I thank Senator Boyhan for raising this matter. I will put this into context before I come to the script I have provided. There was an indemnity deal, which the Senator referred to. That meant the Residential Institutions Redress Board awarded €1.5 billion to the victims of abuse in residential institutions, although this figure would need to be checked with the Comptroller and Auditor General. The State funded that, bar €125 million which was the contribution by the religious orders under the indemnity deal.
After the Ryan report, however, a further undertaking was made by the religious orders to contribute additional money. Of that additional money, part was to recompense the redress payments that were ongoing but €110 million was set aside which was money from the religious orders to fund the institution, Caranua, which would provide additional support over and above the residential institutions payments. This was confined to people who had received payments under the redress scheme.
Caranua was established by an Act of the Oireachtas and solely distributes money provided to it by the religious orders. There is no co-funding arrangement for Caranua and it is funded entirely from those contributions made after the Ryan report.
When that legislation was going through the Houses, the then Minister, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, undertook that a review would take place to see whether the coverage of the scheme could be extended. This was one of the issues and that was the backdrop to the review, which was to see if the €110 million which was there would leave scope for some additional inclusions over and above the people already provided for. To date, €72.5 million has been paid, predominantly for housing - 71% - but also for health and education and a small amount for exceptional needs. The review that was undertaken did a number of things. It highlighted that while €30 million remained to be spent at the end of last year, if one looked ahead at the expected drawdown from existing clients - clients who might come from repeat applications - the anticipation was that that money would be fully used and the idea of extending it to relatives or others was not something that should be contemplated.
As adverted to by the Senator, given that it is a fixed amount of money, and there is still a small flow of new applicants coming through, the board, which is independent, decided that it would be prudent to announce a date beyond which new applications would not be received. This is a decision clearly by the board, acting within its own statutory remit, but it is being prudent in the context of commitments it has made and so on that it would be only fair to indicate that there would be such a closing point.
It has distributed posters to organisations that work with people and used other local offices, including social welfare offices, GPs, post offices and libraries, to spread this information. I have also specifically asked Caranua that where exceptional circumstances are brought to its notice beyond the date, it would allow for additional applications. As one will see, the amount of money currently paid for exceptional needs is small - it less than 1% of its fund.
We should use the exceptional need provision to have reserve funds to ensure that even if there is a cut off date there is the capacity to deal with cases that come to attention after that on a hardship basis.
The relevant legislation I have referred to describes a number of services they can cover and over the years they have also sought to extend those services as new needs came to their attention. One of the things Caranua has come under pressure for is that when it first opened it took time to build up its staffing and resources. A backlog grew and there were complaints from some users. Caranua has worked hard to improve service delivery, to clear backlogs, speed up appeals, expand face-to-face meetings and to adapt its supports to better meet those needs and it has extended it to areas like cookers, fridges, floors and home decoration to recognise the needs that were coming to its attention. In order to ensure that the money available was spread fairly, it also introduced a cap of €15,000. That met with some complaints but it felt that was only fair in trying to make sure that money available was equitably distributed.
While this review has been published and Caranua has decided to set a final date for receiving new applications, there are a number of issues and we have worked with survivors who sought the holding of a series of meetings which would serve as a forum for former residents and others with close personal involvement to reflect on their experience, the State's response to the issue of institutional abuse and to make recommendations. I support this proposal and intend to facilitate consultation with survivors, built around their experiences of the measures the State put in place following the realisation of the systematic abuse that occurred in residential institutions. This consultation will be managed by an external facilitator and my Department has sought the views of survivors on how that consultation process should proceed. An online survey form may be accessed via the Department's website. A freefone service operated by Barnardos is also available and allows people to give their views on consultations over the phone.
I also plan to convene an interdepartmental committee to examine how existing mainstream State services can best meet the needs of survivors into the future. This committee will include representatives from the Department of Education and Skills, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, the Department of Justice and Equality and the Department of Health. It will hold its first meeting in the near future because we need to ensure that there is a strong level of support from the State services for people who have been the victims of such appalling abuse. That is the backdrop to the review and I hope that answers some of the Senator's questions.