concerned that their relatives would not be suitable for community living. Some attendees said not enough information was given to them around the decongregation policy. Assurances were given that this was being done on a phased basis through the use of what was termed "community transition plans" and that it would only apply if it improved the quality of life of the individual. It was agreed that a family representative group would be set up and a meeting arranged with the senior management of the St. John of God services in Kerry. On 28 September, family members of all service users on the campus were contacted on an individual basis and reassurance was provided to them that they would be consulted fully and involved in any changes relating to their family members currently living in St. Mary of the Angels.

On 5 October, representatives of St. John of God services and the HSE disability services met the family representative group to discuss the concerns that had been outlined by family members. Representatives also met public representatives on 17 October to brief the group on the time to move out of conjugated settings. Notwithstanding these actions, St. John of God said that there were deficiencies.

There are currently 77 adults with intellectual disabilities residing on the campus. Of these, 17 are accommodated in an old-style ward. It is not suitable in this day and age and does not meet national standards for residential accommodation. It is understood that they will not be the first people to move out, but that they may move to more suitable accommodation within the campus. The Deputy can take it that there will be far more discussion and engagement with everybody before anything is done in respect of any individual.

I thank the Taoiseach. While he said the closure of St. Mary of the Angels is not imminent, he has not said it will not close. The truth is that if people are no longer being taken in, by natural progression through death and the passage of time the buildings will become empty and the service will not continue to do what it has done in the past, namely, provide excellent care. Where are these people supposed to go?

Living in what the Taoiseach calls communities outside of congregated settings is not suitable for all people. The Taoiseach knows in his own constituency that there are young people with profound disabilities who are incapable of having suitable accommodation provided for them in a village, town or other setting. They need to be in what I would call a centre of excellence. I want it to be recognised that the 72 centres or homes - call them whatever one likes - and the carers, managers and workers in these facilities has given excellent care over the years. We are now breaking that system up. Why are we doing that?

We are taking for granted that this report is excellent, right and perfect. It is not. It is not addressing the problems people in the future who will have profound physical and mental disabilities will face. We need to have a proper place for them to go to. We are breaking up that system for no good reason.

Deputy Healy-Rae will appreciate that we have moved beyond the point where everybody might be institutionalised in these kinds of settings. That is not to decry the service given by the staff in settings over the years. There have been difficulties in some institutions, including one notable case in the West some time ago.

There are people are currently living in institutions like this who can benefit from moving back into their communities where services are provided for them. As the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, has pointed out, there are some places in Dublin where staff have moved with them. The change and quality of life is much better for those people.

I assure the Deputy that every one of the individuals in the institution has a caseworker. Nothing will be done without full consultation. As every public representative knows, when very good home care packages are provided, irrespective of the scale of challenge a person faces, it is better for people to be with their own families, in their own communities, and have services provided for them.

Some people have an extreme range of issues and some may find accommodation on the existing campus. As I said, there is no immediate or imminent closure of this institution. There will be proper, full and thorough consultation in the interests of each of the individuals concerned before any decision is made.