Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Bill 2012: Committee Stage
This meeting has been convened to consider the Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Bill 2012 which was referred to the select sub-committee by order of the Dáil on 23 May 2012. I welcome the Minister of State responsible for research and innovation at the Department of Education and Skills, Deputy Sean Sherlock, and his officials. As there are comparatively few amendments, we will consider the Bill until we conclude Committee Stage today. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Amendments Nos. 2 to 4, inclusive, and 6 and 7 are related and may be discussed together, by agreement. Amendments Nos. 9, 10 and 19 comprise the second group. Amendments Nos. 15 and 16 are grouped, as are amendments Nos. 31 and 32. All other amendments which are not grouped will be discussed separately. Is that agreed? Agreed.
The following amendments have been disallowed under Standing Order 156(3) as they involve a potential charge on the Exchequer: No. 5, in the name of Deputy Seán Crowe, which seeks to set up a separate redress board for residents of Magdalene laundries and Bethany Home; No. 13, in the name of Deputy Clare Daly, which proposes that publicly available services be provided for former residents without charge; amendments Nos. 17 and 18, in the names of Deputies Seán Crowe and Clare Daly, which propose former residents should have a statutory right to public social housing; amendments Nos. 23, 24 and 30, in the name of Deputy Clare Daly, which propose that expenses, remuneration, etc., of board members, the CEO of the board and appeals officers should not be paid from the fund. The implication of the latter proposal is that since the Minister establishes the board and appoints appeals officers, the cost would potentially fall back on the Exchequer.
I note people in the Visitors Gallery are having difficulty in hearing. I am not sure whether there is anything we can do about this.
No comments may be made by those in the Visitors Gallery, but they are very welcome to the proceedings.
Section 1 agreed to.
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 7, to delete lines 1 to 5 and substitute the following:
" "relevant trust" means a trust, which may include a company, a body corporate other than a company or an unincorporated body of persons, established for charitable purposes and-
(a) which is or was engaged in the management, administration, operation, supervision or regulation of an institution specified in the Schedule to the Act of 2002, or
(b) which is a person listed in the First Schedule to the Deed made on 5 June 2002 between the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Education and Science of the one part and the persons listed in the First Schedule to that deed of the other part;”.
This amendment replaces the definition of "relevant trust" in the Bill with a more extensive one. It is essentially a technical amendment to ensure all congregations that managed scheduled institutions fall within the scope of the Bill's provisions on the charitable status of their contributions to the statutory fund or generally towards the costs of redress. The new definition provides for a relevant trust to include a trust which is or was involved in the management of scheduled institutions for the purposes of the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002 or a congregation that was party to the 2002 indemnity agreement. The amendment is in response to concerns that a particular congregation may not have come within the original definition.
Does this facilitate the transfer of funds from the religious congregations?
Sections 42 and 29 will facilitate that process. I have given the definition for it.
Is that what the Minister of State has given us now?
That is what I wanted to know.
Amendment agreed to.
Section 2, as amended, agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 2 to 4, inclusive, and 6 are related. Amendment No. 7 is an alternative to No. 6. They are all to be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 7, lines 8 to 14, to delete subsection (1) and substitute the following:
"(1) This Act shall apply to any person (in this Act referred to as a "former resident"), whether or not he or she is resident in the State, who is a former resident of Irish Institutions identified in the various approved schedules of institutions as applied within the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2001 and eligible to apply to the Redress Board.".
This has been one of the key issues in regard to the legislation. It has been highlighted that the legislation restricts access to the fund to those who have already received redress and excludes those who were eligible to seek redress but did not do so. The amendment seeks to extend the provision to the latter for many reasons, as highlighted by those who contacted us recently. There were many reasons certain individuals did not seek redress. Some, constituting a very small minority, may not have been aware of the scheme. Others felt the trauma was too difficult to deal with and perhaps did not want to acknowledge what had occurred or go through the pain associated with the process. They may not have been in a position to deal with the matter or let others know about it. I refer to a very small number who, if the amendment were passed, would be able to gain access to the new fund. Allowing for this would not be onerous and would be far more equitable. The people in question also suffered abuse and trauma and need the State to meet their needs. This subject was well aired on Second Stage. It is probably one of the key issues in respect of which an amendment is requested in all the submissions made, not just those of residents but also those of some of the clerical organisations.
I will discuss the amendment in my name, No. 4, which seeks to have inserted the words "any other former resident whose circumstances would have deemed him or her eligible to receive an award under the Act of 2002". As Deputy Clare Daly said, this is an important issue which a number of speakers, including me, raised on Second Stage. During the debate on the Residential Institutions Redress (Amendment) Bill 2011 that took place this time last year I asked the Minister whether provision could be made for the work of the redress board to continue on those cases in which people who were eligible to apply but had not done so to ensure they would not be denied the opportunity to apply subsequently. When addressing that Bill and the legislation before the committee this morning, Fianna Fáil always has had concerns that a number of people, albeit probably a small cohort, have not yet availed of the opportunity to go before the redress board as constituted. The establishment of the statutory trust fund should not deprive people who have not yet made an application to receive the particular assistance they need. All members have spoken to representative groups, some of which are represented in the Visitors Gallery. Members also spoke to them in advance of the drafting of this legislation and I have corresponded and communicated with some people who are members of the advocacy groups abroad. They are concerned that some individuals have not availed of assistance to which they are entitled. Given the progress made and the further progress required, it would be a shame were that group of people to be excluded from assistance under this statutory trust fund. Everyone is getting older and a smaller cohort of survivors remains. Moreover, in many instances, it is probable that those who have not come forward to avail of the assistance offered are the most marginalised. I have received correspondence and met some representative groups which were greatly concerned that a small number of people could be excluded. Consequently, I ask the Minister of State to give further consideration to this matter. As Deputy Clare Daly noted, a number of amendments in this regard have been tabled for Committee Stage and one of the points made most strongly during the Second Stage debate was that such persons should not be excluded.
Is my other amendment also being discussed now?
Yes. Amendments Nos. 2 to 4, inclusive, and 6 and 7 are being discussed together.
I tabled amendment No. 7 which pertains to the need to continue services, particularly education services, for children and grandchildren of survivors and persons who availed of the redress board scheme. My understanding is that students in receipt of some assistance who are probably in third level and commenced their courses in 2010 will be assisted throughout the full duration of the course. However, in the case of students in receipt of assistance who began their courses in the academic year 2011-12, this new Bill will not provide for such assistance to be continued. Again, one should not deprive people of the opportunity to receive assistance. The area that has been highlighted most for me is education and the need to continue to provide that assistance. That is the reason I propose this amendment.
The Deputy cannot move it formally at this point; he can only discuss it.
I understand a statutory trust fund of €110 million will be established and the figure that has been floating around is that perhaps 15,000 people might avail of it. However, the source of my concern is the term "former resident" which may be overly restrictive. If the fund is not oversubscribed, perhaps consideration might be given to spouses, children and grandchildren who may be affected down the line. Consequently, I ask the Minister of State to consider this possibility. As for the education fund, I understand the money is coming to an end and the Department is worried about administration costs. However, the Minister of State should explain publicly the reason the fund is being discontinued.
I am inclined to the view that the statutory fund should be available to all past residents who were eligible to apply to the redress board even if they did not so do. There is a range of reasons people may not have applied to the board in the past, including a lack of awareness among elderly persons living in the United Kingdom, people who have been socially isolated and have had no contact with Irish agencies there, as well as mental health issues or educational deficiencies. A range of issues has prevented people from coming forward and this legislation offers a real opportunity to deal with such cases in a caring and inclusive manner. I will be interested to hear the Minister of State's argument to the contrary - if that is the view he will adopt - but I ask him to take on board the points made by the other Deputies. Moreover, if he is unable to accept the amendments today, he might revert to the issue on Report Stage. The amendments tabled essentially have been recommended by individuals involved in the survivor support networks and are worthy of further consideration. As it is estimated that only a couple of hundred additional persons may come forward, it certainly is worth examining this proposal. At a minimum, if the Minister of State is not inclined to so do at this point, some means of reviewing the eligibility criteria in the future, perhaps in one year, should be left open.
Without wishing to restate the case, I agree completely with the points made by Deputy Brendan Ryan. For the sake of brevity, I simply wish to add my voice to the points made.
I beg the Chair's indulgence. Before addressing the substantive issues involved, the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, sends his apologies as he is unable to attend today's session. In addition, I acknowledge on his behalf the presence in the Visitors Gallery of representatives of the survivor groups.
I believe strongly the Minister has addressed the points made by Deputy Clare Daly on Second Stage. The effect of these amendments would be to widen significantly eligibility for the fund. Some suggest former residents who would be eligible for a reward from the redress board should be eligible, while it is unclear in other instances as to whether the proposal is to include all former residents, irrespective of whether they were abused in scheduled institutions. Amendment No. 7 also proposes to include family members of former residents in the case of education services.
One must recognise the Bill's primary purpose is to establish a statutory fund to support the needs of survivors in keeping with the all-party motion agreed unanimously by Dáil Éireann in the aftermath of publication of the Ryan report. As Deputies are aware, a maximum of €110 million will be available to the fund to assist approximately 15,000 potential beneficiaries. Were eligibility to be significantly widened to include, for example, all former residents of scheduled institutions as is being proposed, the amounts available to fund services for individuals could be reduced greatly and the effectiveness of the statutory fund put at risk. Some of the amendments refer to former residents who were eligible to apply under the redress Act. Anyone could apply to the redress board and more than 900 applications to the board were withdrawn, refused or resulted in no award, generally on the basis that the person concerned had not been resident in a scheduled institution.
The Government has deliberately proposed confining entitlement to the 15,000 survivors who have come through the redress process. Were the fund to investigate applications to establish residence and injury consistent with the alleged abuse, clearly a considerable bureaucracy similar to the Residential Institutions Redress Board would be required. The statutory fund is neither intended nor designed to consider issues such as abuse. Because it accepts applications only from those who received an award from the courts or the redress board, all issues related to abuse have been dealt with, thereby allowing the fund to focus on needs. Extensive efforts were made to facilitate claims to the redress board and the former residents who did not apply to the board can continue to avail of the counselling and family tracing services available.
The motivation for amendment No. 7 appears to be to allow the child of a former resident who received an award from the redress board benefit from the fund in so far as it relates to educational services. I should point out that the receipt of a grant or assistance for educational services from the education finance board was not linked to the receipt of an award from the redress board. Any former resident and his or her relatives, including children and grandchildren, could benefit. Widening eligibility to include children and grandchildren would result in a broadening of the scope of the fund beyond that which is intended.
While amendments Nos. 15 and 16, which we will address later, also deal with the issue, I wish to say at this point that it remains the Government's position that eligibility for the new fund should be confined to former residents. The education finance board did excellent work in terms of distributing the moneys that came from the religious congregations under the 2002 indemnity agreement. Former residents and their relatives benefited from this support. It was always clear that particular fund would run out and we are now almost at that point. I appreciate the sentiments expressed by the Deputies regarding the range of eligibility issues but I urge them to see the sense of the Government's position or the manner in which we are trying to operate on this matter.
On individual issues that were raised by Deputies Ryan and Ó Ríordáin, the redress board ran a comprehensive advertising campaign. It cost approximately €900,000, involving press, television and radio advertising over a two-week period in January and February 2003. In addition, it held 12 information days throughout the UK in 2004 and distributed 15,000 leaflets to the network of Irish societies. It also placed advertisements in UK newspapers and in Irish publications in the United States and Australia. The board placed advertisements in Irish and UK newspapers highlighting each ministerial order which added institutions to the schedule of the redress Act. It also advertised the closing date in 2005 in Irish and UK newspapers and in Irish publications in the United States and Australia. Since its establishment, the board has placed a total of 1,492 advertisements.
In speaking of the grouping of amendments, the Minister, Deputy Quinn, addressed the specific points made. On Second Stage, he stated:
[N]ot to have an open-ended, long, tortuous, bureaucratic quango come into existence, we have decided pragmatically, in the full knowledge of the decision we were making, that we would use the database of the 15,000 people who have already been given awards. That is the database that is already there - we know what it is. To start again, given their age and given the period when the abuse took place, would have taken an enormous amount of time in terms of processing and verifying that information.
The Minister has been clear on this. We must go back to the fact that if it is opened up again, it is not possible to quantify the number of persons who would come forward again. There are no definitive numbers in that sense. In terms of expectations, if the eligibility criteria were opened up, one could take as a fair barometer the 940 applications which were not deemed eligible under the redress board applications.
The best approach is that outlined by the Minister, Deputy Quinn, on Second Stage, which is to proceed on the basis proposed in the Bill. The question of reviewing eligibility can be considered after the fund is established in the event of there not being a significant expenditure of the fund. There is some scope. I must, therefore, oppose the amendments.
My amendment refers specifically to "any other former resident whose circumstances would have deemed him or her eligible to receive an award under the Act of 2002." That does not include all residents by definition. It includes those who would have been eligible for an award. What the Minister of State stated is inaccurate in that respect.
The Minister of State correctly pointed out that the Department and the agencies ran an extensive advertising campaign. We all suggested that when the legislation to wind it up was being discussed, and also on the Second Stage debate in respect of this Bill. Unfortunately, many of those the Minister is trying to reach do not have good literacy skills and they will not read the Government announcements in the newspapers. I am being guided by advocacy groups and representative organisations, both on our own island and outside our jurisdiction. Some of those abroad are public representatives who are concerned that there will be a small cohort of persons denied the opportunity to gain assistance who would have been eligible to apply and who, for whatever reasons such as personal circumstances or not wanting to face up to the issues at the time, would have been excluded. I would ask the Minister of State to reconsider, particularly in the case of the amendment I put forward for those who would have been eligible for an award, not all former residents.
The Minister of State is correct. There was all-party agreement after the Ryan report. However, there was not all-party agreement on the initial draft of the legislation and how we deal with the sentiments that were agreed upon by the all-party vote is a matter of debate and difference.
One of the key areas of difference is this area of who would be eligible to benefit. We are dealing here with a scheme which was in place to help those who were damaged and excluded, and further damaged and excluded by the State delaying on stepping forward and taking its responsibility. Therefore, to bring in this fund which perpetuates an exclusion of a small number of persons is an incorrect basis on which to establish it. One can state truthfully that there are no definitive numbers but all of the indications are that one is talking about a relatively small group of persons, some hundreds. This has not been greatly disputed. We are dealing with a group of persons who are getting older and whose numbers are diminishing. Every delay further excludes those persons from available services which could benefit their quality of life.
There is no contradiction between using the database information while allowing others who were not already in that system to apply. I do not accept the points that it would mean a considerable bureaucracy. On the points that have been made about how this is not a redress fund for abuse, which issue has been dealt with, the purpose of the scheme is supposed to deal with the needs of any past residents of these institutions. The Ryan report states - in fairness, one of the orders highlighted it in the submissions in the report - "An important aspect of this process of exploration, acceptance and understanding by the State and the Congregations is the acknowledgement of the fact that the system failed the children, not just that children were abused". Given the purpose of the scheme, it would be highly damaging to perpetuate an exclusion at this stage.
It is one of the key issues that we need to address. It would not open the floodgates. It would not lead to unnecessary delay. The idea that one can include others later if the moneys are not used up is insulting. Given that there is no way that this fund will not be expended, the debate, if anything, is centred on the view that it is not enough. It is not a realistic proposition to include those persons later on. We will press these amendments.
I note the Minister of State's comments on the extensive advertising and moneys spend in trying to target those affected. Notwithstanding that, I outlined reasons persons may have been missed. That is as much as I want to say on that.
On what the Minister of State had to say about a possible review in the future, he seemed to emphasise that it "can" be reviewed in the future. On Report Stage, the Minister of State might table some amendments that would change it to read "will be reviewed" in one year's time or longer if the maximum of 15,000 former residents is not realised. Will the Minister of State consider my suggestion for Report Stage?
Many of us argued that the redress process should have been extended. I have discussed this matter with colleagues. Many of the people affected did not feel they were able to enter the process at that time in their lives. I have spoken with relations who spent an horrific time in some institutions, but they did not want to re-open the experience then. Some people who went through the process regretted doing so and were not impressed by how they were treated.
Many people passed through the institutions. It is expected that 15,000 of them, be they living in Ireland or abroad, will successfully complete the redress process and be eligible to apply for the range of services under this Bill. On Second Stage, the Minister, Deputy Quinn, stated: "If eligibility were significantly widened to include, for example, all former residents of scheduled institutions, the amounts available to fund services for individuals could be greatly reduced and the effectiveness of the statutory fund would be put at risk." I agree with Deputy Smith's suggestion that the question of reviewing eligibility under the statutory fund should at least be considered following the fund's establishment in the event of applications not resulting in its expenditure.
We are dealing with a legacy issue. One of the legacies of passing through the institutions is a difficulty with literacy. A cohort is unaware of the process. This is another argument for extending it. Should access to redress be extended, my amendment sets criteria for a person's eligibility:
(a) proof of his or her identity,
(b) that he or she was resident in an institution during his or her childhood, and
(c) that he or she was injured while so resident and that injury is consistent with any abuse that is alleged to have occurred while so resident.
These are specific. We are discussing people who were injured or abused in institutions. They should be included under this legislation. Although my amendment extends eligibility, it would be wrong to omit many of those who are outside the process. God knows, there are many of them according to the figures. Given the number of people who passed through institutions, we have undoubtedly omitted a large cohort. The process must be extended and we must show flexibility. If we do not, we double the hurt. Public apologies will mean nothing if the State excludes people once again.
I will respond to Deputy Ryan's point first. When I mentioned advertising and so forth, I did so to show that the State sought in good faith to reach out and advertise. I take the Deputy's point, which he also made in good faith.
An amendment requiring a review within a certain timeframe could be considered on Report Stage, but only following the fund's establishment. At that time, the committee could deliberate with the Minister on how to proceed. Some consideration should be given to an amendment along the lines proposed. I will reflect this point of view to the Minister.
Members should examine the amendments' wording. Deputy Crowe's states "eligible to apply" and Deputy Smith's states "eligible to receive", but eligibility needs to be established. If persons did not come forward during the first process, one would need to set up a bureaucratic mechanism to establish eligibility. We are not in a position to do so. In the Minister's opinion, an estimate of 15,000 people is the fairest way to deal with the matter. He has been clear in this regard. We do not know what the numbers are, as they range from a few people to a couple of hundred to a significant cohort, depending on whom one asks. There comes a point when a line must be drawn. I do not want to use emotive language and we must be mindful of the sensitivities involved, but the Minister stated his intentions on Second Stage clearly. We will oppose the amendments.
That is a disingenuous response. I do not mean this in a bad way, but the Minister of State has missed the point. Perhaps he did not understand it. I am not saying it was deliberate.
With all due respect, I wish to establish a barometer in terms of how we proceed. I will not be patronised and I want to deal with the Deputies respectfully, but we have an understanding of the issues at hand and we want to address them with a degree of sensitivity and respect.
I had no intention of patronising the Minster of State. I meant to qualify what I meant by "disingenuous", as I did not mean ill intent. Rather, there may have been a misunderstanding about some of the points, namely, that the amendments would open up a bureaucratic quagmire.
My amendments state "eligible to apply". The pool of 15,000 people is not in dispute regardless of whether "eligible to apply" joins the fray. Deputy Crowe's proposed system is not bureaucratic. It requires people to prove their residency and that they were injured. It is straightforward. One could include a time clause. No one is suggesting that everybody will be caught in this net - we all agree that it will not be possible - but hundreds of people could be brought into it relatively quickly. Applying a timeframe could facilitate this work. This is the only point that has been made. To confuse the issue and claim that the process will continue forever and create a cumbersome, bureaucratic nightmare is not fair. It unnecessarily complicates something that can be handled in a straightforward manner. We are dealing with people who were excluded from society and damaged by the State. A process to address them should be as large as possible, although I accept that one will never get everyone to apply.
I disagree with the Minister of State regarding costs. The argument about a large bureaucracy is flawed. During the Second Stage debate on this Bill, and in the debate on the redress board amendment legislation, I mentioned that provision has been made in the past through legislation for the taking over of the residual functions of an agency or board by a parent Department, which could reactivate that work if the need arose. There are plenty of eminent people in the Department who would be willing, if the Minister were, to apply. Thus, there would be no need for a board. The expertise has not vanished. The redress board work has been wound down but the expertise remains. That residual function could be held within the Department of Education and Skills, which could carry out such work within existing public service guidelines and so on. I do not accept the argument that there would be massive bureaucracy involved in taking in further applications. Those residual functions can be provided for in legislation, as has been done in the past.
I accept that there is a need for some type of structure. However, the redress board spent €166 million on lawyers' fees. It is a bit rich, having paid out that amount of money to lawyers, to be concerned about the bureaucratic cost in terms of the addition of other people who are entitled to seek redress under this fund. Are we living in the real world? What happened in the past was wrong. What is being proposed, in terms of the exclusion of people, is compounding that wrong. There is a need for a type of structure which ensures these people are included but that does not mean there is need for massive cost in this regard. We have already wasted money that should have been paid to survivors of abuse on lawyers, who jumped on the back of the abuse endured by victims of abuse. It was the lawyers rather than the people who endured the horror of abuse, with which they are still trying to come to terms, who benefited to the tune of millions. Despite that the victims' lives having been destroyed by abuse they were paid only buttons. Let us forget about bureaucracy and put in place the structure required, otherwise we will only be compounding the hurt these people endured.
I may have used the word "bureaucracy" but I am not sure I used the words "massive bureaucracy". If I did, it was not to imply that a whole machine would have to be created around this. The central point is that the fund is €110 million in respect of which 15,000 have already made an application. Some 940 people were deemed ineligible under the redress process because they were not residents of the scheduled institutions.
On the legal advice issue, legal advice was taken up by 97% of those who applied under the original scheme. That advice was independent legal advice which the people sought. I am not suggesting that those people did not have an entitlement to that legal advice, I am merely stressing it was independent legal advice sought by them. People had a degree of autonomy and discretion in terms of whom they chose as their legal advisers. It was important that was inherent in the original scheme.
On eligibility to apply, the bureaucratic aspect arises from the fact that we would again now have to establish where the injury took place, which re-opens the whole process. The Minister, Deputy Quinn, has made clear his position in regard to the proposed amendments.
Is the amendment being pressed?
The Committee divided: Tá, 3; Níl, 7.
- Crowe, Seán.
- Daly, Clare.
- Smith, Brendan.
- Butler, Ray.
- Harris, Simon.
- Mitchell O’Connor, Mary.
- Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
- Ryan, Brendan.
- Sherlock, Sean.
- Tuffy, Joanna.
Amendment declared lost.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 7, subsection (1), between lines 14 and 15, to insert the following new paragraph:
"(c) a person who was a former resident of a scheduled institution and who was eligible to apply under subsection (2) of the Act of 2002.”.
Amendment put and declared lost.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 7, subsection (1), between lines 14 and 15, to insert the following paragraph:
"(c) any other former resident whose circumstances would have deemed him or her eligible to receive an award under the Act of 2002.”.
The Committee divided: Tá, 3; Níl, 7.
- Crowe, Seán.
- Daly, Clare.
- Smith, Brendan.
- Butler, Ray.
- Harris, Simon.
- Mitchell O’Connor, Mary.
- Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
- Ryan, Brendan.
- Sherlock, Sean.
- Tuffy, Joanna.
Amendment declared lost.
Amendment No. 5 was discussed at the beginning of the meeting and was ruled out of order as being a charge on the Exchequer and, therefore, cannot be moved. Perhaps the Deputy wishes to comment.
Is it my amendment on Bethany Home?
I am disappointed that the charge is being used to prevent people from being part of the redress scheme and that we are excluding the women and children of the Magdalene laundries and Bethany Home. The excuse that it is a charge on the Exchequer has been used in the past. It is a charge on the Exchequer but there is a responsibility on the Exchequer and the Government to help those people who have been excluded from the redress process. I could quote the position held by different Ministers on the matter when they were not in power. The women and children are being excluded once again and we are compounding their hurt. They should have been part of the process.
I will resubmit the amendment on Report Stage. I hope that the Minister of State will reflect on what we have said this morning on the matter and perhaps he will show flexibility when dealing with it. Strong views were expressed here this morning and I hope that he will take them on board and produce a suitable amendment.
On a point of information for Deputies, once an amendment is withdrawn it can be resubmitted at Report Stage in the Dáil but if it is pressed to a vote then it cannot be tabled on Report Stage.
Amendments No. 5 and 6 not moved.
Amendment No. 7 has already been discussed.
I move amendment No. 7:
In page 7, subsection (2), line 16, after "subsection (1)(a)” to insert the following:
"save where such an award allowed/allows for a child of a former resident to avail of that which applies in section 8(1)(c), such child of a former resident shall continue to be eligible to avail of that approved service which applies in section 8(1)(c)”.
I wish to make a plea to the Minister of State. I know of instances where young people will drop out of college if their assistance is no longer available for the next academic year. I understand that students who commenced their courses in 2011 will no longer have their assistance continued thus leading to their dropping out of college. I ask the Minister to consider my following suggestion in advance of Report Stage. The least that he can do is to allow people in receipt of assistance to continue to have the support until they finish their studies. Naturally, I would prefer if the provision was more open-ended. I will withdraw my amendment on that basis and resubmit it on Report Stage.
I wish to return to the Minister of State's response to Deputy Brendan Ryan and other Deputies on the establishment of the Bill and the review process. May I have further clarification on how he considers it will take place and the mechanisms surrounding it and if he will incorporate some of the suggestions made by Deputies?
Clearly an annual reporting and review mechanism could be established once the fund is established. It is reasonable to ask for the committee to have due regard to the workings of the fund or review the process. We should all adopt an open mind on how it is structured. When the Minister addresses Report and Final Stages there should be some response to the suggestions made on the fund, its uses, and where spare, if any, resources are deployed. At this stage of the process, and not to be too specific, I acknowledge that the issue was raised, that the Minister will attend for the next stage and that members have asked that he have regard to the concerns that they raised.
With regard to the establishment of the Bill and fund, the committee could work with the Minister and have a certain scope to address some of the issues that have been discussed here today. Is there a potential for that?
Yes, there is potential for an oversight role. I feel strongly that I should not make a definitive statement on it at this stage. The Minister will have regard to the process and, effectively, with due deference to his role as the Minister for Education and Skills who sits at Cabinet, then we should give consideration to the role, and there should be a response to the suggestions. The fund's modus operandi should be determined by the Minister.
Will a review take place every year?
There will be an annual report that should give rise to a process in terms of how it is parsed, examined or interpreted.
I listened to what the Minister of State has said. I sought a review in my opening comments but I want the definition of former residents examined in a review. Perhaps it could include other people who have been affected. I know that the Minister of State cannot give a commitment here but I ask him to speak to his Minister and convey our sentiments. We also need to examine the education fund. I do not want any money left over to be spent by lawyers, solicitors or anyone else but to be given to the victims, the people who it should reach. I ask for the Minister to examine the matter.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 3 agreed to.
Sections 4 to 6, inclusive, agreed to.
Amendment No. 8 not moved.
Amendments Nos. 9, 10 and 19 are related. Is it agreed that they be discussed together? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 9:
In page 8, subsection (1)(a)(ii), line 41, after “services,” to insert the following:
"including the retention of counselling services presently being accessed by former residents,"
A key function of the fund should be to provide enhanced access to counselling, health, housing, education and other services with payments to be made directly to service providers. The fraught and difficult process of dealing with sexual, physical and psychological abuse suffered in residential care homes is reflected in the challenges many survivors have faced when receiving counselling services. The establishment of trust with an individual counsellor is vital in helping individuals deal with their past trauma and it is important that provision is made in the Bill to ensure that level of care is enhanced. The amendment reflects some of the representations I have received from survivors who wish to be able to continue working with an individual counsellor whom they trust. Likewise, former residents should have the right to choose a counsellor who meets the criteria in section 8 of the Bill.
With regard to counselling services, the point has been made that at present people have a right to free counselling and the right to choose their counsellor. The concern is that the Bill is not clear that this will continue and that people will be entitled to continue with the existing arrangement. The point has already been made about the difficulty with establishing a relationship in dealing with these issues and trying to get the right person. Also there is the issue of a single agency or organisation gaining a monopoly on those services. It should be left to the former resident to choose their counsellor and amendment No. 19 is proposed to clarify that. The Minister should not have a difficulty with it.
I also believe it is important that the current right of all former residents to free counselling of their own choice should continue following the passing of this legislation. I look forward to hearing the Minister's thoughts and comments on that.
Counselling services are specifically provided for in section 8 of the Bill as a class of approved service. I am uncertain as to the intent behind some of the proposed amendments. While I appreciate the concerns that a former resident's existing counsellor be retained once the fund is established, I do not see how that position would be threatened simply because the fund is established. People can continue to attend their existing counsellor, which may be funded under the National Counselling Service, without recourse to the fund. If individuals are privately attending counsellors and wish to apply to the fund to have this service funded, the person could advise the fund of this preference in their application. Once the counsellor meets the criteria for service providers specified by the fund, it is difficult to envisage why the fund would not agree to such an arrangement. I have no doubt that issues such as these are a concern to individual former residents, but they are matters of detail that should be left to the fund, which is required to act in the interests of the former residents. In other words, what is inherent in the legislation is the interests of former residents and the fund, by its nature and the spirit in which it is set up, is to look after the needs of people in terms of counselling services.
The proposal in amendment No. 10 that a one-off payment be made from the fund is not acceptable given that there is no apparent linkage with the needs of a former resident. The purpose of the fund is not, and never was, a form of additional compensation. That issue has been dealt with by the redress board. It is, as advocated in the original motion passed by the House, intended for the support of victims. Eligible former residents will have a range of needs, with some likely to require more significant interventions than others, and the approach set out in the Bill is intended to support these needs. On that basis, I cannot accept the amendments.
The Minister says the retention of counselling services is already in the spirit of the Bill. However, what is wrong with putting that in the Bill? It would not take away from the Bill but it would guarantee that one is not relying on whoever is implementing the statutory fund. If it is in the Bill, it makes this firmer and gives legal rights to people who are already in this situation with counselling services. It would be useful to include it. I accept that the Minister believes this is already covered, but would he look at it again? It is no harm to provide for it in the Bill. There is concern about this matter, although I do not know if there is a basis for that concern. The Minister said this would have to be part of what is to be done by those who will be implementing the fund, but I cannot see what harm would be done by providing for it in the Bill.
I see Deputy Crowe's and Deputy Daly's motivation for these amendments. I also take the Minister's points about it being very much a part of the spirit of the fund. However, it is important that we remove any doubt or apprehension people might have between now and Report Stage. It is very important that one has the right to choose one's counsellor and the right to retain one's existing counsellor. That is respecting the relationship and bond that people can build up over time in terms of trust with a counsellor. Could the Minister of State ask the Minister, Deputy Quinn, to look at this and try to remove all doubt? Whether that doubt should be there is a legal matter, but if the Minister could try to remove all doubt between now and Report Stage, it would be of great assistance.
The Minister says counselling is defined in the Bill as an approved service that people can utilise. That is accepted. The problem is that people do not perceive it as guaranteed. I appreciate the Minister's comment that it would be difficult to envisage circumstances where the fund would turn down an application. Perhaps it would be, but it would not be unheard of. I can envisage a situation where it might be suggested that a particular counsellor was more expensive or something similar. There could be other reasons given for why the board might object to funding being made available to that counsellor. The issue is to enshrine and give precedence to the concept which we all consider to be the most important issue, that the rights of the former resident and the victim in this situation to access counselling services of their choice and to protect that relationship should be protected. If it is not contradicting anything else and it is already provided for, nothing in these amendments undermines that objective. It just reassures people, and that is necessary.
The amendments show the lack of clarity in the legislation before us. If it could be clarified on Report Stage, that would be helpful.
Does the Deputy think his amendment could impose a charge on the Exchequer?
No, I do not see how it imposes an extra charge on the Exchequer. I would hardly say it does and have it ruled out of order.
I just wanted to get that on the record. I call the Minister.
I would like to open this up a little because it is worthy of discussion. We agree counselling is a statutory entitlement provided by the National Counselling Service. If it is a statutory entitlement, I do not see the need for this amendment, and I say that respectfully because there is a class of approved services in section 8. I do not dispute the points made by the Deputies and I understand the spirit in which the amendments were tabled. My instinct is perhaps to look at this on Report Stage but clarity around the purpose of the amendments is needed. I understand the points made in regard to fears people have about autonomy and so on. Is there an inherent fear that somehow the services will be reduced or withdrawn at some future date? If that is the case, perhaps this can be revisited at a later stage and further clarification can be provided by the Minister.
Will the Minister and his team look at this whole area? I will try to articulate a little better some of the concerns people have expressed in regard to this area. I still do not see why we could not include this in the Bill because it would not take away from it. I will withdraw the amendment on the basis that we will revisit it on Report Stage.
I would like to ensure Deputy Crowe, or any Deputy, has access at all times to the officials in the Department. If Deputy Crowe wishes to discuss that specific issue with the officials, there is no problem.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 10 not moved.
I move amendment No. 11:
In page 9, subsection (2)(a), line 12, after “residents,” to insert the following:
"including all applicants who applied for an award under the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002,".
When I spoke to survivors of residential abuse, a common complaint was that their views and what they wanted from the redress process were consistently ignored. They feel sidelined from the process and disenfranchised from having a serious input into how they are compensated. Recently, I met representatives of survivors from Munster. They made the very sensible suggestion that the Department's database of survivors who applied to the redress board could be used as a way to directly communicate with the residential institutions statutory fund. Yesterday, I raised this with the Minister who said that legally he could not use this database. I am speaking to amendment No. 12 rather than amendment No. 11.
Amendment No. 11 is to include all applicants who applied for an award under the Residential Institutions Redress Act.
Yes. This is to include all applicants who applied for award under the Residential Institutions Redress Act.
The purpose of the amendment is to require the board to make information available in regard to its functions to all applicants to the redress board. As the Deputy will be aware, more than 900 applications to the redress board were withdrawn, refused or resulted in no award generally on the grounds that they were not resident in scheduled institutions as defined in the Act. I do not believe the amendment is required. There is no need to contact the 900 plus persons to whom I referred as they will not be eligible to benefit from the fund. Furthermore, there is no mechanism for doing so due to the confidentiality restrictions of the redress process. The intention of the scheme is to oblige the board to make information available on its functions to former residents. I respectfully argue that the amendment is not necessary and, therefore, I cannot accept it.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I move amendment No. 12:
In page 9, subsection (2)(b), line 14, to delete “and” and substitute the following:
"by corresponding with all applicants who applied for an award under the Act of 2002,".
This is the amendment on the database, about which I spoke to the Minister in the Chamber yesterday. It is about corresponding with all applicants who applied for an award under the Act. I suppose it is also about consultation in regard to the Bill. The Minister said the database cannot be used for this purpose, which is interesting.
I will respond to the amendment first and will then maybe engage further with Deputy Crowe on it. The amendment proposed would require the board to correspond with all applicants who applied to the redress board, even those who did not receive an award. As I said in regard to the previous amendment, it is not permissible to contact individual recipients of redress board awards due to the confidentiality provisions of the 2002 Act.
The Bill empowers the redress board to provide awardees' names, addresses and dates of birth to the statutory fund which will enable the fund to verify applicants' entitlements to apply. That is the only purpose for which the information can be used. The Attorney General's office has advised that any direct unsolicited communication with survivors could be open to a challenge as it might encroach on their right to privacy under the Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights. The redress board process was strictly confidential with the unauthorised disclosure of information being a criminal offence under the 2002 Residential Institutions Redress Act.
Apart from the strict legal issues, the Deputy will also be aware that issues relating to abuse are extremely sensitive and the sending of unsolicited letters to persons' private addresses could pose difficulties. As was noted on Second Stage, some survivors have still not told their partners what they experienced in childhood. I cannot accept the amendment.
I accept what the Minister of State said. The idea was good but there are practicalities and it may cause difficulties for some of the survivors. It was proposed on the basis of trying to involve as many people as possible in what was happening. One of the weakness of this process was that people felt sidelined and that they were not really part of or involved in it. The Minister said he met different groups and so on but this was an attempt to enhance that conversation. That is from where I was coming with this amendment.
I acknowledge the point Deputy Crowe made and the spirit in which the amendment was tabled. I utterly agree with the sincerity of the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 13 was ruled out of order. Would Deputy Clare Daly like to make a comment?
Perhaps the Minister of State will take amendment No. 13 on board. It was ruled out of order on the basis of a potential cost to the Exchequer. Section 7 states that while the board is performing its functions, it shall have regard to the existence of publicly available services and the need to be cost effective. That is a worthy and important provision. However, that should not be done to the detriment of the beneficiaries. We are dealing with an ageing population of people who need to access services. Some of those publicly available services have long waiting lists, are under-funded or are problematic and therefore the Minister must build in some mechanism that allows the users of this fund be given some special status in accessing public services. That would ensure they would not be a victim of waiting lists, charges and so on. Otherwise, it defeats the purpose of this measure, although I appreciate and agree with the need to access it publicly where it is available.
Amendment No. 13 not moved.
We will suspend for the Dáil vote. I ask members to return as soon as the vote has concluded.
Sitting suspended at 11.40 a.m. and resumed at 12.15 p.m.
I move amendment No. 14:
In page 9, after line 45, to insert the following subsection:
"(8) Fixed term contracts shall be made with consultants and advisors, including legal counsel, that ensure expenses made payable out of the Fund are kept to a minimum and reviewed on an annual basis by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.".
Many of those who have accessed the Residential Institutions Redress Board have indicated to me that the individuals administering the fund displayed a lack of empathy. The process is generally regarded as being stressful and excessively bureaucratic and characterised by ill-conceived procedures which hamper rather than facilitate people accessing compensation. An additional concern raised with me was that moneys spent on administration and solicitors should have been paid directly to victims.
By the end of December 2011, the redress board had accepted 15,404 applications of which 14,855 had been processed, resulting in 13,915 awards being made. A total of €866.58 million was paid out in awards and €166.34 million was paid out in legal and associated costs. At the end of 2011, further expenditure associated with the indemnity agreement amounted to €9.6 million in respect of court awards, settlements and associated costs.
Sean Leonard of Justice and Healing for Institutional Abuse notes that the legal fraternity has made a fortune out of the redress scheme, pointing out that survivors are poorly treated when interacting with Departments. The services available through the fund should be administered without undue delay and a timeframe for dealing with cases should be introduced to ensure supports and compensation are made with the minimum of bureaucracy. A financial clause should also be applied to the legal provision that strictly limits the amount legal advisers may charge when employed by the board to help administer the fund on behalf of an individual claimant. I welcome the clause that ensures the information and documentation relating to victims presenting for redress will remain strictly confidential and will be housed in a safe and secure environment.
I am concerned that certain people have been able to exploit the system. The amendment seeks to have this view reflected in the Bill. No one wants the redress process to create millionaires, as has occurred. The amendment seeks to impose limits in the income people can derive from the process by introducing fixed term contracts for consultants and advisers, including legal counsel. While I accept the Minister may believe the provision will cause problems, I believe most members accept the spirit in which it has been tabled.
I accept the points made by Deputy Crowe and his desire to ensure we learn from the mistakes of the past and provide for a degree of probity in this matter. The amendment appears to require the board to engage consultants only by way of fixed-term contracts and provides for an annual review mechanism involving the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. While I appreciate that the objective behind the amendment may be to restrict in some way the use of consultants, a legislative approach is not appropriate for such a matter. The amendment appears to assume that consultants and legal advisers will be appointed on a regular basis. It is not clear on what basis this assumption is made. It is the Government's intention that the use of such external advisers be kept to a minimum, while enabling the board to fulfil its mandate. The use of fixed-term contracts may not be the most appropriate or cost-effective way to bring in such expertise. The board should be given flexibility to choose the most appropriate way of dealing with the issues, subject to overall public service guidelines in these matters. The board will require ministerial approval to enter into contracts or engage consultants. I believe this is sufficient oversight of the arrangements.
I have no problem with showing a little flexibility. However, whether it is legislation or a memorandum to the new board, this is not the purpose of the fund. It is about learning from the past. We have all seen what happened with the tribunals. The fund was not established to do A, B, C but the reality was that lawyers and those associated with the legal profession made a killing. Similarly, with the redress board, people were exploited in that process and many legal firms did very well. While that is my personal opinion, the Minister holds a different view. I do not have examples but whether it is provided for in the Bill, there must be strict application as to how the resources for consultants and advisers are used. I am interested to hear the Minister of State's view on that issue. Would a memorandum be strong enough? If not I will press the amendment.
Section 7(3) states:
In performing any functions conferred on it by or under this Act, the Board shall have regard to the existence of publicly available services and the need to secure the most beneficial, effective and efficient use of the resources available in the investment account.
We would argue that the subsection would sufficiently cover the spirit of the points raised by Deputy Crowe. I see where the Deputy is coming from. Perhaps there could be further consultation with the Minister, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, if the amendment was withdrawn, on how the matter could be clarified to ensure the Deputy's concerns are addressed.
I too would like the Minister of State to examine what Deputy Crowe has said with a view to strengthening the provision. I take on board subsection (3). We all want the money to go to the people and the victims not to others who would cream off money they should not get.
I support the previous speakers and what the Minister of State has said, that the costs need to be minimised. Perhaps that subsection which provides for the delivery of the services and the necessary administration could be underpinned by regulation to ensure the minimum amount is spent.
I refer Members to section 10(1) in respect of directions of the Minister, which states:
The Minister may, in relation to the performance by the Board of its functions, give a direction in writing to the Board requiring it to comply with such policies of the Government as are specified in the direction.
The power of the Minister is clear in terms of giving the direction but in keeping with the concerns raised by the Deputies, this is a matter that could be discussed at a later stage.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 7 agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 15 and 16 are related and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 15:
In page 10, subsection (1)(c ), line 28, after “service” to insert the following:
"and supports for the children and grandchildren of all former residents of scheduled institutions to obtain assistance from the Fund to advance their educational skills and employment opportunities".
This amendment refers to employment opportunities as raised by Deputy Brendan Smith. Providing supports for children whose parents qualified under the redress board should be included in the legislation as having access to education can go some way towards enhancing an individual's opportunities and life's chances. Education plays an important role in helping families break the cycle of intergenerational abuse and can be a platform that enhances the life chances of children whose parents were themselves the victims of abuse. The dissolution of the Education Finance Board and the transfer of its functions to the Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Board will result in distributing the remaining €12.7 million contribution provided by the religious congregations under the 2002 indemnity agreement. The Education Finance Board has advised that it expected its funds to be fully allocated on applications received by the end of November 2011 and it was not in a position to process any application received after that date. I hope the Minister of State will confirm that any person who has benefited under the Education Finance Board will have the opportunity to complete their courses and will remain fully funded.
I am aware that many survivors have difficulties in respect of this matter. Some do not have children and some do not like the fund being used in this way. I recognise there have been intergenerational problems in some families. Many survivors have outlined to me that the problems they experienced in the institutions were brought into their family life and affected their children. This is an effort to give support to their children, recognising the psychological effect it had on the survivors. It also affected their children and, in some cases, their grandchildren. The purpose of the amendment is to provide an education service and supports for their children and grandchildren. I accept some of the survivors have a difficulty with this and do not necessarily agree with the fund being put into the educational skills area.
Essentially the two amendments are the same, that is, breaking the cycle and dealing with the reality whereby the problem continued on to people's families and children. It is a fact that education opportunity is one of the keys to getting out of that situation. This aspect of the Bill has been highlighted more than most. While the view is not unanimous, most of the groups consider that the position which prevails whereby children and grandchildren can access educational opportunities should be maintained. The facts speak for themselves. The reality is that most survivors, because of their age, will not access it, though some will. Some 75% of the take-up was from children and grandchildren rather than former residents for practical reasons. Most of the survivors see it as a real opportunity to give something back to their families to assist in dealing with some of the difficulties foisted on them because of the situation. It is an intergenerational issue and it is one way of dealing with the issue. It undermines the value of such services being made available if they are to be given to people who do not need them while another category who are linked would benefit. The issue must be examined.
These amendments are similar to my amendment No. 7 which we discussed earlier. The importance of education cannot be overemphasised, and it would be regrettable if people who wanted to avail of educational opportunities were denied that assistance. I intend to resubmit that amendment on Report Stage.
I agree generally with previous speakers on this. Many former residents, most of whom did not intend to avail of educational opportunities within this legislation or did not avail of the educational trust opportunities previously, have expressed a view through their representative organisations that they would like their children and grandchildren to have the opportunities that they did not have. The inter-generational stuff emerges from this as well. They have asked to be given the opportunity in this Bill. I ask the Minister of State to look positively on this request. I also acknowledge that there are many survivors who would not see this as the way to go, but I am interested in the Minister of State's comments.
We discussed this issue during the debate on amendment No. 7. The effect of these amendments would be to extend eligibility for the fund to the children and grandchildren of former residents in so far as educational services are concerned. They would also include employment opportunities. I am aware that the Education Finance Board provided significant supports both to former residents and their relatives and the Deputies will be aware that the €12.7 million fund set aside for educational purposes under the 2002 indemnity agreement is now virtually exhausted. Through this Bill, the Government is now focusing on meeting the needs of former residents across a range of service areas, having regard to the available moneys and the potential numbers eligible to apply. I believe that to do this effectively, it must confine itself to the eligible former residents. On that basis I cannot accept the amendment.
There is not unanimity across groups representing survivors on this particular issue. The fund is €110 million and there are 15,000 potential beneficiaries, but there is also the student grants scheme which has income thresholds, and 41% of full-time undergraduate higher education students are in receipt of such grants. Therefore, there are statutory schemes in place already with clear income thresholds for which the children and grandchildren of the former residents are eligible. I would again like to restate that a review of eligibility under the fund is possible if the demands are not significant. That is where the review element of this comes in and the Minister for Education and Skills will respond to it at a further stage.
We are saying that we cannot accept the amendment, but there could be further discussion of this at a later stage. However, I think the Minister was clear about this on Second Stage.
I understand that only 2.8% of those who availed of the redress board have availed of the Education Finance Board assistance. The Minister of State has often spoken of the assistance available based on means testing for maintenance grants and fees to be paid. That extra bit of assistance can be the catalyst for people to avail of those educational opportunities. Only 2.8% have availed of the assistance, but as time passes there will be even fewer people eligible to apply, and we should not cut off that particular assistance. I would be very glad if the Minister of State could look at this before Report Stage. It is an important issue.
Can the Deputy clarify the 2.8% figure?
My understanding is that 2.8% of those who were granted awards by the redress board had availed of the education fund assistance. That is the figure that was given to me.
How do we know that? The confidentiality arrangements inherent within the initial redress scheme-----
I presume the education board provided that.
I will go back to the representative group that gave me that figure. I got it in a submission.
I am not disputing it, but I would like to seek clarification on that. If there is a withdrawal of the amendments at this juncture-----
My earlier amendment was withdrawn and will be resubmitted.
There could be further discussion without prejudice to see if the Minister could take it on board at a later stage. It is important to remember that the €12.7 million fund set aside for educational purposes is virtually exhausted, and this must be borne in mind for this process.
I will withdraw my amendment on the basis of further discussion on this issue. We can return to it on Report Stage.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I move amendment No. 16:
In page 10, subsection (1)(c), line 28, after “service” to insert the following:
", which shall be made available to the children and grandchildren of all former residents entitled to apply to obtain assistance to advance their educational skills and employment opportunities".
I will withdraw this amendment as well, provided that we are really going to look at the issue. We have spoken about it for a while and it will not go away.
We have spoken about the issue. We have been very specific about the €12.7 million fund and the fact that there was a significant fund available for educational attainment through the Education Finance Board. In fairness, the State had given a clear commitment on that so the State's response is measured in that sense. However, there is scope to have further discussion on the issues raised in amendments Nos. 7, 15 and 16 and the Minister will give a clear direction on them at a later stage.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 17 and 18 are out of order because they involve a charge on the Exchequer. However, Deputy Crowe may wish to make a comment on the topic.
The amendment states that former residents living outside the State seeking to return to live in Ireland and who presently live in social or privately rented accommodation and who do not own their own home shall be provided with a statutory entitlement to secure public social housing in the county of their choice. This arose from a letter to the education committee from Ms Sally Mulready of the Irish Women's Survivors Network. I accept the Chairman's point that there is a cost factor in this amendment, but the President has spoken about NAMA properties being used for people living abroad who have fallen on hard times and who may need a holiday in Ireland. If the amendment was reworded so that they could be prioritised or allowed on the housing list, then it might depend on the interpretation as to whether there would be a cost element to it. The amendment is really about responding to the needs of these people. We are being told about people living outside the State who may want to come home. The amendment acknowledges the hurt that happened under the care of the State. Many of these people are getting older. Many of them may not want to come home, but we should put in some kind of system that would allow them to come home if they wish to do so. They could be prioritised or allowed on the local authority housing lists.
We cannot have a debate on this amendment because it is out of order. Deputy Ryan, do you wish to make a point?
I wish to make a point of clarification. If this amendment were to be put by the Minister then the issue of a cost to the Exchequer would not arise. Is that correct? On that basis, I call on the Minister of State to ask the Minister, Deputy Quinn, to examine this and come back on Report Stage with an amendment which would capture the content of these amendments.
My amendment does not guarantee the statutory entitlement to assistance to secure public or social housing. It may not appear to be a significant difference but the point is that many of these people were robbed of their childhood and identity and forced to leave the country. Few wish to return. These people do not own property in the countries in which they are living at the moment, whether England or otherwise. Under the current regulations for habitual residency they would be excluded from rent allowance or access to assistance for normal social housing, which may be available for someone of similar economic circumstances. This should be examined in recognition of why some of these people were forced to leave the country and their troubled past. We should deal with the habitual residency reason, overcome it and allow them to be treated like everyone else. I call on the Minister of State to reflect that on Report Stage. Housing provision is one of the key services under discussion for former residents. Potentially, some of these people will be excluded because they do not meet the habitual residency criteria and this may be one way to address that.
There would be little expenditure on the Exchequer. Some years ago there was an initiative in my county to try to assist people living in difficult circumstances in London and elsewhere in England. The idea was to try to accommodate them using local authority housing. This did not relate to former residents but people in difficult circumstances living in poor accommodation abroad. In reality there was little take-up. The message to the people referred to in Deputy Crowe's amendment would be that we care about them and that we are keen to help them, to house them and to provide appropriate accommodation if they wish to come home. My experience was not with survivors of the institutions but with dealing with people in general living in difficult circumstances or people who may have lost contact with those at home, typically, people who emigrated in the 1940s and 1950s. There was no great desire among those people to come home but it was important to send them a message.
Deputy Ryan asked about the position of the amendments. The rules are that any amendment to a Bill that has the effect of imposing or increasing a charge upon the Revenue may not be moved by any Member save a member of the Government or a Minister of State. I have no wish to debate the matter. Does the Minister of State wish to make a response?
I speak to the spirit of everything that has been said today. No one with a shred of humanity in his heart would disagree or fail to empathise with what is being said but I must be clear about the scope of the Bill. It goes beyond its scope to introduce a statutory entitlement. Nevertheless I take in good faith the arguments made.
These amendments have been disallowed. However, on Report Stage there should be a conversation on meeting the physical needs, including housing and shelter of persons who find themselves in this morass. Liaising mechanisms have been set up and are available try to assist people with these physical needs. These are already inherent and available under various other pillars. For the purposes of this legislation there is no plan to introduce a statutory entitlement. The amendments have been disallowed but given the progress of the legislation it should give rise to a further discussion on Report Stage. That is the best we can do at this stage.
Amendments Nos. 17 to 19, inclusive, not moved.
I move amendment No. 20:
In page 11, lines 20 to 24, to delete subsection (4).
Perhaps I have picked up this wrongly or perhaps one of the groups in contact with us picked it up wrongly. Section 8(4) refers to "a particular class of approved service", and in particular "different former residents or classes of former resident", to which people took offence as terminology that is class discriminatory. What is a class of former resident and how is that defined? Most of the individuals who ended up there were from working class or disadvantaged backgrounds and it was probably their class that led to their ending up there. It is a difficult term to understand and it comes across as somewhat offensive but perhaps it has been picked up wrongly. On that basis we have put forward that the term should be removed because it does not clarify anything and it gives rise to that interpretation.
Deputy Daly proposes the deletion of section 8(4) in its entirety. The subsection is an important provision, however, in that it gives the board the flexibility to determine different classes. These are classes not in a class sense as we understand it but in terms of trying to define a range of subjects, services, people or former residents. It provides the board with flexibility, therefore, in terms of the determination of services. For example, it could set different entitlements depending on the age of former residents. It is not intended to be restrictive or exclusive; the opposite is the case. It is designed to give the board the flexibility it needs to meet the wide range of needs of former residents. I am rather concerned at the proposal to delete the wording set out in the Bill and I oppose the amendment on that basis. Language is all important in this process. Ultimately, this section serves to ensure that a flexibility is available. It is like referring to a class of car. It speaks to the range of services and there should be some flexibility inherent in it. The word is used from a legislative point of view.
Will the Minister of State explain the last reference to "classes of former resident" rather than the reference to a class of an approved service. Could that reference be taken out?
The word "class" could be replaced by "type". Would it lead to an improvement if there was a reference to a particular "type" of approved service or services?
With respect to the Deputy, I suggest the word "type" is worse because a "type" of former resident could be deemed in certain circumstances to be interpreted as pejorative as well. Let us normalise the word "class" here and now: it is a normal word. There is no subjective nature to it. The spirit of the word "class" in this sense is to ensure there is flexibility around the range of services that can be provided. I am unsure whether another word could be used. "Class" is a rather innocuous word and no offence is intended by it. For the purposes of designing the legislation it gives flexibility in terms of the determination of services.
I will withdraw the amendment with a view to returning to it later. I take on board all the points with regard to "classes of approved service" but the last reference to "classes of former resident" does not sit well with me. The term could be determined by reference to different former residents and this raises the point that it could be an age related difference or whatever. The reference to a "class" on top of different former residents gives the Minister of State the flexibility he desires. There is a further reference to a class of persons. I will withdraw the amendment but I call on the Minister of State to re-examine it. It is helpful to have aired some of these issues anyway.
It is important to nail this down so that there is no misinterpretation. Let us suppose we were discussing social protection legislation for the over 70s. That segment of the population would be classed as the over 70s. It is a class of the population. With all due respect, one must class subsections when dealing with legislation. The aim in this instance is to ensure flexibility in the determination of services. If the services are being defined, there has to be a class of services or categories. There is nothing pejorative or demeaning in the use of the word "class" in this instance. It does not seek to stigmatise anyone in any way; that is not the intent in the use of the word.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 8 agreed to.
I move amendment No. 21:
In page 11, subsection (2)(a), line 44, to delete “and financial”.
This is the first time means testing is being introduced. This is rather mean and unnecessary and a new approach which is not desirable. The representative groups have always been given an assurance that there will be no means testing in accessing services. I am sure there are very few well-off or affluent individuals among the intended beneficiaries of the trust fund. If somebody has a few bob, the best of luck to him or her, but he or she should not be denied access to services if he or she has had a bit of luck. I am sure the vast majority of intended beneficiaries are not individuals with high incomes. This provision adopts a mean approach which is unnecessary.
The effect of the amendment would be to preclude the board from including in its criteria a provision that would require it to take into consideration the financial circumstances of an applicant. The purpose of the fund is to allow it to target the needs of former residents. By removing the power of the board to include financial circumstances in its criteria potentially it would allow a former resident with extensive means to apply to the board and receive supports and services on the same basis as a less wealthy individual, whereas the objective is to meet the needs of those most in need.
I emphasise that this provision is not intended to introduce a general means test application to the fund. It will be a matter for the fund to have regard to the need to take account of an individual's financial circumstances when determining its criteria for its decisions. This provision is most assuredly not intended as a way of preventing vulnerable persons in need from benefiting from the supports that will be available under the fund. Therefore, I cannot support the amendment.
I thank the Minister of State for his explanation, but the Legislature should not leave it to the board to decide. Commitments have been given. We can be certain that the overwhelming majority will be well within whatever means limits are set. The provision is an unnecessary restriction which is unfair. It is the wrong message to send and the wrong spirit to introduce to the legislation. I would be delighted if the Minister of State were to give this matter further consideration. I will resubmit the amendment on Report Stage.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 9 agreed to.
Section 10 agreed to.
Amendment No. 22 not moved.
Amendment No. 23 has been ruled out of order as it involves a potential charge on the Exchequer.
Amendment No. 23 not moved.
Sections 11 and 12 agreed to.
Amendment No. 24 has also been ruled out of order as it involves a potential charge on the Exchequer.
Amendment No. 24 not moved.
Section 13 agreed to.
I move amendment No. 25:
In page 14, subsection (9), line 46, after "functions." to insert the following:
"No staff member acting for the absent Chief Executive shall give evidence to any Committee of Dáil Éireann.".
This amendment relates to the chief executive of the board. The Bill provides for the chief executive to be replaced by an ordinary staff member for various functions. The amendment seeks to curtail this provision. No replacement should be tolerated, for example, when giving evidence to a select committee. A derogation should not be permitted in that instance.
Section 14(9) allows the board to designate a staff member to perform the functions of the chief executive officer in the event of that officer being absence or the position being vacant. This is a reasonable provision and while such situations may be rare, they may occur from time to time. The amendment would have the effect of preventing any member of staff, including one designated by the board under section 14 to perform the functions of the chief executive officer, from giving evidence before a committee of Dáil Éireann.
I find the proposal a little strange and I am unclear why an acting chief executive officer could not come before an Oireachtas committee to answer questions on various issues. The Deputy is suggesting that if the Committee of Public Accounts wishes to examine issues relating to the books and accounts of the fund, it should be precluded from calling the senior staff member of the fund to appear before it. I am unclear why the fund should be treated differently from other public bodies. We are all committed to ensuring full accountability and I am not sure the amendment would sustain that level of accountability.
The fear is that the appropriate person would not be held to account, if necessary. This clause could be used as a means of avoidance by the chief executive to get out of performing functions properly within his or her remit. Something as important as giving evidence to a committee such as this should not be permitted to be seen as a delegated function. Section 14, as it stands, could be used to avoid accountability. That is the reason for my amendment which seeks to insert a caveat with regard to the giving of evidence. The chief executive should be the person to carry the can. Other persons can come along to provide support.
I take the Deputy's point. However, I do not think the amendment can be included in the Bill. For example, if the chief executive is sick and unable to attend, the legislation would prevent an acting chief executive from attending. The amendment would bee too prescriptive and would not work.
I agree with the Deputy. A person could be unavoidably absent owing to illness and unable to appear before a committee. If the committee thought there was not a good reason for the absence, it could adjourn and demand that the person appear on another date. However, the amendment would be too prescriptive and could delay the work of the Oireachtas and the board. I understand Deputy Clare Daly's emphasis on the chief executive being answerable to the House.
I acknowledge the points that have been made. One might interpret the amendment as making a certain point about the power of the Oireachtas in terms of summoning witnesses before it. I refer here to the spirit as opposed to the letter of the law. The reality, however, is that there is no precedent, in so far as I am aware, where a chief executive officer of a statutory body or fund has failed to appear before the Oireachtas on being summoned. It is pertinent and proper to ensure that the board can designate its staff to perform the functions of the chief executive officer in the event of the latter's absence or the position being vacant. That is common sense.
I will withdraw the amendment at this point, but may resubmit it on Report Stage. The objective is to prevent a situation where a chief executive officer would seek to avoid appearing before a committee of the Oireachtas on such grounds as the fact he or she is on holidays, for example. The chief executive officer should have primary responsibility in terms of the accountability of the agency or body to Parliament.
As I said, an Oireachtas committee would not be diligent in its duties if it did not adjourn and demand that the person appear before it later that day or the next morning. Equally, the Minister should be able to fire the chief executive officer where the former is of the view that the latter is not performing his or her duties as required.
The board could likewise decide to take that action. The key point here is that we should not undermine our own role as legislators in terms of the ability to summon people before us, as per Deputy Smith's point. I acknowledge the argument he has made in that sense.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 14 agreed to.
Sections 15 and 16 agreed to.
I move amendment No. 26:
In page 16, between lines 32 and 33, to insert the following subsection:
"(4) Remuneration, allowances and expenses, paid by the Board with the consent of the Minister and given the consent of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform shall be capped at €5,000 per annum.".
Prior to the last budget, I submitted a series of parliamentary questions to each Department inquiring about the payments made to the board members of the various State bodies under their respective remits. The responses showed the average payment to be between €6,000 and €8,000. This amendment seeks to cap the remuneration, allowances and expenses paid to members of the board in this instance to €5,000. My key objective in bringing forward this proposal is to ensure that it is the survivors of abuse who benefit primarily from the trust and not those administering the funds. In addition, there is the point that those who participate in the board should do so out of public service and that expenses should therefore be kept to a minimum. The provision is also a recognition of the financial crisis facing the country. In short, people should serve on the board for the right reasons and the moneys within the trust should go to survivors. I do not expect anybody serving on the board to have a problem with that, but I may be wrong.
I cannot accept the Deputy's amendment. Despite the difficult economic circumstances, a cap of €5,000 per annum on the remuneration, allowance and expenses of the staff of the board would be punitive. I do not know whether the Deputy has included the amendment under this section in error. Subsection (4) states:
The members of the board shall, subject to the provisions of this Act, hold office on such terms and conditions (including terms and conditions relating to the payment of allowances for expenses) as may be determined by the Minister, with the approval of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.
There is no provision in the Bill for remuneration of board members.
Is the Minister of State saying that board members will not be entitled to expenses?
To clarify, they will be entitled only to expenses. It is a non-remunerated board.
Does the Minister of State have a difficulty with the word "remuneration" in the amendment or is his objection related to the proposed cap?
Deputy Crowe's amendment relates to section 17, the provisions of which relate to the staff of the board. There is a distinction between persons employed as administrators and those who are members of the board.
I will withdraw the amendment on the basis of the Minister of State's clarification.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 17 agreed to.
Section 18 agreed to.
I move amendment No. 27:
In page 17, subsection (4), line 38, after "Oireachtas." to insert the following:
"In addition, copies of the report shall be placed in all public libraries and this fact advertised in local and national newspapers.".
This section provides that the board must present its annual the report to the Oireachtas and publish it on the Internet. My amendment proposes that, in addition, copies of the report should be made available in public libraries and that the public be made aware of this through notices in local and national newspapers. Publication on the Internet is not sufficient to ensure all members of the public can access the report.
Does the Deputy perceive that such an undertaking would have a cost to the Exchequer?
The amendment has not been ruled out of order on that basis but it is worth making the point.
What is proposed here might not be deemed to be a charge on the Exchequer for the purposes of considering the amendment but it would be hugely costly to undertake large print runs of the report in order to furnish copies to every public library across the State. It is the norm in this day and age that annual reports and other public documents are published electronically and accessed online. The amendment also places a requirement on the board that the placement of the reports in public libraries be advertised in local and national newspapers. That potential cost alone obliges me to reject the amendment. There are sufficient ways of bringing reports of this nature into the public domain. The cost of disseminating them to local libraries and advertising same would be utterly prohibitive. The question arises as to who would fund that cost and how it would be determined.
When the Minister of State explains it like that, I am intrigued that the amendment was not ruled out of order. I maintain that getting the message out and informing people is crucial, but I will withdraw the proposal.
I assure members that I acknowledge the spirit of the proposals they have brought forward.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 19 agreed to.
I move amendment No. 28:
In page 18, subsection (1), between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following paragraphs:
"(c) ensure that a lump sum or assistance provided to persons under the Fund, whilst living in the State, does not affect their entitlement to a medical card or means tested benefits issued by the Department of Social Protection and that a qualifying person’s income is disregarded by this body;
(d) ensure that a lump sum or assistance provided to persons under the Fund and living outside of the State does not affect their entitlement to means tested benefits.”.
I recognise that this amendment may give rise to problems. What it proposes is that the provision of any assistance under the fund should not affect people's existing benefits. The second part of the amendment relates to people living outside the State whose human rights have been abused. I accept that some states might view the matter differently. Basically, I am trying to ensure that survivors' existing benefits will not be affected by any assistance they may receive from the fund.
I appreciate that Deputy Crowe is endeavouring to ensure that any payments made to former residents will not affect their social welfare entitlements in this jurisdiction or outside the State. I am sympathetic to the general principle involved. However, I do not believe that this legislation is the appropriate vehicle to address the concerns raised. The board would not be in a position to ensure an outcome such as that intended. An amendment to the social welfare regulations would, if deemed necessary, be more appropriate. This issue could certainly be pursued in the event that difficulties emerge down the line. The Deputy will also appreciate that the Oireachtas cannot legislate in respect of the affairs of other jurisdictions. A provision such as that being proposed is unenforceable. I cannot accept the amendment on that basis.
Will the Minister of State or his Department make a recommendation to the Minister for Social Protection in respect of this matter? It is possible that cases relating to the issue to which the amendment relates will arise. It would be necessary for a recommendation such as that to which I refer to be made because the staff who will be examining these cases will be of the view that certain individuals will not be covered under the legislation as it stands. In such circumstances, there is a need to take a forward-looking approach. It has been suggested to me that if the Government were to consider including a clause relating to the human rights abuses that occurred, this might have an impact in the context of other states. I admit that I am a bit all over the place on this matter. However, the last thing we want to do is affect people's rights to medical cards or whatever in this jurisdiction or in other states. I accept that we cannot legislate in respect of other jurisdictions. If whatever compensation people receive under the Bill were granted on the basis that their human rights had been abused, I am informed that this might have an effect in some jurisdictions.
Let us keep in mind the purpose of the Bill, namely, to provide services in the first instance. If the Deputy is suggesting that the Department of Education and Skills and the Department of Social Protection should liaise further in respect of the issues he has outlined, I am of the view that this should be done prior to Report Stage. If the Deputy so wishes, we can engage in such an exercise.
I appreciate that. Does the Minister of State have a view on what I have suggested in respect of the other clause? Is he of the view that it would not work?
If it relates to matters outside the jurisdiction, then it would be unenforceable.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I move amendment No. 29:
In page 18, subsection (4), lines 34 to 38, to delete paragraph (b).
This amendment relates to section 20(4), which allows the board to ask an applicant to furnish any information or documents such as it may determine or to have said applicant authorise it to liaise with a public authority. The subsection further states that if a person does not furnish the required information or refuses a request for authorisation, his or her application will not be considered any further and the door will be shut. I am of the view that section 20(4) is too prescriptive, particularly in the context of the complex and traumatic circumstances in which those to whom this matter relates find themselves. There could be a valid reason a person might not want to give permission for a public authority to be contacted or why he or she might not want to provide certain information. To completely close the door on people for failing to meet requests of this nature is too prohibitive, particularly against the backdrop of this complex issue. There is a need to arrive at a better way of empowering the board to obtain information, if it needs it, but which will not lead to the door being shut on individuals who may have a difficulty in furnishing such information for what could be very valid reasons.
Again, let us keep in mind that the fund is designed to assist and be proactive in terms of meeting people's needs. It is not meant to place a block in the way of applications. The amendment seeks to delete section 20(4)(b), the provisions contained in which are reasonable in the context of assisting the board in considering applications. It is not unreasonable for the board to seek certain basic information or consents from applicants. It must be borne in mind that this information will be sought for the purposes of assisting in the consideration of applications. If an applicant fails to provide information, it would be reasonable for the board to refuse to consider the matter further until such information is provided. It is on this basis that we cannot accept the amendment.
Where in the Bill is a definition provided in respect of the type of information that will be sought? What constitutes a public authority and what information will be sought? There is no indication of what sort of information people will be asked to furnish. No one is disputing that the board will need to make inquiries. However, the provision to the effect that what would be deemed non-cooperation would close the door on an applicant is too severe. There can be complicated reasons people might not want certain information to be accessed, etc. I am of the view, therefore, that a better way must be found.
If the Deputy is seeking to soften the language used or the approach being taken, I can appreciate what she is trying to do. Again, however, we must have regard to the fact that the fund is designed to assist people in a positive fashion. One cannot then be prescriptive or set out schedules as to how people in varying circumstances should be dealt with. That may not be what the Deputy was driving at but she can clarify the position when she responds. I accept that there are sensitivities involved but we must create a scenario whereby employees of the fund who are dealing with requests for funding or a service will be allowed to gather any information which may be required. It is also necessary to put in place structures to deal with instances where requests for such information are refused, namely, an application will not proceed unless the required information is furnished. I am of the opinion that this is reasonable because, by its very nature, the fund is designed to assist people.
This section covers how the board deals with applications. This aspect must be seen against the backdrop of bad and difficult experiences many former residents had with previous boards and that they would have a degree of suspicion or wariness about how this will be administered and how people will be treated. The amendment has been tabled in that context. Nobody is saying there should not be rules. The subsection is quite broad and refers to furnishing such information or documents as the board may determine. That may relate to the level of education an applicant has if the board will help the applicant to pursue further education or something mundane like that, but it might not relate to that. It is quite broad in its references to "any information or documents" and to the board being authorised "to liaise with a public authority", which is not defined. While I am not refusing the right of the board to examine that, there is a difficulty if the door is shut on the applicant immediately because it is deemed he or she did not co-operate in terms of that clause when there could be a valid reason the applicant could not do so. Another way might be found whereby the board could be satisfied that what it is seeking in the application could be dealt with by not going to a certain public authority. In the way the subsection is worded the progressing of an application could be closed to an applicant if he or she was deemed not to be co-operating. Perhaps I need to reword my amendment. Removing the subsection is not the way to address this aspect but what I have outlined is in the spirit of what I have put forward in the amendment. There is validity in it.
I am going to stick to my guns on this one on the basis that this is enabling legislation. To use the example of medical circumstances where assistance is being provided in that respect, one must have regard to an individual's medical circumstances. If one does not have the information, one cannot make a determination and proceed any further with an application. Once the fund is set up, one must have a mechanism to provide structures to allow the board to refuse to consider an applicant if the person is remiss in not yielding certain information. There must be a degree of co-operation, otherwise the process becomes intractable. One could have a body of cases awaiting a determination that could drag on for years. We need to be able to expedite every case efficiently to ensure that those who will become clients of the service want to ensure there is an efficiency built into the service in order that it runs smoothly and in their favour.
I do not believe there is anything wrong with what is being suggested in subsection 4(b). It states, “enabling the Board to refuse to further consider the application if the request under paragraph (a) is not complied with and the Board may so request or refuse to further consider the application in accordance with the procedures”. Any public servant I know of who deals on a front-of-house basis with individuals or fellow citizens will seek to assist a person along but if the person does not co-operate or stonewalls in terms of providing particular information, there comes a time when one must make a call on it, and this provision allows for that. One must reflect on the spirit of the legislation. The Bill is designed to try to assist people. By its very nature it is set up to assist and enable people to gain assess to the services.
We seem to be going round in circles and I am not going to do that. Many public servants are very helpful but not all of them are. Hopefully, the functioning of the board will work well and people will find it an easy experience to go through but that was not the experience previously. The way the board will deal with applications is important. The Minister of State cited a health reason and under this subsection the board could be authorised to liaise with a public authority and ask, say, me, as an applicant, to go to a hospital, or it could be allowed to go to it to access certain records. I may not want it to do that and I might say that the board could get that information somewhere else but if I did not accede to its request to liaise with a certain public authority, my application might be refused.
I will withdraw the amendment with a view to reconsidering it later because I cannot pursue it much further here. The provision in the subsection is too punitive. I accept the right of the board to try to get information but it must be sensitive to the view that there might be other ways to get it and not to shut the door on an applicant if he or she does not go the route the board wants him or her to go.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 20 agreed to.
Amendment No. 30 in the name of Deputy Clare Daly has been ruled out of order as it poses a charge on the Exchequer. Does the Deputy want to make a comment on that?
This amendment relates to remuneration and allowances. There is reference to remuneration in the Bill but it is in regard to appeals officers and so on and the board is allowed to appoint solicitors, barristers and so on. There is not a great number of them working in the State service. The Minister of State said that the clause regarding the accessing of public services is the mechanism by which costs can be controlled and funds not used up in paying consultants or professionals. This amendment would require money to be spent and it should not come out of the fund. I ask the Minister of State to consider it as an additional cost on the Exchequer. This fund is supposed to assist people. The State has delayed in following up on its responsibility and this must be prioritised now. I do not believe that any of the funds or expenses should be used up and taken out of the fund to run it. That should be a cost on the Exchequer.
Does the Minister of State wish to comment?
Amendment No. 30 not moved.
Section 21 agreed to.
Section 22 agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 31 and 32 are related and they may be discussed together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 31:
In page 22, between lines 23 and 24, to insert the following subsection:
"(4) No disclosure shall be made prior to informing the applicant.".
The Bill deals with confidential information and so on. It lists organisations or individuals who are exempted from confidentiality including gardaí and other appropriate people. We are concerned here with the disclosure of information which in other circumstances would be confidential. I am not disputing the right to do that but the person should be informed of any such disclosure being made of information that would be normally covered by confidentiality and data protection provisions.
I would point out that section 23 prohibits the unauthorised disclosure of information and provides for it to be a criminal offence. Disclosure is not unauthorised in specific circumstances such as to the Garda Síochána, child protection services, etc.
Section 24 provides that "personal information", defined as being the name, address and date of birth of an applicant, can be furnished by the Residential Institutions Redress Board to the board of the statutory fund. It further provides that this information can only be used to determine whether a person is eligible to make an application to the board and for no other purpose.
Amendment No. 31 would make it a requirement that the applicant providing the information would be informed while amendment No. 32 would prohibit disclosure of information to third parties. I fail to see that either of these amendments are necessary or that they add to the Bill. I do not see that there is anything to be gained by informing an applicant that information is being disclosed and perhaps there is much to be lost, particularly if sensitive information needs to be brought to the attention of the statutory authorities urgently. Given that the provisions of section 24 are already restrictive, the amendment is unnecessary and I do not propose to accept either amendment.
I do not understand the point. If we are saying that the only information that we are dealing with is name, address and date of birth, why would the Garda need to be asked for it or why would it be exempt from confidentiality if it is basic information. Perhaps it is my understanding and the provision is limited. Could the Minister of State clarify the issue in order that we can proceed?
I will get an explanation for the Deputy and we can revert to her. Section 24 provides that personal information defined as being the name, address and date of birth of an applicant can be furnished by the Residential Institutions Redress Board to the board of the statutory fund, namely, the fund in question. It further provides that the information can only be used to determine whether a person is eligible to make an application to the board and for no other purpose. Amendment No. 31 would make it a requirement that the applicant providing the information would be informed but that it would prohibit the disclosure of information to third parties. I do not see how that is necessary for the purposes of determining the Bill.
In section 23, on page 21 of Bill, confidential information means information that refers to a former resident or that could reasonably lead to the identification of a former resident. In terms of disclosure issues, we seek to introduce a belt and braces approach to how information is dealt with to ensure that the privacy of individuals is utterly sacrosanct. That is already inherent within the sections as laid out in the Bill.
The Minister of State has clarified the second point but we are debating two issues. I know we have proved them but they are slightly different. The second point the Minister of State made is that the only information that will be exchanged is from the old board to the new so there is no need to refer to a third party-----
-----because it is tied down and therefore it is not necessary.
The amendment to section 31 proposes that no disclosure shall be made prior to informing the applicant. I suggest that one must think carefully about how one would communicate that, to whom and to which house it would go. One must still have a degree of security around ensuring that no third party could potentially have access to the information if, for example, a person changes address. One must be careful to ensure one does not compromise the confidentiality that exists.
The amendment relates to a different section - section 23 - which deals with confidential information rather than section 24, which is about the transfer of information between the old board and the new. I accept the point that it is difficult to do but amendment No. 31 deals with confidential information, which is beyond that, and a number of bodies are listed which cannot disclose confidential information but then the Bill goes on to list the organisations that are exempt from that confidentiality. The disclosure to which I refer is where confidential information is released. I do not deny the right to do it but I maintain that the person should be told. It is a different type of information that we are dealing with in this case.
Again, if the Deputy looks at section 23(3) on page 22, a person does not contravene section 23(3) by disclosing confidential information if the disclosure is made to or authorised by the board or is made to the Garda Síochána where the person is acting in good faith and reasonably believes that such disclosure is necessary in order to prevent an act or omission constituting a serious offence, or is made to an appropriate person within the meaning of the Protections for Persons Reporting Child Abuse Act 1998, where the person is acting in good faith and reasonably believes that such disclosure is necessary to prevent, reduce or remove a substantial risk to life, or to prevent the continuance of abuse of a child. Section 23(2)(d) and (e) are also relevant. We feel strongly that the legislation is sufficient in terms of the disclosure of information as per Deputy Daly’s amendment No. 32, but in terms of amendment No. 31, by virtue of section 23(3) it is set out how one must be careful about how one communicates.
The purpose of the amendment is to assure people. The amendment would be inserted at the end of the paragraph. It does not dispute that the information can be handed over in the manner suggested. I do not argue against that at all but it is information which people gave in confidence and the giving of it may impact in another way. The amendment ensures that in the case of such disclosures the person concerned should be informed. We will park the discussion for today but it is very much in the context of the exemption from confidentiality rather than the general personal information.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 23 agreed to.
Amendment No. 32 not moved.
Section 24 agreed to.
I move amendment No. 33:
In page 23, subsection (3), line 19, after "entitled." to insert the following:
"The Board may not disallow an application due to lack of consent under section20(4)(a)(ii).”.
It is the same debate that we have had already so I will withdraw the amendment and come back with a better alternative.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 25 agreed to.
Sections 26 to 28, inclusive, agreed to.
I move amendment No. 34:
In page 24, between lines 19 and 20, to insert the following subsection:
"(2) A date shall be set, six months to the day from the enactment of this Act to compel the Religious Orders and Congregations to pay the full amount agreed under the 2002 Indemnity Agreement.".
I expect the Minister of State will say he cannot compel religious orders in the matter. That is the difficulty with the amendment. We are all in agreement that compellability is required as the original agreement seemed to be based on a handshake and it was not considered necessary at the time. It is incumbent on religious orders and congregations to honour their commitments and to pay their financial obligations in full.
I note that the Minister of State acknowledged the Department's disappointment to date at the offers made by religious orders. The Department has continued to pursue the 50:50 division of the managing bodies with those involved. I also note that the Department offered the transfer of ownership of school infrastructure possessed by religious orders and congregations as one way of allowing those involved in the process the opportunity to shoulder some share of the costs. It might also be considered to front-load payments to the fund by the Government so that services could be accessed quickly and could be reimbursed by the religious orders at a future date. I accept that is outside the remit of the terms but we are all in agreement that the religious orders must pay what they have agreed to pay. Some orders have adopted a wait and see approach on where the funding will go and if it is going to survivors. If this is to work, it needs to be paid out. The Minister of State may say he cannot compel but a strong message must be sent to the religious congregations that they must live up to the agreement on this matter.
The Minister will deal with the amendments, and amendment No. 35, which is along similar lines. A strong message must go out from across this committee expressing our disappointment at the reaction of the religious orders and congregations and that we have received only €21 million at this juncture. We are talking about a fund of €110 million and every member of this committee believes more has to be done, but stitching amendments into the Bill in terms of six months, interest and so on is unrealistic at this stage. However, we can at least agree that the responsibilities of the religious orders leave a lot to be desired.
In the Second Stage debate the Minister said the Department had written to the congregations again seeking a much greater contribution, and I echoed his sentiments in that respect. That should be done without further delay. I presume the Minister hopes to get this legislation through the Oireachtas, although I do not know if he hopes to get it through the Seanad before the summer recess. I hope that is his intention and that the fund can be established as soon as possible because as mentioned by previous speakers, the people involved are getting older. The age cohort is quite high and therefore the more time is lost, the more urgently needed services are being denied to those people. I appeal to the Minister to try to get this legislation through the Seanad and completed in the Oireachtas as soon as possible to ensure the fund can be established and the services put in place. The religious congregations must make their due contribution to the fund without delay.
I echo the point that this committee must take a strong stand on this issue. If it is the case that we cannot incorporate this into the legislation we must do otherwise, as suggested by Deputy Ó Ríordáin, to put pressure on the congregations. What an indictment. We are talking about an agreement made in 2002. Ten years later people are becoming more elderly. They are vulnerable citizens. It is a shame that so little money has come in and we must be seen to do something to address that problem.
Nobody would disagree with the Deputy. There is no question that we all share that sentiment. I appreciate the motivation behind the amendment. I cannot accept the amendment because under the terms of the indemnity agreement reached with the religious congregations and the then Government on 5 June 2002, the congregations agreed to make a contribution of €128 million towards the cost of the redress scheme. The contribution comprised cash, the provision of counselling services and the transfer of properties. The full amount of the cash contribution has been received. The congregations have met their contribution in terms of the provision of counselling services. Property transfers valued at €41.37 million, that is 41 properties, have been fully completed and there are 20 remaining properties which have not been fully and finally accepted by the Department.
The congregations had agreed to transfer these properties under the indemnity agreement subject to good and marketable title being furnished. All of these properties are in use or available for use by the intended recipients. Nevertheless, the Chief State Solicitor's office continues to pursue the legal requirements issue under the indemnity agreement. Regular meetings are continuing involving our Department, the Attorney General's office and the Chief State Solicitor's office to finalise the transfer process under the terms of the indemnity agreement. In the event of a shortfall regarding the value of the properties offered and that provided under the agreement, the shortfall could be made up by the relevant congregation providing alternative properties. In any event, the agreement provides for the full amount of €128 million to be recovered, whether received in property or in cash form.
While one cannot put a timeframe on completion due to the complex nature of the remaining transfers, I can assure the committee, as the Minister, Deputy Quinn, has assured it, that every effort is being made to complete the process as expeditiously as possible.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I move amendment No. 35:
In page 24, subsection (4), line 37, after "€110,000,000" to insert the following:
"plus the interest which has accumulated to date on the €21,050,000 received to date".
It is a small point. The legislation puts a ceiling on the fund at €110 million. A total of €21 million is available already and it is making sure that the interest accumulated on that is not taken as a type of discount to be taken off the €110 million, but it should be specified that it should also be included in the fund.
The section as drafted allows for the interest accrued on the €21.05 million held on deposit in the Central Bank to be paid to the fund. The cap of €110 million in subsection (4) only refers to the contributions paid under subsection (1)(a) or expected under subsection (2)(a). Any associated interest can be paid into the fund and is dealt with in subsections (1)(b) and (2)(b). Deputy Daly’s proposed amendment, therefore, is unnecessary and I oppose it. However, Deputy Daly may wish to withdraw the amendment in light of the explanation.
I can advise the committee in this general context that interest of almost €250,000 has been earned on the contributions lodged to the Central Bank to date. The congregations made their contribution offers in late 2009, and some agreed to pay their cash contributions due in the short term in interest bearing accounts pending the establishment of the fund. The section allows for that interest to be contributed to the Minister outside the €110,000 cap.
I wish to signal our intention to bring forward a further technical amendment to this section to address some of the charities' concerns that their payments to the fund are consistent with charity law obligations. Officials are continuing to liaise with the congregations' legal advisers and the Attorney General's office in this regard, and it will be necessary to introduce an amendment on Report Stage to address those concerns.
That is fine. I withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I move amendment No. 36:
In page 24, lines 38 to 44, to delete subsection (5) and substitute the following:
"(5) Moneys in the investment account that are not required for the purposes of section 30 shall be invested by the Agency and any income, capital or other benefit received in respect of moneys invested under this subsection shall be paid into the investment account or invested under this subsection.”.
Section 29 provides that the National Treasury Management Agency, NTMA, will establish an investment account for the fund. This technical amendment provides the agency with greater flexibility in regard to investment decisions. Moneys standing to the credit of the fund are likely to be invested by the NTMA over a range of maturities depending on the fund's view of the likely schedule of draw-downs from the fund. This technical amendment ensures that the NTMA has discretion to roll over investments and vary the maturities of investments without having to seek the consent of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform in each case.
Amendment agreed to.
Section 29, as amended, agreed to.
I move amendment No. 37:
In page 25, subsection (1), line 3, to delete "and other costs".
Again, this amendment is about expenses, remunerations and other costs that we debated earlier. I do not know what other costs could be envisaged. The Minister is talking about people employed on huge salaries paid by the State to manage this fund. Expenses are provided for and I do not understand how other costs might arise.
The amendment will not have any material effect because if the words "and other costs" are deleted it will not materially affect the provision. The definition of an "expense" in the Oxford English Dictionary refers to a cost incurring. We could consider agreeing to an amendment on Report Stage as it would have no material effect. Perhaps Deputy Daly will consider that matter and we can have a further discussion.
The Minister of State may consider it also.
We can. Can we consider it on Report Stage? The wording of the amendment does not change the legislation substantially.
The big picture is the issue of expenses, remuneration, allowances and the fear of all these moneys being used and burned up by the fund when the desire of members present and everybody else is that the survivors would benefit from the fund. We have had this debate.
If I agree with the sentiments the Deputy is expressing, the amendment will still have no bearing. It is a technical amendment. The phrase "and other costs" does not necessarily speak in terms of the amendment, bearing in mind the aspirations of the Deputy regarding the expenditure of public resources and remuneration.
I can say the same in reverse. We can keep doing this.
If we are to legislate expeditiously, it must be stated that the phrase "and other costs" will not materially affect the provision. That is the ultimate point, regardless of the semantics of the argument. The Government is willing to re-consider this on Report Stage.
We will be considering this issue in its entirety later.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 30 agreed to.
Sections 31 to 41, inclusive, agreed to.
I move amendment No. 38:
In page 31, subsection (7), between lines 10 and 11, to insert the following:
" "terms" in relation to a relevant trust means terms whether or not in writing;".
This is a technical amendment to ensure the reference to the terms of a trust in subsections (1) and (3) includes both written and unwritten terms. The section is designed to facilitate the charities that ran the scheduled institutions in making contributions, be it in cash or via property, towards the costs of redress generally or specifically towards the cost of the statutory fund. It provides that such contributions are charitable gifts and enables the Commissioners of Charitable Donations and Bequests for Ireland to approve of property sales, mortgages and transfers within the context of the charities making such contributions. We intend to table a further technical amendment to the section to address some of the charities' concerns that their contributions are consistent with charity law obligations. Officials are continuing to liaise with the congregations' legal advisers and the Office of the Attorney General in this regard. It will be necessary to introduce an amendment on Report Stage to address these concerns.
Amendment agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 42, as amended, stand part of the Bill."
The Government will be bringing forward a further amendment on Report Stage to facilitate the use of further contributions for the new national children's hospital.
Question put and agreed to.
Section 43 agreed to.
Schedule agreed to.
Title agreed to.
I thank the Minister of State and his officials for attending and I thank all those present, including those in the Visitors Gallery, for their patience.
Bill reported with amendments.