(Wexford): I wish to share my time with Deputy John Brady.
I welcome the Bill before the House and compliment the Minister on bringing it forward as a matter of urgency. There has been much talk about this legislation for some time, and the Minister is to be complimented on giving priority to the Bill.
The Taoiseach's apology in 1999 was very welcome. It was a definitive public statement that the people who suffered at the hands of those in institutions in the past should have restitution and redress. The Minister said in his contribution that the Bill was about facing up to the mistakes made in the past and providing some reasonable measure of financial recompense to people who were wronged as children. It is very much a Bill about the present also because we are talking about people who are now aged but who have suffered gravely. For many years, these people felt the Government, political parties or politicians would recognise the grave injustices carried out against them over the years. We should all be grateful, therefore, that we now have an opportunity to deal with the issue.
I have been very involved with the organisation, Right of Place, Second Chance, in Enniscorthy town. The organisation originated in Cork, but it has now spread to other towns and counties. I have been involved with a significant number of people from the south-east over the past two years, culminating in the opening of an office in Enniscorthy early this year. Deputy Howlin was also very much involved in that, and we both attended the opening of that office. Great credit is due to the people in that organisation for the time, effort and courage involved in coming forward and making a case to the national politicians and for making a definitive statement in Enniscorthy, Wexford, and in the south-east area to the effect that they are putting in place an office to which people who were abused over the years can come and discuss their problems and plan for the future.
In relation to Right of Place, Second Chance, significant funds have been allocated to the Cork organisation, which I favour, but organisations that have now set up in Enniscorthy, and other parts of the country, are not getting the same amount of funding or recognition. In fairness to those involved in Enniscorthy, led by John Barrett, they went out and probably begged for office space. That was then funded by the health board, and they were also helped by the VEC, the county enterprise boards, some politicians, the community and Bishop Comiskey to establish this office. A significant amount of money should be allocated to them on a yearly basis to ensure the office will continue to survive in the future and be able to pay for telephone, administration and staffing costs, and perhaps pay for people to come to the office from the south-east region.
Let us be honest, many of the people we are talking about are in their late sixties, seventies or eighties and are not in a financial position to pay fares to travel long distances. Some of them have travelled from England and further afield, having emigrated in the 1960s to survive and find work. It is very important that adequate funding is made available to ensure Right of Place, Second Chance is viable and can continue to deal with education, retraining, general information services, repatriation, support, social activities and rights and entitlements.
Many of the people to whom I have spoken have said the office has given them a new lease of life. I am sure the same applies to other offices. They can interact with people and access information and find out what is happening, for example, what the Minister and his Department or Right of Place, Second Chance are doing. Perhaps the Minister could encourage adult education institutions such as vocational education committees and similar organisations to give a helping hand.
The Bill is very positive and forward looking and will be of major benefit. Ordinary schools, which have not been included in the Bill, have been mentioned several times. They may have to be dealt with in future. Could the Minister clarify whether other groups, namely, people with disabilities who were placed in orthopaedic hospitals and children who were placed in foster care, will be included in the Bill? Some of these people also suffered greatly. How does the Minister envisage these groups will be dealt with in future?
Many people to whom I have spoken in my area want the Bill to be given the utmost urgency. However, we have received documents from several organisations including, Survivors of Child Abuse and Never Free, Forever Tortured, in which they expressed serious concerns about certain aspects of the Bill and called for its passage to be postponed. It is important the Minister clarifies their concerns.
I was contacted over the weekend by a number of people who were abused regarding an article inThe Sunday Tribune entitled, Order Say We Can't Pay £100 million to Abuse Fund. The matter needs to be clarified. The article states, “Nearly one year into the negotiations on the scheme the religious orders have still to make a firm offer on an amount that they are willing to contribute.” This appears to be delaying tactics on the part of orders which were involved in serious abuse. We all know the religious orders have a great deal of valuable land and property. They would not have great difficulty raising £100 million, or whatever figure is agreed, for the fund. The people expecting a contribution at the end of this process are concerned by this kind of negative publicity.
CORI regularly lectures politicians about their uncaring and unconcerned attitude to the poor. This debate is about people who have suffered greatly at the hands of the religious orders. It is very important that they are asked to make a definitive offer as quickly as possible instead of approaching newspapers and making statements on negotiations they are holding with the Minister. Will the Minister inform the House when he expects the discussions with the religious orders to conclude and when he envisages they will make a definitive offer?
Before handing over to Deputy Brady, I ask the Minister to ensure funding is made available to organisations operating under the banner of Right of Place, Second Chance regardless of where they may want to set up. It is very important that there are county offices or at least regional offices because not everybody can travel to Dublin or Cork to get the advice and support the organisation offers.
The South-Eastern Health Board has been very helpful in my negotiations with it. It is important the counselling service offered by the health boards continues and adequate funding is provided to guarantee the availability into the foreseeable future of the counselling and other services required for victims of abuse.