Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (Amendment) Bill 2005: Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am delighted to commence the debate in this House on the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (Amendment) Bill 2005. The Bill amends the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Act 2000 and the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002 and establishes a statutory body to administer a €12.7 million education fund for former residents of institutions and their families.

Before outlining the purpose of the Bill to the House today, it is important to draw attention to the general background to the Bill which has been passed by the Lower House. The Members are no doubt aware of the progress made in this area since the Taoiseach's apology of 11 May 1999, when he announced a series of Government measures for the redress of abuse. These measures included the establishment of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, amendments to the Statute of Limitations and the establishment of a national counselling service.

The Government subsequently announced the setting up of a financial redress scheme for victims of abuse and the establishment of a statutory redress board to administer such a scheme. Following the resignation of Ms Justice Mary Laffoy as chairperson of the commission, on 26 September 2003 the Government appointed Mr. Justice Sean Ryan, then senior counsel, as chairperson-designate of the commission.

The Government requested Mr. Justice Ryan to undertake immediately his own independent review of the working of the commission. Mr. Justice Ryan's report was published on 15 January 2004, together with the review completed by the Office of the Attorney General. The Government accepted the recommendations contained in Mr. Justice Ryan's report. Following the publication of this report, the investigation committee held consultation meetings with all interested parties and representative groups to facilitate them in expressing their views regarding the content of both reports and to enable them to make suggestions in respect of the future operation of the investigation committee. A formal hearing of the investigation committee took place on 24 May 2004 to receive submissions on identifying institutions and persons under the Act. Representative groups were also given an opportunity to express their views on the matter. On 16 June 2004, Mr. Justice Ryan publicly stated that the commission had decided to proceed in accordance with the position paper published on 7 May 2004.

The confidential committee of the commission continues to operate as normal and by 17 June 2005, it had heard evidence from 1,082 witnesses. The confidential committee will continue to hear evidence in the coming months from the remaining witnesses after which it will prepare its report and present it to the commission.

The investigation committee has held a series of hearings into the emergence of child abuse. The Taoiseach, former Ministers for Education and Science, Deputies Martin and Woods, officials of my Department as well as other Departments, the congregations and survivor group leaders have all given evidence to the committee regarding the background to the establishment of the commission. The aim of these public hearings was to establish how child abuse as an issue emerged in the State on an historical basis.

In addition to the public hearings noted earlier, the investigation committee has commenced hearings into specific institutions commencing with St. Joseph's, Clonmel, in September 2004. Hearings on St. Patrick's industrial school, Upton, took place in October 2004; on Our Lady of Succour industrial school, Newtownforbes, in January 2005; on St. Patrick's, Kilkenny, in February 2005; on St. Vincent's, Goldenbridge, in March 2005; on St. Conleth's reformatory school, Daingean, County Offaly, in May 2005; and those on St. Joseph's, Letterfrack, commenced on 16 June 2005.

In his programme of work for 2005, Mr. Justice Ryan has outlined that the investigation committee will interview all of the approximately 1,300 people who decided to continue to participate in the inquiry by the investigation committee. This process has already commenced and is being conducted by members of the commission's legal team. The information obtained in these interviews will be collected and produced in a report which will then be distributed as appropriate to relevant bodies for comment and discussion. If there are material areas of dispute, the committee will arrange for further investigation, including full hearings if appropriate. In the interview process, witnesses whose experience must be investigated further by the committee will be chosen for later appearance before the committee in full session with cross-examination taking place.

In order to do this, the investigation committee must first establish how many individuals are willing to give evidence and whether that evidence is necessary in order to cover the full range of complaints before it. The basis of choosing witnesses is to give as full a picture as possible of life in the relevant institution, covering the range of complaints and experiences over the period under investigation.

If the investigation committee does not get enough information from the witnesses that have been chosen to give evidence in respect of any institution, it will call more witnesses until the point of sufficiency has been reached. In other words, the process is not mechanical, whereby a certain percentage or proportion of complainants is called to give evidence before the investigation committee. Flexibility must be maintained and the essential point is that the inquiry must acquire sufficient information to enable it to reach conclusions and furnish a report.

The commission's scheme has a number of functions. The investigation committee will have the opportunity to gather a body of evidence at first hand from all the people who want to continue with the committee, thus ensuring that every single person has a role in the work of the inquiry. It will enable the committee, through its legal team, to ensure that the witnesses who are put forward for participation in the formal hearing process represent the full range of experiences across time in the particular institution. It will reduce the likelihood of people who are less able for adversarial hearings being subjected to examination and cross-examination before gatherings of lawyers and other interested parties. It will yield information across institutions under investigation. The information will be gathered in a formal process of interview to enable the examination of particular topics and comparisons between institutions will be made easier. It is the commission's intention to complete its report prior to the end of its extended remit of May 2008.

I wish to take this opportunity to outline some of the main features of the Bill in so far as the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse is concerned. The Bill will implement the main recommendation of both the Attorney General and Mr. Justice Ryan to remove the obligation on the investigation committee to conduct full hearings into all allegations of abuse made to it.

Instead, the committee will be able to call witnesses to give evidence of abuse suffered by them to the extent that the investigation committee decides is necessary for the purposes of the inquiry. This key amendment is provided for in sections 4 and 7 of the Bill. Persons not called to give evidence to the investigation committee can opt to apply to transfer to the confidential committee of the commission. Sections 4 and 7 of the Bill also extend the remit of the commission and the investigation committee to examine the manner in which children were detained in residential institutions and the circumstances in which they continued to be so detained. This is important from the point of view of gaining a full understanding as to how and why child abuse occurred and the historic and societal context in which it arose.

Sections 5 and 8 of the Bill, respectively, provide that the commission and the investigation committee will only name individual abusers that have a criminal conviction for child abuse or those who have admitted to or pleaded guilty to charges of child abuse.

The primary purpose of the commission of inquiry is to determine the causes, nature, circumstances and extent of child abuse. Given the rights of people to due process, it is necessary to place certain limitations on the naming of individuals alleged to have carried out abuse.

A number of other changes proposed in the Bill are as follows: A provision to allow for joint hearings to take place to allow complainants with a common alleged abuser to have their complaints heard simultaneously, provided for in section 6; a provision also in section 6 for a division of the committee to operate under a single member of the commission; a provision in section 8 that would enable the commission to issue fact finding interim reports; the powers of the commission are to be extended to require persons giving evidence to it to swear the matter in an affidavit and make admissions to and to answer written interrogatories under oath in order that matters can be dealt with more speedily and at less cost, provided for in section 9; and provision under section 14 to allow a complainant to withdraw a complaint being made subject to the consent of the committee.

There are two other main parts of the Bill which I would like to bring to the attention of Senators. The first deals with the establishment of an education finance board to administer an education grant scheme for former residents of institutions and their families. This is provided for in Part 3, sections 22 to 33, and in the Schedule. The second deals with amendments to the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002, which are contained in Part 4 of the Bill.

Under the terms of the indemnity agreement concluded with the religious congregations, €12.7 million is to be used for educational programmes for former residents of institutions and their families. The agreement was concluded in June 2002, that is, after the enactment of the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002 in April 2002. In view of the urgency of making funding available to former residents wishing to undertake further education, a grant scheme funded by the Department of Education and Science was established on an administrative basis in September 2003 pending the introduction of a statutory scheme. This scheme is currently administered by the national office for victims of abuse with the assistance of the City of Dublin VEC and to date €1.7 million has been spent on the scheme.

The purpose of what is proposed in the Bill is twofold. First, it establishes an independent education finance board to administer an educational grant scheme for former residents and their families. Second, the Bill provides a legal basis for the management and investment of the €12.7 million fund provided under the indemnity agreement for this purpose, after taking account of interest accruing on the €12.7 million fund and expenditure incurred to date on the non-statutory scheme.

The principal functions of the board, set out in section 25, are to pay grants to former residents of institutions and their families, to determine and publish the criteria by which it will make decisions on applications for grants and to make available to applicants information in relation to the educational services in respect of which grants are available. Section 29 provides that the board will consist of a chairperson and eight ordinary members. To ensure that survivors' interests are adequately represented, four of the ordinary members will be former residents of institutions.

The proposed amendments to the Residential Institutions Redress Act are mainly of a technical nature and have been requested by the redress board and the review committee in the light of their experience of the redress application process over the past two years. The redress board was established on 16 December 2002 under the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002. Its primary purpose is to make fair and reasonable awards to persons who, as children, were abused while resident in industrial schools, reformatories and other institutions that were subject to State regulation or inspection. The redress scheme provides an alternative to survivors having to pursue traumatic civil court cases in order to obtain compensation for their injuries. The redress scheme is designed to address the fact that the State and the institutions concerned failed in some way while they had the responsibility for the care of the child.

It acknowledges that because of this some people who were in institutional care have, through much of their lives, carried serious psychological scars. The scheme seeks to provide reasonable financial compensation for that injury. The board commenced operations in December 2002 and according to the latest information available, the redress board has received 6,500 applications to date and has made awards in over 3,400 cases. The average award made by the board is €77,000 and total payments to date amount to €260 million.

The amount of award payable by the board in each case will depend on the severity of the abuse and the severity of physical and psychological injury as well as loss of opportunity resulting from the abuse. The board may grant awards up to €300,000 and in exceptionally severe cases the board may award an amount higher than this. There is also provision to award additional aggravated damages of up to €60,000 in certain specified circumstances.

The proposed amendments to the Residential Institutions Redress Act are contained in section 34 of the Bill and include first, allowing for a two week cooling off period once an applicant has made a request to the review committee for it to review an award offered by the redress board. Survivor groups have requested this change and the chairperson of the review committee is in agreement with it. Second, allowing the Courts Service to administer arrangements for the payment of awards in instalments. The Courts Service has confirmed that it is willing to do so but cannot until a legislative basis is provided. Third, providing that anyone who gives false information to the board may be liable to prosecution for perjury. As it currently stands, only applicants to the board can be so prosecuted.

The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (Amendment) Bill 2005 was published on 24 March 2005. The Bill proceeded to Second Stage in the Lower House on 21 April 2005 and completed this Stage on 28 April 2005. Before the Bill proceeded to Committee Stage on 17 May 2005, I consulted with a number of survivor support groups to hear their views on the amending legislation. A number of amendments have been considered since the publication of the Bill and I believe it would be helpful to outline to the House these amendments. An amendment was made to the definition of "relative" in the interpretation section of the education (former residents of certain institutions for children) finance board. Following consultations with the survivor groups, I have decided to limit the scheme to those most affected by a family member's residence in an institution. Therefore, for the purpose of the Bill "relative" means spouse, son, daughter, grandson, granddaughter, stepson and stepdaughter of a former resident of an institution.

An amendment to section 34(f) will allow the review committee to sit as a committee of two. Also, section 34(h) is being amended to allow for a complaint against a solicitor to be fully investigated. The survivor groups and the Law Society raised a concern regarding section 28 of the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002 which prohibits the disclosure of certain information. The Law Society of Ireland is asked on occasions to investigate complaints against solicitors acting on behalf of applicants to the redress board. An amendment to paragraph 8 of the Schedule to the Bill will provide clear guidelines in the legislation to cover conflict of interest situations for members of the education finance board. A number of the survivor groups raised this issue.

On Report Stage in the Dáil I tabled an amendment to ensure that the Ombudsman has sufficient powers to investigate any complaints made to her office in relation to the education finance board. Following completion of Committee Stage it was brought to my attention that the Bill as drafted could be viewed as limiting the scope of the Ombudsman in relation to her ability to make recommendations. This was not my intention so I brought forward the amendment to remedy the matter.

On Committee Stage, I agreed to consider the inclusion of the education finance board in the Schedule to the Freedom of Information Acts 1997 and 2003 and have since taken the advice of the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel. It advises me that the appropriate means of ensuring that the education finance board is included in the Schedule to the Freedom of Information Acts is to request that the Department of Finance provide for its inclusion in the next list of additions to the Schedule by way of statutory instrument rather than by primary legislation. Once the board has been established my Department will request the Department of Finance to arrange for its inclusion.

This amending legislation fulfils three important functions. First, it will greatly assist the commission in completing a comprehensive inquiry into child abuse within a sensible timeframe and at an affordable cost. Second, it sets up an independent statutory scheme of educational support for survivors and their families. Third, it makes a number of legislative amendments to enhance the effective operation of the redress scheme.

Most important, by bringing forward this legislation, we are providing the commission with the framework to move forward with its remit. The commission can continue to move ahead with its hearings and will be in a position to deliver a detailed report on what happened within these institutions and what should be done to ensure it cannot happen again. This will be of benefit to all survivors. They have waited too long already. To ask them to wait for a further ten or 11 years or more while 1,300 individual adversarial hearings or mini-trials took place with little certainty of the outcome would not have been acceptable either to them or to the State. The completion and publication of the commission's report within a reasonable timeframe will hopefully bring at least some form of vindication and healing for these survivors and will allow them to try to move ahead with their lives as best they can. Molaim an Bille don Teach.

I welcome the Minister and the opportunity to contribute to this Bill. I am fully aware the Minister inherited a difficult situation in which many bridges were broken from previous occupants of her position. All those who were abused look to the Minister to confidently rebuild those bridges. I hope she has, through this legislation, set about the initial steps and will continue to address those problems as they arise.

I welcome the Bill and its intention to streamline the system which will allow survivors of abuse to tell their stories. As the Minister said the purpose of the Bill is to implement the main recommendations of the Attorney General and Mr. Justice Ryan to remove an obligation on the investigation committee to conduct full hearings into each and every allegation of abuse. There is concern in regard to that issue. It is important, by whatever mechanism is necessary, that everybody who wants to tell his or her story is given that opportunity. That is the kernel of the bridging of trust that was lacking and that may be built again. It would enable people to look forward to a recognition of the problem and would ensure that it will never happen again despite the delays that have occurred.

For victims of abuse it has been a long time since May 1999, when the Taoiseach apologised to all victims on behalf of the State, until today when we are provided with an opportunity, through this legislation, to assist the commission in completing a comprehensive inquiry into child abuse within a reasonable timeframe and at a reasonable cost to the Exchequer. The Taoiseach's apology, though overdue, was welcome by all those children who were so savagely abused while in the care of the State in religious-run institutions. It was rightly acknowledged that these victims deserve to have their stories heard. In the past they were forgotten by society and were abandoned by all in a most shameful manner. The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, established in May 2000, was to hear their stories, to investigate the abuse of children in the institutions and to publish its findings and recommendations.

The victims of past abuse have had shocking and distressing experiences. It was right that they be given the opportunity to tell their stories and tell us how society had failed them. Today many of them are approaching old age. We have heard much from these people about the State-sponsored brutality and barbarity that can exist in a society that fails to be vigilant.

The resignation of Ms Justice Laffoy in September 2003, a direct result of the failure of the Department of Education and Science to engage with her in a proper manner, was the low point in the history of the commission. The work of the commission and its relationship with the Government was brought under the spotlight. What was uncovered exposed the Government to the valid criticism as to how it had failed to support Ms Justice Laffoy in her approach to the investigation of abuse and how persistent mishandling of the situation led directly to her resignation.

In regard to the Government's approach to the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, Ms Justice Laffoy said that since its establishment the commission had never been properly enabled by the Government to fulfil satisfactorily the functions conferred on it by the Oireachtas. This was a damning indictment of the Government that on the one hand established the commission to investigate the dreadful history of abuse and, on the other hand, failed to give the same commission the support it needed to carry out its functions. Ms Justice Laffoy listed the ways in which the Government thwarted the work of the commission.

Compensation for the survivors of abuse was raised in July 2000 but was not dealt with until July 2002. The issue of payment of legal costs for persons involved in the process of the investigation committee was also raised in 2000 but was not dealt with until 2002. The decision to review the commission's mandate effectively stalled the work of the commission by the slow and contradictory way in which its request for additional resources was handled. The issues were clearly matters for the Government to resolve but the delay in dealing with the requests from the commission, regretful, led to the resignation of Ms Justice Laffoy.

There is a conflict of interest within the Department of Education and Science sponsoring an inquiry when the Department is part of what is being investigated. This is a mistake and it is a pity the opportunity to rectify this in the legislation has not been taken. The actions of the Government stymied the work of the commission and delayed proceedings that are vital to the search for truth that so many victims of past abuse seek.

It is vital that Mr. Justice Ryan gets the full co-operation and assistance he needs from the Government and the Department under the Minister's stewardship which, unfortunately, was lacking and withheld from Ms Justice Laffoy. We must ensure the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse is enabled to work for all victims of abuse. From the moment the Taoiseach made the apology in 1999 the victims expected they would have access to the commission and that their stories would be heard.

Following the resignation of Ms Justice Laffoy and the appointment of Mr. Justice Ryan to the commission, a detailed report on the commission was published in January 2004. In this report Mr. Justice Ryan outlined the difficulties that have faced the commission, in particular the problems associated with the work of the investigation committee. Mr. Justice Ryan made a clear statement on the issue of sampling and the random selection of cases that proceed to inquiry. He said that while there was a readiness all around to acknowledge the problems facing the investigating committee, the idea of sampling the cases was seen as an unacceptable continuation of the entitlement of victims of abuse to bring their experiences to the commission via a committee of choice. It has been accepted that this proposal would have deprived a large number of complainants of the opportunity to participate directly in the inquiry process.

On the issue of sampling, the One in Four group realised at an early stage that those involved were beginning to realise that this was never realistic. The then Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Noel Dempsey, admitted that the State was guilty of an error of judgment when it mandated the inquiry to investigate every claim of abuse. It is understandable that the victims are disappointed because the promise given initially was reneged on. I am pleased the Minister has explained the reason for this in her contribution. It will be received positively by many of those who have had concerns.

In his report Mr. Justice Ryan said he believed the commission should have a wider discretion in regard to which cases go to a full hearing. The investigation committee requires the capacity to come to a conclusion in respect of a particular complainant that it would be impractical, unfair and unreasonable to put him or her through the ordeal of being examined and cross-examined in respect of allegations that were of such a nature as to be unlikely ever to be able to ground a finding of abuse. This is naturally a sensitive and difficult issue.

Like every Member of both Houses of the Oireachtas, the Minister has received representations from a person on behalf of the victims of Donal Dunne, the third paragraph of which reads:

Since Justice Laffoy published details of the numbers involved in her Third Interim Report surely the Commission has refined those figures by now and knows exactly what is involved. If changes to the legislation are necessary because the task is too big then it would help if the actual extent of the inquiry under the present legislation were known.

I hope the Minister will give a response to that matter on which all of us have received representations.

Section 4 amends the Act of 2000 removing the obligation on the investigating committee to hear all complaints and gives discretion as to which witnesses it considers should be called for a full hearing. However, to balance this change in legislation, the commission will meet all victims and will conduct interviews with each one before making a decision as to the cases that should progress to a full inquiry. Mr. Justice Ryan in his report of January 2004 was clear that it was not suggesting that the category of complaints, whose allegations of abuse should not proceed to the full inquiry, would be large in number, which is of some concern. This amending legislation cannot indicate the number of cases that might not proceed to the inquiry.

It is important to insist that if this legislation is passed and the discretion is given to the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, it should only be applied in cases where the intention was to use it in the January 2004 report. The chairman of the commission, Mr. Justice Ryan, wrote to 1,712 outstanding complainants asking them whether they wished to proceed with their complaints. We would have a better idea of the scope of what we are dealing with here if we were told how many people had replied confirming that they were continuing. It would also allow us to debate this issue with a clear grasp of the level of complaint. When Fine Gael contacted the commission it informed us that it would not make this information available as replies were still being received. It is a pity that we cannot have the information available today and I ask the Minister to give an undertaking to make it available when all the replies have been received.

We welcome the establishment of an educational finance board with a chairman and eight members. A matter of concern to some groups is that while four representatives will be appointed from the various institutions, we have no indication as to how these will be selected. I would be grateful if the Minister would outline the criteria for selection.

I also welcome the grants system. However, many victims are not interested in money. They want to tell their story to bring some healing to themselves, which is what everybody wants. I appreciate that the Minister has a difficult task in bringing about closure to the matter. Every group and individual to whom we spoke clearly indicated that money is not the issue. While the level of compensation and the grants outlined are welcome, the victims want to tell their stories. When we reach closure on this matter I hope that all those with the capability to tell their story will do so. I look forward to dealing with other matters on Committee Stage.

I welcome the Minister to the House and I thank Senator Fitzgerald for allowing me to speak before him as I have another meeting at noon. I am glad to have this opportunity to outline a few points on this important legislation. To set the context for this legislation and today's debate, I would like to quote Mr. Justice Ryan. On his appointment in September 2003 as chairperson of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, he was asked to conduct a review of the workings of the commission. It was clear that problems existed. In his review Mr. Justice Ryan said:

There is of course no simple measure, which will bring about the desired result. Any solution to the problems of the Investigation Committee of the Commission will necessarily require some adjustment of existing entitlements but I hope that it will be appreciated by everybody who considers the matter, that what is suggested in my report is a scheme which offers the most realistic prospect of a successful conclusion of the important work assigned to the Committee.

The purpose of the Bill before it is to give effect to the recommendations of that report. We must bear in mind the words of Mr. Justice Ryan when he said the report "is a scheme which offers the most realistic prospect of a successful conclusion of the important work assigned to the Committee". As a result, the same applies to the Bill. The circumstances leading to the Bill are not ideal. In many ways the changes it proposes are regrettable. Many people will rightly be disappointed with the Bill. While I would prefer if it were not necessary, I welcome and support it. Some will say that the background to this situation was the "States of Fear" series of programmes broadcast by RTE in 1999. However, this awful episode began many decades before that.

The investigation committee of the commission is to investigate child abuse alleged to have taken place over a period of 60 years. The oldest victim was born in 1926, when W.T. Cosgrave was President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State and Pius XI was Pontiff. The task given to the investigative committee, to investigate more than 100 institutions, in respect of over 1,700 complainants, was onerous. When I stated that the oldest victim was born in 1926, we must also remember that those accused of abuse are older than the complainants. Some of them are dead. Some left their congregations many years ago. Some have not been, nor ever will be, traced. Despite the formidable nature of the task, investigate we must. When announcing the measures relating to childhood abuse on the 11 May 1999, the Taoiseach said:

What the Government has decided on is not a break with the past; it is a facing up to the past and all that this involves. This may well be a painful process, but it cannot and should not be avoided.

The objectives from the start were to establish as clear a picture as possible of the causes, nature and extent of the physical and sexual abuse of children in institutions and in other places and to afford victims of abuse in childhood an opportunity to tell of the abuse they suffered to a sympathetic and experienced forum. The Bill is part of that process. I accept that while it may not have been foreseen and may not even be desirable, it is, nonetheless, necessary. While some critics of the legislation claim that it is amending the 2000 Act despite the original, admirable objectives I have just listed, it is being introduced because of these original, admirable objectives. As Mr. Justice Ryan's review found, the primary legislation sought to marry the benefits of therapeutic telling of experience with those of vindication of complaints.

The problems of implementing the Act are created by excessive ambition. The Act tries to do too much at the same time. In the same way we as legislators had to enact the original legislation to establish as complete a picture as possible of the causes, nature and extent of abuse, we also have a duty to address the problems in the process. While it may have taken time to discover the problems, which in hindsight were inherent from the beginning, the vastness of the undertaking only became apparent when the number of complainants opting for the investigation committee was known.

Politicians and legislators often face the criticism that when problems are identified, they are not addressed. We cannot allow that accusation to persist regarding this most serious issue.

The problems have been revealed and recounted by Mr. Justice Ryan. The essential problem with the commission is the work of the investigation committee and, according to the review, the essential problem of the investigation committee is one of case management. How can the allegations made by 1,712 complainants be handled within a reasonable time and at reasonable cost? The context of this Bill is Mr. Justice Ryan's correct assertion that the duration of the commission's work is of the greatest importance to all those who are concerned with its work and also to the public interest.

In her speech, the Minister outlined amendments such as that pertaining to the definition of a relative. In this regard, I ask that a clear definition of spouse is provided. I raised this in 2002 and at meetings of the Joint Committee on Education and Science. I am concerned about that definition as it is interpreted by other legislation that deals with inheritance and so on.

The persons for whom the original legislation was enacted to serve have had their childhoods ruined and adult lives blighted. What other group could be more deserving of our care and of a cautious legislative approach? Breaking a promise to them is difficult to countenance. On the other hand, we would be failing that same group if we did not take on board the recommendations of the review. In light of this, I welcome and support this Bill in the House today.

I welcome the Minister to the House. I would like to add to what was said by Senator Ulick Burke and Senator Minihan. We are quite sure of the Minister's bona fides in trying to bring forward the best possible legislation to deal with this very difficult situation. Like other Members, I have been in contact over the years with many people who were abused in the various institutions in this country. One can never be in a position to do enough to try to help them. It is not possible for us to understand their great pain and loss.

I took great interest in the Minister's speech, in particular, two parts of it. The first dealt with the investigation committee and the second dealt with the public hearings which are now being brought forward so that we could look at the historical basis of how child abuse emerged as an issue in this State. I have been concerned about the reports of these debates. In Letterfrack and in Dangan, it appeared to me that people were speaking in public about a time which they did not really know. Many of them are currently very senior members in the orders which had run these institutions and may not have been there at the time people were admitted. Distress has been caused to some people who were within those institutions where they felt that the sufferings that went on were minimised. It was known decades ago that abuse was going on in these institutions. The Kennedy report came out but we did nothing about it. It was not until five years ago that anything significant was done. I am anxious that many people feel that what is being said in public now is not exactly what happened.

The Minister has made changes to the way the investigation committee and the confidential committee will work in the future. She stated that the changes to bring forward witnesses will not be mechanical whereby a certain percentage or proportion of complainants are called to give evidence before the investigation committee. I hope that everyone who wants to come forward, can come forward. It is very important for the healing process that people feel that they have had their day before the committee. It looks to me as if this may not be so, but if the Minister can reassure me when she replies, I would be very grateful. The Minister stated that the way the commission will now work will reduce the likelihood of people who are less able for adversarial hearings being subjected to examination and cross examination before gatherings of lawyers and other interested parties. I strongly support anything she wants to do in that manner.

A letter appeared inThe Irish Times on 19 May from a psychiatrist, Dr. Michael Corry, who has appeared before the commission. What he wrote was very disturbing. As we are all aware, the committee in question sits in private. In his letter, Dr. Corry states:

I have given evidence to the board on three occasions on behalf of three patients, all victims of layers of abuse, in particular sexual. Two of these have been under my care for over ten years. All will bring their pain and suffering to the grave. I was not allowed to be present when they gave evidence, nor indeed were their partners, a friend, an advocate, no one of personal significance.

I ask the Minister to address that. It is very difficult for someone to be in court without any friend. It is hard that those victims who come forward do not know what other evidence is given. I can only quote what Dr. Corry says. He continues:

They were alone. Alone in attempting to articulate their exposure to regimes of unbridled rape and violence which lasted for years, at the hands of sadistic sexual perverts answerable to no one. Alone in telling about how their chance of a normal life was diminished from the beginning. About how they learned to place no value on themselves, and with their lives totally derailed following their release at 16 years old, drifted from one crisis to another for the rest of their lives.

One patient was left alone, on the verge of a panic attack due to the intensity of his fear, to tell the board of a past littered with criminal behaviour, prison records, substance misuse, dysfunctional relationships, mistrust of authority, and family breakdown. I found the discomfort of waiting in a side room to give evidence, aware of my patients' fears and worries, unbearable. They dreaded getting a panic attack, a flashback to an incident of abuse, a rush of uncontrollable anger that would alienate the chairman and jeopardise the outcome.

In giving my sworn evidence I felt under time pressure, and worse, that I was an unwelcome irritation slowing down the proceedings. An atmosphere of minimisation prevailed. It was impossible to present a complete picture.

The "board" consisted solely of a judge and a medical doctor.

Looking at this new Bill, it appears to me as if the board can now consist of one person. Dr. Corry continues:

On two occasions that doctor, having had no experience of working with traumatised or abused children, let alone a qualification in psychiatry, was nonetheless there for the purpose of contributing to a judgment on the compensation deemed appropriate for each victim.

Not being a court, it is held in secret, away from the eyes of the community, and no perpetrator of a crime is ever sentenced to a punishment.

To this day, I am confused about those who are indemnified from litigation by the Government. I read a report by the Committee of Public Accounts and sections 4.87 and 4.88 address the issue of who is indemnified from litigation. In the report, there are some extraordinary parts where the then Attorney General, now a Minister, "flatly contradicted that this was his understanding of the position". In other words, people did not have to make a claim before the redress board for those against whom they were claiming to be eligible. It is a source of great confusion to me. The report states:

The Attorney General's office had been, effectively, out of the loop since the previous negotiations broke down. No reply was received. The Committee asked why it had taken so long to reply to the Attorney General's queries.

If there was such confusion at that significant time between the Office of the Attorney General and the Department of Education and Science, it is very hard for any of us to know what the situation was. It should be remembered that the then Attorney General is now a Minister.

According to Dr. Corry's letter:

No apologies were offered as no one representing the religious orders can be held responsible. Justice for the victim is not the purpose; only financial compensation.

Dr. Corry also wrote:

The award is conditional on them signing a secrecy agreement and a waiver to taking further legal action. If the victims disclose the amount they were awarded or discuss the facts of the case in public, they face criminalisation.

That criminal cases can be taken against the victims is a matter we must address in the Minister's Bill.

Dr. Corry's letter continued to outline what happens before the committees, making very sad reading, but there was little response to it apart from a letter from Celine Henry, no relation, and Paddy Doyle of St. George's Villas, Inchicore. Ms Henry said she felt that while we could not undo the deliberate abuse of so many children in the past, we cannot plead ignorance. She suggested action should be taken. Mr. Doyle wrote:

I would like very much to comment on Dr. Michael Corry's letter concerning the Residential Institutions Redress Board. However, as one who gave evidence to the board, I am prohibited from saying anything under penalty of a €25,000 fine and/or two years imprisonment.

While it is very important to ensure those who were abused have the right to come before the committee, I cannot be sure from the Minister's contribution if that will be the case.

It has been well recognised for years that the education provided to people within residential institutions was woeful. The Minister was, therefore, quite right to try to establish an education finance board. It was odd that when the original legislation was enacted, it was passed one month before the educational trust with CORI was agreed. Not being a lawyer, I do not know where that leaves the legislative position, but it has always struck me as odd. There have been people who have said the process is not being used well but the Minister has taken the opportunity presented by the Bill to ensure it is better administered. I am very grateful that she has done so.

Senator Minihan spoke about who should and should not be able to apply and said spouses will not be so permitted. The Minister did the best she could in the Dáil. I have heard that 100 spouses have applied but some people have asked how they were affected by what happened within the institutions. If they are, I am not quite sure the Minister is not right to leave that in despite strong representations to us that it should be taken out. It will have to be discussed on Committee Stage. To marry someone without realising how devastating a time he or she had in the past could have important effects.

I am very glad the Minister has rectified the Ombudsman provisions. People would have felt they were being very hard done by if the Ombudsman had not been included. As we keep saying, this must never happen again. While the Minister will remember that when she brought the Children Act through the House we were all very supportive of it, she and I did not agree on a minor but important matter relating to the placing of children in residential care. If children are in residential institutions on foot of convictions against them, the institutions are inspected every six months. The institutions in which children are placed on foot of neglect are inspected only periodically. Contrary to the Minister's wishes, both groups of children are often placed together.

When she replied on my amendment which proposed regular inspections at six-month intervals of the institutions in which children are placed on foot of neglect, the Minister said there were an insufficient number of inspectors. I am sure she was right given that we are having enough problems getting inspectors to visit nursing homes. Children who are placed due to neglect, however, are probably even more vulnerable than children with criminal convictions. Neglect could involve parents or guardians but children with criminal convictions may, unfortunately, come from families who are enthusiastic to have them out and about with them again. If the Minister can do anything about it, she should take the matter on board. Abuse happens because places are not inspected on a regular basis. I would be very grateful if the Minister could ensure something is done.

I am delighted the Minister has brought the legislation forward. She is aware that there are concerns about it, many of which she addressed in the other House. I hope she will be able to address some of the other concerns which have been raised in the Seanad.

I welcome the Minster to the House. I am sorry I could not hear SenatorHenry's full contribution as the little I heard suggested she made a number of points on which I would have liked to be able to comment. I heard her discuss the inspectorate issue, which is relevant in other areas and which the Minister and ourselves will bear in mind.

As we were told growing up, a mistake is no longer a mistake if you learn from it. We are certainly on a learning curve in this instance as are people in other countries in which the same terrible and unfortunate events took place. None of us knows the best way in which redress can be provided to the victims of abuse, their rights vindicated and their allegations validated in the public arena. We are all in this together as Members of the Oireachtas working with the Government to establish the best formula. The Minister's Bill represents a substantial, significant step forward to facilitate the efficient, timely and cost-effective delivery of the service originally envisaged to address the issue in question.

We are no less scandalised on successive occasions on which we rise to talk about child abuse than we were when we first addressed the matter in 1999 and 2000. Every time we hear about it, it becomes more sickening and as more examples are brought to our attention, we become angrier. We are angry at the abusers and at those who facilitated, sheltered and protected them to enable them to continue with their abuse uninterrupted and unchallenged for such long periods of time. It is of no significance that these matters happened many decades ago before the reform of the 1970s and it does not justify what happened. Our predecessors in the Houses of the Oireachtas took no action and failed to acknowledge their responsibility as legislators for all the children in the State though I am sure that on many occasions over the period they acknowledged the constitutional rights of children. We must put those harrowing times of physical, mental and sexual abuse in context to establish a scintilla of understanding of the ignorance, reluctance, denial and apathy of the State and successive Governments.

There are many examples which we could cite today, but I will refer to the case of the Baltimore Fisheries school in the context of which 21 former residents gave sworn evidence of their horrible experience of appalling abuse and deprivation.

It was terrible hardship. There were horrific stories of physical and sexual abuse. Many other stories have come out that are no less horrifying and that are likely to induce anger.

If I was asked what is the fundamental principle underpinning the Bill I would say, "justice delayed is justice denied". That is primarily what the Minister has in mind, apart from the other obvious and justifiable considerations. The proposed changes to the two Acts for the roll-out of this service are very important to refocus the work, fast-track the timeframe for the delivery of the final report and reduce the legal costs that were originally envisaged.

The Government is the first in the history of the State to face up to the issue of child sexual abuse, to listen to the victims, to apologise to them — as the Taoiseach did in May 1999 — and to put a strategy in place to deal with the matter. The Government's action is an acknowledgment that we have been very wrong over the years in allowing our children to be incarcerated in such horrible places and in allowing them carry with them the physical, psychological and other scars they bear into adulthood.

The Government's commitment led to the setting up of the commission with a dual structure. The confidential committee and the investigations committee components have already been referred to here today and in the other House. The confidential committee is the forum in which people come to tell their stories. It is an important part of the healing process for victims to talk to experienced people in a forum in which the investigative process does not play a part. I understand it is working very well. I do not have the up-to-date figure as quoted by the Minister today. The figures I have are from 19 April when the cases of 1,060 witnesses had been heard and 35 cases were still outstanding. It is heartening that this committee is working extremely well.

The investigations committee ran into difficulties because its work involved carrying out detailed inquiries akin to trials into allegations of abuse. Before we look at the merits of the Bill we must look at the background that gave rise to it and why it was necessary to bring it forward. I share the sentiment of other speakers that it would have been preferable if there had been no need to bring the Bill forward but we must accept that it is necessary that it should be brought forward.

With the progress of the work of the investigations committee it became obvious that the delivery of the final report would not be done within the original timescale of two years. The commission advised that it would take eight to 11 years before the process would be concluded as there were 1,957 applications to the investigation committee. It became clear that it was unrealistic to expect the report to be delivered on target.

The implications for costs were also becoming more significant. One estimate of costs put the legal bill at €200 million. It was also likely the publication of the report might be challenged because the alleged abusers might consider they were not getting due process. A review was set up, initially by the Attorney General and subsequently by Mr. Justice Ryan. The Bill is the product of those reviews.

I commend the Minister on the Bill which was subjected to significant consultation with survivor groups and all other interested parties. I believe the Bill is a good one which will achieve its three objectives of fast-tracking the final report of the commission, making the process more efficient and producing results at lower legal costs than originally envisaged.

Two key elements of the Bill have been the subject of debate. One of these is the removal of the requirement that the investigation committee should interview each individual applicant. Although there is a some disagreement with this change, I support it because there are compelling reasons for it. There are 1,300 applicants and if each one were to be given an individual hearing the process could go on for ever, not just for eight to 11 years. Mr. Justice Ryan recommended this change. If the change were not introduced many of the victims could have passed away before they would have a chance to be heard. They have waited for long enough as it is. Not alone would many of the victims have passed away but many of the abusers would also no longer be around. That is not the objective for which this strategy was put in place in the first instance. There are many compelling reasons the change should take place, and I fully support the Minister in this regard.

The second proposed change is that the discretion of the commission to name individuals who have been found guilty of child abuse is being restricted to people who have already been found guilty in a court of law of a criminal offence of child abuse, or to those who have already pleaded guilty to such an offence. That is a necessary, desirable and sensible change to the legislation. I support these two key provisions, in addition to the other provisions such as the one referred to by Senator Henry which would allow an individual member of the board to conduct a particular hearing. She was concerned that this would mean that the board in that instance would be a board of one member. That is a legitimate question.

As an aside may I say I am sorry I do not have the same tolerance of heat as other Members of the House. I should have requested a fan but did not do so.

On the naming of individuals, I can see from where the Minister is coming and I can see the advantage of using that device to fast-track the system. If and when the situation arises that one member of the board interviews a particular applicant, would that member be obliged to go back to the full board? Supportive as I am of the proposal, I accept that Senator Henry may have a point.

While people are opposed to the first proposal, it is important to point out that others are supportive of it. I omitted to mention that one member of the survivors group from Artane, from where there were some 400 applications for individual hearings, made the point strongly toThe Irish Times some time ago that not every individual applicant from a large group like that from a particular institution has to be heard to enable the commission to know what exactly went on there. That is an important point which I consider as a further endorsement of what the Minister is proposing.

The Minister has also proposed to amend the Residential Institutions Redress Act. She stated the amendments to this legislation are mainly technical in nature. One of the changes proposed would allow an applicant who has received an award a two-week period for the withdrawal of an application for review to the residential institutions review committee. That is most sensible. At times, on foot of an award, people can rush into making decisions to apply for a review, which is not necessarily always the wisest course. It is wise to provide a two-week period for people to consider and reflect on their decisions.

Another important change relates to the giving of false evidence. Anyone who gives false evidence, not just an applicant, may be liable to prosecution for perjury. I welcome this proposal. Other speakers have commented on the education fund for survivors. The legislation will set up an education and finance board and give statutory effect to the provision of €12.7 million. This is very important and I welcome it very much.

As regards the education and finance board, we should ensure the information we circulate in the public arena in respect of all the applicants is absolutely clear. This should be achieved as early as possible. The eligibility criteria for obtaining a grant should be very clear and known well in advance. When the relevant information is provided, all applicants should know whether they are eligible and what courses come under a particular scheme. When they participate in a particular education programme, the payments should be up front in so far as this is practicable.

I welcome the Bill. It will make a significant contribution to achieving the very desirable objectives which were inherent in the original legislation.

To open the Minister's mind to amendments, I will point out an error which is more serious than a drafting error. It is in page 18, line 7, which refers to the Ombudsman. The legislation states: "Where, following an investigation under this Act into an action, it appears to the Ombudsman that the action adversely affected a person by or on whose behalf an application was . . ." However, "affected a person by" should be changed to "affected a person by whom". Otherwise it is entirely meaningless. This needs to be amended. I have consulted the authorities and the error is too significant to be deemed a drafting error. As the subsection stands, only people who had an application made on their behalf could be the subject of an investigation by the Ombudsman. We will obviously submit an amendment but it is really a job for the parliamentary draftsperson to notice these problems.

When I was less than nine years old, I had the experience not of sexual abuse but of the most horrendous verbal and emotional abuse by a teacher. I was among the brightest in the class and the teacher was just disturbed. He is now deceased. However, his impact on me over 50 years ago is part of what I have had to live with ever since. It was quite extraordinary. Apart from those who have horrific stories of sexual abuse, there is a great number of people who were victims of the sort of people who seemed to believe it was acceptable to terrorise small children.

As I stated on the last occasion this matter was dealt with in the House, we genuinely need to reflect on what happened in this regard and why it happens. It happened because power was abused. It is not essentially about sex although that is the symptom. It is about people who used positions of power to abuse those over whom they had power. It happened because society deferred to power and authority, as was the case in many other countries.

I get a little tired when I hear people talk about the current lack of respect for authority. In Ireland, authority created the lack of respect for itself because, in the church and State, authority and the power that went with it were systematically abused by so many people. The knowledge of that systematic abuse, which was much more widespread than the abuse, was also suppressed by people in the interest of protecting power structures in church and State. I will return to this subject because it raises issues.

The liberal agenda, which is much maligned by many of those who would claim to be defenders of thestatus quo and to have family values, is the reason we now can talk about these issues. A cultural change in our country transformed people’s outlook such that they felt, for the first time, able to talk about abuses perpetrated on them. They felt they would be listened to. Had they made such revelations 25 years earlier, they would have been sent home with a clip on the ear and told not to be thinking up such dirty stories. This is what happened to many people.

I stated before in the House that the foregoing abuses happened in what many would consider the good old days, in which the country was deemed a nicer place to be. It was not nicer and those days were not good old days. For a considerable section of society, they were horrible days in which the abuse of power and authority and physical and sexual abuse were capable of being perpetrated without accountability. There was nothing good about those old days; they were dreadful times.

We must deal with this legislation in the context of the hurt felt by victims of abuse. This is why I find it so regrettable that the Government managed to move at such an extraordinarily slow pace on these issues.

I remember reading the occasional interim reports of Ms Justice Laffoy. The account of her record is almost on a scale that would do justice to Stalin at his best given the way in which it was left out of the Minister's speeches in both this House and the other House. One would not think there had been a Ms Justice Laffoy who carried out an investigation and resigned. The truth is that Ms Justice Laffoy was frustrated by the delay of the Department of Education and Science in providing her with documentation and by the Government over its failure to provide her with the funding she requested and its decision to conduct reviews when she asked for resources.

There was a great delay before we reached this stage. It is no great credit to the Government and our public administration system that this is the case. Only in Ireland could one believe a six-year period from the time of the Taoiseach's apology to the middle of June 2005 is an acceptable period in which to deal with a matter as sensitive and horrendous as that about which we are talking. I do not understand our concept of efficient public administration. One is tempted to attribute motives but I will not do so. However, those who say this is not appropriate business to be handled by the Department of Education and Science have an extremely valid point.

I have a copy of a letter from a person in the midlands, which was sent to the Minister on 19 June. She will probably know who it is from but I do not want to mention names. The point made in the letter is that there are still people working in the Department of Education and Science who are involved in what the sender alleges to have been delays in the processing of the Donal Dunne case in that Department. It is difficult to know how one could ever reassure the victims of that particular outrage given that a Department delayed and ignored the complaints that this individual made and did not do anything about them. How could anybody have faith in the Department's ability when there are people therein who were around when many of these abuses were being covered up, if not being carried out?

My experience and that of the Acting Chairman's former colleague, Pat Gallagher, in dealing with the Department of Education and Science regarding this issue is not the sort of experience that would inspire confidence. This did not happen 30 years ago. Mr. Pat Gallagher got access to the Department of Education and Science records in the late 1990s after a long series of delays and obstructions. When he finally got access he was told he could see but not copy them. What sense of openness, accountability and transparency can justify that, other than obfuscation and delay? When one sees that particular value system transferred into how Ms Justice Laffoy was frustrated, as she concluded she was, then it is understandable that people who have been at the receiving end of this abuse believe this is not the appropriate Department to deal with them.

It has been said to the Minister over and over again that this matter should be dealt with by the Department of the Taoiseach, not by the Department of Education and Science. There is a perceptible and perceived conflict of interest where the body that should have been responsible for protecting these victims is responsible for the investigation into what happened. I know the Department does not have a single identity and I accept there are many people working there, but from a perception viewpoint it is profoundly wrong.

Moving on to the legislation, I do not doubt the problems that arose. However, again in that letter, which the Minister received, the question arose as to precisely what stage the investigations are at. How many people will be further affected by the requirement under the previous legislation for each individual allegation to have a separate hearing? The Minister has been asked on a number of occasions to put some numbers on the real situation now as distinct from that which people thought would be the case. So far, we have no numbers.

As regards the Minister's rationalisation in her speech, I accept there are difficulties. However, we need to ensure we know precisely that one of the reasons for the scheme the commission is now putting in place is to reduce "the likelihood of people who are less able for adversarial hearings being subjected to examination and cross-examination before gatherings of lawyers and other interested parties". That is a very humane objective. One does not need to end up telling people who want a full hearing that they cannot have it, however, in order to protect people who do not want to go through an adversarial process.

Again, the same letter which the Minister has refers to this individual:

I do not know why I was excluded from the hearings on the emergence of abuse, or whether I will be given an opportunity to give such evidence in the future. I do know that the wrong impression was sent out to the public at that time and I had no opportunity to give the other side of the story.

These are matters that ought to concern us, when somebody such as this individual, who has a record of attempting to expose child abuse, feels like that about this issue. He believes he is not being responded to by the Minister and Department responsible. That is a great pity.

I want to refer also to the redress board and to a communication I got from an individual. This suggests there has been a significant number of suicides among people just before they went before the redress board or just afterwards. Has the Minister any information on this? It is extremely disturbing. I have diluted what the individual said to me, on purpose, but the evidence was quite strong. Another upsetting aspect about the redress board, as instanced to me by people who had appeared before it, is that the culture is strongly reminiscent of the culture in which they were abused, which is, in effect: "It is our secret. Do not tell anybody. If you behave yourself I will give you the sweets. If you do not behave yourself, we will bring you to court." I am sure that this was never the intention. There is genuine concern that the redress board is a harrowing experience for the people who go through it. It really needs to be investigated further. I would like to know whether we can have at least some views as regards the victims of child abuse who have gone through the redress board. We could have an independent evaluation. I can understand the problems about confidentiality, to avoid people being named. I cannot understand why we cannot have high-powered professional evaluation of that.

I welcome the Bill in so far as it goes. We will table a number of amendments, one of which is absolutely necessary, otherwise the phrase "on the Ombudsman" is potentially meaningless. There are a number of others which will attempt to clarify and quantify the scale of the problem which it is alleged we need to address, in terms of reducing the right of everybody to have a full hearing.

I welcome the Minister to the House. I am very pleased that this piece of legislation is before the House today. In February 2004, after the Baltimore story was brought to us through the media, I spoke in this House. I have the same type of feeling of shame today. Shame on us all. This is something that has been neglected by all parties and Governments from the commencement of this State. It should not be made a political football by any party.

As a Fianna Fáil Senator I will be the first to put up my hand and say "shame on us all". I feel a terrible sadness that children could be affected as they have been. I am a mother of four children in their late teens and early adulthood. I would kill if anything happened to any of those children at the hand of an adult in whose care I had put them. If I have feelings like that, how must it be for those people who have been abused? Unlike Senator Ryan, however, I am glad that Deputy Hanafin is the Minister for Education and Science. I have known her for more years than we might like to mention. I know the Department is in very capable hands and that she will leave no stone unturned to ensure the victims of child sexual abuse will get a fair hearing and what is due to them.

I agree with Senator Ryan's point, however, that this was an abuse of power. It certainly was. Power is a wonderful thing, but when it is abused it is the most destructive commodity of all. I hope now, through this piece of legislation, that the victims will be allowed to tell their story. Almost as if the shoe is on the other foot, the power will now be in the hands and voices of those victims who had to go through what they did.

The Minister has outlined the purpose of the Bill, which is to give effect to the recommendation of the review group's report to the Government and the subsequent recommendation of Mr. Justice Ryan. The Bill proposes to help the commission to complete a full inquiry into child abuse within a reasonable timeframe and at a reduced cost. I have picked out a few sections that are of interest to me. In section 3, I fully support the change in "clarification of serious offences", carrying a sentence of five years to an offence carrying a sentence of one year. In my view child abuse is a serious offence and poses a serious threat to any child, whatever its nature. It is therefore right that we should lower it to a sentence carrying one year as opposed to five.

I welcome the extension in section 4 of the functions of the commission to include a duty to inquire into the manner in which children were placed in institutions and the circumstances in which they were residents. We have all heard and read sad stories of children being placed in institutions for apparently spurious reasons.

Speaking on this issue in the House last year, I referred to an article written by Kevin Myers inThe Irish Times, in which he outlined how, as a young journalist 20 years ago, he exposed child sexual abuse in institutional homes. At the time, he had to submit his articles for editing because he was a junior journalist. When he asked why the editors erased every mention of the name of an institution or abuser he was looked at as if he had two heads and told it was not politically correct to mention names of abusers. I am glad we have come a long way in the 20 years since, even if Senator Ryan and other Senators do not believe this to be the case. I, for one, would not be afraid to name people if firm evidence were available.

As Senators will be aware, mothers were sometimes placed in institutions because their unmarried status did not fit in with the moral thinking of the time. In the town in which I grew up, the children of large families who fell on hard times, whether as a result of poverty or because the mother became medically unfit to rear her family, were placed in institutions. Sadly, children with whom I grew up were abused in institutions.

It is unfortunate that the House is discussing an issue one would expect to arise in a Third World country. Sadly, however, these events took place in Ireland not so long ago and it is for this reason that I warmly welcome the powers proposed for the commission. As often is the case, the greatest abuse occurred to people taken into the care of others.

The amendment proposed in section 5 is welcome. It is eminently sensible that the commission can conduct its inquiry in one, rather than two, phases as it will speed up its work and save costs. The speediness of the proceedings will hasten closure for those who have suffered and reduced costs will make additional moneys available for the fund to help those who have been abused.

As the Minister outlined, section 6 proposes to amend section 11 of the principal Act, which should also speed up the work of the commission. I was glad to learn that provision will be made to hold joint hearings of cases involving an alleged common abuser. People need support and find it easier to tell their story if a friend or another person has been in the same position and sings from the same hymn sheet.

The Minister also mentioned the division of the committee to operate under a single member of the commission. I welcome this change as it allows several inquires to be held at the same time. When serious inquiries arose on the Medical Council during the five years on which I have served on it, we broke up the inquiry team to allow several hearings to be held simultaneously. Again, this amendment is in the interest of the public, particularly the victims of abuse.

Section 9, which amends section 14 of the principal Act, is welcome as it should ensure greater co-operation with the commission. As the Minister noted, this legislation will greatly assist the commission in completing its work into child abuse within a sensible framework and at an affordable cost. It also establishes an independent statutory scheme of educational supports for survivors and their families.

I live in the north west, the location of a highly publicised case of child sexual abuse which took place in the home. Members of the family affected have stated that education empowered them to tell of the horrific childhood they endured. The Minister indicated that €12.7 million had been allocated to administer an education fund. I am open to correction but I understand €1.7 million of this figure has been spent to date. Education enables people to come out, tell their story and move on, as it were.

I hope all victims of abuse will get solace, healing and vindication, both from the report and the process into which they are about to enter. I also hope they will be able to move on with their lives as best they can. The childhood and teenage years stolen from them can never be replaced by the State, the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse or anyone else.

We all feel shame that these events were allowed to happen. I hope the commission will be able to help victims to reach a point at which they can close off a part of their lives they want to forget. I hope, in time, they will be able to forget and move on.

Responsibility for this issue is with the appropriate Department. I extend my best wishes to the Minister who will leave no stone unturned to ensure justice is done.

I am glad to have an opportunity to say a few words on this important legislation. Senator Feeney summed up the outcome we all seek when she stated in her final remarks that we must try to ensure the victims find solace, healing and vindication to allow them, in as far as possible, to move on with their lives following their difficult experiences. Unfortunately, the legislation we put in place, the work done by the commission of inquiry or the compensation and redress that is made available will not answer all the questions for those affected. Tragically and for far too long in this State young children and young adults suffered enormously at the hands of people who had power and authority over them. While we can inquire and try to provide redress, we can never solve all the problems.

When I was first elected to the Houses in 1987, no one would have envisaged that this type of legislation would be required. Even as late as the 1980s, we had not yet realised or had our eyes opened to the type of abuse which had been perpetrated in State-run institutions and educational establishments. It was not until the mid-1990s that the curtains finally opened and the public was given a clear picture of what had gone wrong. In a sad but necessary development various inquiries, reports, commissions and legislation are now being put in place. While I commend the Minister on introducing this amending legislation, it is a great tragedy for all of us, particularly those directly affected, that it did not happen 20 or 30 years ago.

The Bill amends legislation passed some time ago. The House has already introduced Bills to establish the inquiry into child abuse, the redress board and a financial support mechanism. Members are now advised that this legislation is necessary and will improve the system of inquiry and redress. This is not a party political issue; every party bears some responsibility for the tragedy so many children endured.

Ireland is not unique in this. Children's lives, as recently as ten years ago, were looked upon differently from today. That is no excuse but there were different standards. There was no accountability and politicians were unwilling to inquire. Senator Feeney mentioned that questions were asked but the answer was not to inquire because it was too tricky a political situation. On the basis that none of us made sufficient inquiries, we are all responsible. We are trying to right wrongs and while it is not possible to correct fully all of those wrongs, we must do as much as we can to resolve the situation faced by so many people.

I am interested in the change of emphasis of the investigation committee — I genuinely hope it will work. There may be difficulties with the fact that not everyone will be questioned by the investigation committee and I note that people who are less able for adversarial hearings will not be subject to strong cross-examination. That is welcome but those who wish to tell their story should be facilitated as far as possible. Mr. Justice Ryan, who has given this some thought, made this recommendation.

The redress board is to be changed. People have come to me about their ongoing correspondence with the board. Although they are being dealt with in a sensitive and fair fashion, their complaint relates to the time taken for the processing of cases. A lot of work must be done before a case can be concluded but if additional resources and staff are needed, the Minister should consider them. As politicians, however, we hear from those who have problems, not from those whose cases have been resolved satisfactorily. The main concern of those who have contacted me is the timescale for their cases. I hope that the legislation before us will be the final piece of the jigsaw that will provide the solace so many abused people require.

We must reflect on the resignation of Ms Justice Laffoy. Senator Ryan mentioned that her record was not recognised in the Minister's speech or during the debate in the Dáil. Ms Justice Laffoy had problems with the way in which matters were being addressed and the responses from Departments. I hope that those issues have been taken seriously by the Government and no such further difficulties will be experienced.

We owe it to those people who have suffered and endured pain and a lifetime of misery as a result of their experiences to right the injustice done to them by putting in place a proper scheme of assistance and compensation.

This Bill amends the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Act 2000 and the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002. It establishes a statutory body to administer a €12.7 million education fund for former residents of institutions and their families.

In recent years Irish society has been shocked. It must confront the reality that so many people were subjected to serious abuse as children in homes and institutions charged with the care and protection of children, many of which were orphanages, industrial schools and reformatories owned and managed by religious orders and funded wholly or in part by the State. Many victims of this abuse have grown to adulthood carrying the emotional and physical scars of the abuse.

On 11 May 1999 the Taoiseach apologised to all victims of abuse for the suffering they endured as children and the failure of society to provide the care, attention, love and support to which all children are entitled. On that day the Taoiseach announced a range of Government measures to redress the abuse. The original legislation envisaged that the commission would proceed on an informal basis as far as possible. As the commission began its investigation process, however, this proved not to be possible, giving rise to the possibility of legal costs rising to hundreds of millions of euro. If the work of the investigation committee had continued in this way, it would have taken the commission an estimated eight to 11 years to complete its work.

The age profile of many survivors was also borne in mind. Many people, including survivors, were justifiably concerned about the lengthy timeframe. Accordingly, a review of the commission was carried out by the Office of the Attorney General. Following this, the Government requested that Mr. Justice Ryan undertake his own independent review of the working of the commission. The terms of reference were to carry out a review of the working of the commission and to make all necessary recommendations having regard to the interests of the victims of abuse, the completion of the commission's work within a reasonable timeframe and in a manner consistent with proper investigation, and to achieve these objectives without incurring exorbitant costs.

Mr. Justice Ryan's report was published on 15 January 2004, together with the review completed by the Office of the Attorney General. Mr. Justice Ryan concluded in this report that a combination of legislative amendments to the original Acts should be implemented so the commission would be in a position to conclude its work in a reasonable timescale and without incurring exorbitant costs.

The Government accepted Mr. Justice Ryan's report. Following its publication, the investigation committee held meetings with all interested parties and representatives of groups to facilitate them in expressing their views on the contents of both reports and to enable them to make suggestions on the future operation of the investigation. A formal hearing of the investigation committee took place on 24 May 2004 to receive submissions on the matter. Representative groups were also given an opportunity to express their views subsequent to the hearings. At the conclusion of the process on 16 June 2004, Mr. Justice Ryan stated the commission had decided to proceed in accordance with the position paper published in May 2004.

This legislation was enacted for the many people who as children were committed to these institutions and have suffered serious psychological scars. Many families have also suffered. Members will be only too aware of those who suffered at the hands of these people. The stress, annoyance, hardship and sorrow that has been caused to many families should be kept in mind. Hopefully, this Bill will speed up the process so those affected can be compensated. They have suffered enough and we must do everything to ensure they suffer no more.

This amending legislation fulfils three important functions. It will assist the commission in completing a comprehensive inquiry into child abuse within a sensible timeframe and at an affordable cost. It will set up an independent strategy scheme of education support for the survivors and their families, which is to be welcomed. It also makes several legislative amendments to enhance the effective operation of the redress scheme. I welcome the Bill.

I thank Senators for their sensitive consideration of the issues surrounding the Bill. It addresses issues of which we are all conscious. All Members wish to ensure the process is correct and sympathetic to those involved.

Everybody who applied to the confidential committee will be heard and get an opportunity to tell their story. Everybody who applied to the investigation committee will be interviewed but not all will go to a full hearing. This protects those not able for full hearings but it also allows the commission a way that will ensure a reasonable representation of the years, people and issues involved. At the same time, it will ensure the process does not take 12 years, putting a dreadful pressure on everyone involved. No one wants this to happen. For the majority of institutions involved, everyone will get a full hearing. However, for the very large ones it would not be possible to do so. The commission recommended this proposal to ensure it could continue its work while protecting the interests of all survivors.

I appreciate Members are interested in the appointment of members of the finance board. The sum of €12.7 million is a large one to be spent on education but it is valuable in that it can open new opportunities for people. With regard to the survivors of the institutions who will be members of the board, I will be consulting with the various groups to see how best to make those appointments. I have already met with some groups which are supportive of the changes proposed in the Bill.

I am aware of the concerns raised by Senators Henry and Ryan regarding the redress board. Many of these issues have already been raised by the survivors' groups. Officials from the Department of Education and Science are in consultation with the groups and the national office for victims of abuse to see what can be done to assist survivors after they have told their stories to the redress board and the commission. It must be a dreadfully traumatic experience to tell one's story. It is not necessarily that the boards are causing trauma but the actual revival of memories in telling the story. When I met with Mr. Justice O'Leary recently, one matter he highlighted was that anyone telling his or her story is allowed to have a counsellor waiting outside, which will be paid for by the redress board. However, few people take up this opportunity. They probably did not realise the effect of re-telling their stories. It is an offer those attending the board in the future may wish to consider. These are issues of which we are conscious because it is a difficult process.

The commission and the redress board have all the resources and staff they require. The Government is committed to ensuring they can do their work well and efficiently. The Department of Education and Science has given dedicated staff and resources and has provided approximately 150,000 pages of documentation to the commission in response to all its requests. After Ms Justice Laffoy's criticisms, it was highlighted that some requests to the Department could not have been answered. They were taken on board and we appreciate her work with the commission. Our determination is to ensure the process is sympathetic, efficient and cost effective. The Department and the Government are committed to meeting their requirements. Over 30 people are working on the redress board and 53 people work with the commission. Resources are provided on request. The commission and the Department are satisfied that there is no conflict in this area.

Regarding the Donal Dunne case and the numbers involved in day schools, the commission issued the most recent figures in its third interim report in January 2004. It is up to it to decide what information it gives and when it will be published. Nothing in this legislation affects the position of day schools. This work can continue but the commission will make its information available as soon as possible. Senator Ryan raised an issue concerning the drafting of the Bill. We will discuss this with the Parliamentary Counsel to see if this needs to be addressed.

Senator Fitzgerald quoted the saying "justice delayed is justice denied". As legislators, in trying to address the issues for the survivors, the last thing we want is to delay the process any longer. This amending legislation goes some way to ensuring we can address the issues and concerns of the victims while ensuring there is an effective system to do so. I look forward to discussing some of the issues raised by Senators on Committee Stage. I thank them for their sensitivity in dealing with these matters.

On a point of information, when do we need to submit Committee Stage amendments? Do they have to be submitted by 3 p.m.? Some Members will be working on the Disability Bill this afternoon.

The Chair will be flexible as regards amendments so long as they are submitted this evening. It cannot be tonight as the list must go to the printers then.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Thursday, 23 June 2005.
Sitting suspended at 1.10 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.