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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 3 Jul 2019

Vol. 266 No. 11

Redress for Women Resident in Certain Institutions (Amendment) Bill 2019: Report and Final Stages

I welcome the Minister for Justice and Equality back to the House. I remind Senators that a Senator may speak only once on Report Stage with the exception of the proposer of an amendment, who may reply to the discussion on the amendment. Each non-Government amendment must be seconded.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 4, between lines 2 and 3, to insert the following:

"Insertion of section 7 in Principal Act

4. The Principal Act is amended by the insertion of the following new section after section 6-

"Review of operation of Act

7. The Minister shall not later than 3 months after the enactment of the Redress for Women Resident in Certain Institutions (Amendment) Act 2019, review relevant participants’ access to health and social care services in accordance with the Principal Act and any differences between the entitlements to services as compared with the entitlements to services of holders of a Health (Amendment) Act 1996 Card, ensuring relevant participants' involvement in the review.".".

I thank the Minister for being present again this afternoon. I do not propose to speak at length. The amendment is an abbreviated and simplified version of the amendment we tabled on Committee Stage. It would require the Minister for Justice and Equality to review the health and social services available to the Magdalen women under this Act, compare them to the services available to those entitled to a medical card under the Health (Amendment) Act 1996 and ensure the participation of the Magdalen women in this review. We are calling for this review in light of the fact that the first recommendation of the Quirke report, which the Government accepted in full, has not been enacted fully as certain services and therapies accessible to those with a Health (Amendment) Act, HAA, card have been restricted and are not available to the Magdalen women, despite the fact that Mr. Justice Quirke specifically recommended that the women be entitled to a HAA card standard of care. It is unfair that these services are not available to these women. They have gone through enough and should not have to lobby politicians to access what they were promised as part of the State settlement. I listened closely to what the Minister said in response to our Committee Stage amendment, which was that this is not the place for the amendment, that the Bill is short and technical and that it deals with the extension of health services but, not, apparently, to the ones to which we are referring.

I do not accept that this is the case. The 2015 Bill is the legislative enactment of the health and social care recommendations of the Quirke report. If those recommendations have not been implemented in full, this amendment to the Bill is exactly where such a review should take place.

The Minister claimed the only reason for differences between the entitlements of the Magdalen women and those with an HAA card is that the HAA scheme was specifically designed for those who contracted hepatitis C through contaminated blood products. Accordingly, some changes were made to adapt the scheme to the needs of the Magdalen women. He said these changes were "intended in any way to restrict access, as the focus is firmly on the health needs of the women". I absolutely accept the Minister's intentions in this regard and I do not believe the restriction of entitlements is in any way intentional.

Will he provide further clarification that he will examine the entitlements and the restrictions which have, as he said, unintentionally been placed on the Magdalen women? The practical reality means that, given the way the Magdalen scheme has been designed and implemented, these restrictions unfortunately exist. It is timely and necessary, therefore, to review the entitlements under both schemes, especially if the intention was never to restrict access.

All we are asking for is a review. If it is the case that there is nothing wrong and the scheme is operating as intended, will the Minister accept the amendment, conduct a review and show these concerns raised are not founded? I look forward to his response.

I second the amendment. I welcome the Minister to the House. I commend Senator Ruane on her creativity and ingenuity in this amendment. As she outlined, it seeks to do something modest, which is necessary in the broader context of the Bill. I acknowledge that the Minister respects the bona fides of Members and our intentions regarding this legislation. I hope he will look understandingly and favourably at this positive and worthwhile amendment.

I welcome the Minister to the House again. Overall, the Bill is welcome. I thank the Minister for his engagement with it. It expands the availability of health services, which are to be provided free of charge to women who resided and worked in Magdalen laundries. It also provides that payments made to the women arising from an ex gratia payment will not be included in any assessment of means for the fair deal scheme. It is good legislation.

What Senator Ruane is looking to achieve is reasonable. She had a similar amendment on Committee Stage and has tweaked it to gain more support for it. I hope the Minister will support this reasonable amendment.

I thank Senator Ruane for her contribution. I am happy to engage positively with her to ensure any outstanding issues can be dealt with to the satisfaction of the women who worked in the Magdalen laundries. I do not like the term “Magdalen women” and I do not believe in the circumstances that it is a fair term. I rather prefer to address the issue along the lines of dealing with women who happened to work in Magdalen laundries.

As far as the amendment is concerned, I am not inclined to change my view of last week. The review called for in the amendment extends beyond the scope of this narrow legislation, the purpose of which is to give effect to the Ombudsman's report on dealing with the needs of these women. I am keen that all of these issues be dealt with. Due to the fact that the review encompasses more than is envisaged in legislation, will Senator Ruane withdraw her amendment and not divide the House on it? I am happy to engage with her bilaterally to ensure the issues raised that gave rise to her tabling the amendment might be addressed in this regard.

I note what Senator Ó Donnghaile said. I will give a commitment to examine the issues. However, some of them might be outside the scope of my Ministry. In that might regard, I would be happy to convey any concerns to other Ministers who may have responsibility in that area.

I am not minded to accept the amendment because it does not alter the nature of the legislation, going outside its single purpose. To my mind, it would extend the scope of the legislation in a way that is not intended. I am happy to engage further and ask Senator Ruane for her indulgence in that regard.

I thank the Minister for his response and I am happy with it. My office will look to work with him to look at those unintentional restrictions that have occurred in the scheme.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Bill received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

The Minister will notice the amendments I tabled on Committee Stage, and which Senator Ruane proposed on my behalf, were not resubmitted on Report Stage. That was also with regard to respecting the particular purpose of this Bill.

However, I hope there may be opportunities to engage on those issues that are of great importance such as forensic accountancy and the related economic issues. The Bill relates to places of work and flags and touches on issues of economic exploitation and expropriation that are part of the institutional abuse landscape.

On Committee Stage, I referred to Bethany Home which is an ongoing concern.

I am simply speaking to the end of the Bill. I am noting that I did not resubmit my amendments from Committee Stage to Report Stage. I hope to have an opportunity to engage with them in the interim.

I find that Standing Orders are rigidly enforced when I am in this House. It is fair that I be given a similar opportunity to Senators as far as rules of the House are concerned, which appear to me to require a considerable review and revamp.

That may be the case. I am sure there is a committee that can deal with Standing Orders.

I hope there is. Perhaps the Acting Chairman could enlighten me.

I think the Minister is being a little bit sensitive. Senator Higgins spoke briefly on an important issue to many of us here. A little bit of leeway would not go astray.

I try to enforce the rules as they are.

Question put and agreed to.