I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I am pleased to present the Redress for Women Resident in Certain Institutions (Amendment) Bill 2019. The purpose of this Bill is to amend the Redress for Women Resident in Certain Institutions Act 2015. The Magdalen restorative justice ex gratia scheme was established in 2013 on foot of the recommendations contained in the Magdalen commission report, otherwise known as the Quirke report. That report was a response to an interdepartmental Government committee report, otherwise known as the McAleese report, set up to establish the facts of State involvement with the Magdalen laundries.
The ex gratia scheme was established for the benefit of women who were admitted to and worked in the ten Magdalen institutions, as well as St. Mary's training centre in Stanhope Street and the House of Mercy domestic training school in Summerhill, Wexford. For the purposes of the ex gratia scheme, these 12 institutions are collectively called the Magdalen institutions. The scheme involves the payment to successful applicants of lump sums, the making of ongoing pension-type payments and the conferring of a range of health benefits including the disregard of these payments for the purposes of the nursing home support scheme.
As Deputies will be aware, the Ombudsman made a number of recommendations in November 2017 on the operation of the Magdalen restorative justice ex gratia scheme. The Ombudsman's principal recommendation was that the scheme should be extended so that it would apply to those women who worked in the laundry of one of 12 Magdalen institutions and who were resident in one of 14 adjoining institutions.
Following the report of the Ombudsman on the redress scheme, the Government agreed to apply the entitlements of the scheme to those eligible women who worked in the institutions covered by the scheme, while residing in certain adjoining institutions. The purpose of this amending Bill, which is short and technical in nature, is to apply these same health benefits to those women who qualify under the November 2018 addendum to the Magdalen redress scheme.
On 29 May 2018, following a report on the scheme by the Ombudsman, the Government agreed to apply the Magdalen redress scheme to women who worked in the institutions covered by the scheme while residing in certain adjoining institutions. The payment of lump sums and pension-type payments to this new cohort of women is being made on an administrative basis. However, conferring the health benefits under the original scope of the scheme required statutory provision, which was made in the Redress for Women Resident in Certain Institutions Act 2015. The Office of the Attorney General advised that technical amendments to the 2015 Act were required to confer the health benefits on this new cohort of women who worked in the Magdalen institutions but were resident in adjoining institutions.
As I said earlier, the 2015 Act provides that a suite of certain health services is to be made available without charge to successful applicants under the Magdalen restorative justice ex gratia scheme. It also provides that ex gratia payments made to the women arising from this Magdalen redress scheme will be disregarded for the purposes of a financial assessment of means in respect of the fair deal scheme under the Nursing Homes Support Scheme Act 2009.
The addendum to the Magdalen redress scheme was established in November 2018 and expanded the scope of that scheme to include the provision of lump sum payments and pension-type payments to this new cohort of women. There are currently 104 applications under the addendum. These consist of 52 cases refused under the original scheme which may now be eligible and 52 new applications. In this regard 47 applicants have received their ex gratia award and offers have issued to a further 22 applicants. To date, €28.929 million has been paid to 755 women under the Magdalen restorative justice ex gratia scheme. Having regard to the fact that it is Government policy that benefits should accrue to both cohorts in the same way, the Ombudsman's recommendation also necessitated changes to two Acts. A specific provision was included in the Finance Act 2018 to provide for tax exemption in respect of payments awarded to the women. The second relates to the provision of certain health services, the subject of the Bill we are debating this evening, which will ensure that the same health benefits that apply to the women covered by the original 2013 scheme also apply to the new cohort of women covered by the addendum. This amending Bill will also make a technical amendment to the Nursing Home Support Scheme Act 2009, which provides for the fair deal scheme. This amendment is necessary to ensure that any lump-sum payment received through the Magdalen redress scheme by this new cohort of women will not be taken into account when assessing them for nursing home care under the fair deal scheme.
There were three other recommendations of the Ombudsman. These relate, first, to assistance to applicants who lack capacity to accept an award and, second, to a review of those cases where there is a dispute in respect of length of stay in a Magdalen institution. A senior counsel was appointed to carry out both these tasks. All but one of the capacity cases have now been resolved and the review in relation to the length of stay issue is ongoing. The third recommendation by the Ombudsman was that guidance should be provided for future redress schemes. A working group led by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is examining this issue. Officials in my Department have kept the Ombudsman informed of progress in relation to the implementation of his recommendations and last month I met the Ombudsman, who acknowledged the progress that has been made, to date, in implementing his recommendations.
The Redress for Women Resident in Certain Institutions (Amendment) Bill 2019 consists of five sections: section 1 provides for a definition of the "Principal Act", as the 2015 Act in the Bill. Section 2 amends the definition of the "scheme" in the 2015 Act to allow the eligibility to receive health benefits provided for in the 2015 Act to be extended to this new cohort of women. This section also provides for an amendment of section 1 of the principal Act, thus expanding the scope of the Act by including an additional definition of "addendum", which relates to the expansion of the Magdalen restorative justice ex gratia scheme in November 2018 to allow for payments to this new cohort of women who worked in the Magdalen laundries but were resident in adjoining institutions. Section 3 expands the scope of Section 2(1)(f) of the 2015 Act so that this counselling service may be made available to the new cohort of women. Section 4 provides for an amendment to the Nursing Home Support Scheme Act 2009 so that any ex gratia payment made under the scheme to the new cohort of women will be disregarded in terms of calculating a means assessment for the fair deal scheme, which provides nursing home support. Section 5 provides for the Short Title and commencement provisions of the Bill.
I pay tribute to the women who worked in these Magdalen institutions and salute their courage and dignity in the face of the undeniable hardship they faced in these institutions. Unfortunately, this Bill cannot prevent or undo the events of the past which were visited on these women but this legislation may play a small part in redressing the situation. That is why it is important. I am grateful to the Business Committee for scheduling this before the summer recess. It is my hope that the Bill can now progress through this House so these women can avail of these benefits as soon as possible and I ask Deputies to support its passage this evening. Accordingly, I am pleased to present and commend this Bill to this House and I hope that we can make progress this evening.