I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
It is quite poignant that we are moving this legislation on the afternoon when we discussed the victims' rights Bill and the transcribing of that legislation into Irish law. We are talking about victims, people who underwent traumatic, violent, sexual and mental abuse inside our State institutions. The experience of that abuse contributed in many cases to lifelong damage to the mental health and general well-being of the survivors, some of whom are in the Visitors Gallery tonight. As a consequence of the terrible wrong done to them, the religious congregations who ran the institutions were directed to give €110 million to a fund for survivors, meaning they get off very lightly considering the damage that was done. To expect those victims to go cap in hand and beg to access that money, which in no way compensated for the damage that was done to them but was supposed to alleviate the problems arising from what they experienced, is simply not good enough.
This Bill is before the House because of the experiences survivors of the abuse have had in the course of the application process, as well as the limitations of the schemes. When this fund was brought into place many of us, and many survivor groups, expressed deep concern about the way it was set up and about the board and we felt it was not an efficient way to meet the needs of survivors. Instead of being survivor-focused and survivor-led, it became a process in which there were bureaucratic blocks on people trying to access services. Unfortunately, the process made already traumatised people feel they were begging or being judged for something to which they were entitled. We were told to give the Bill the benefit of the doubt and urged to see how it operated. A review was to be built into it and if it was not going well the problems could always be dealt with at that point but the review was never initiated. For two years we asked the Minister's predecessors, Ruairí Quinn and Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, for its terms of reference and were told they would be available soon, but strangely enough, in the week this Bill was selected, the terms of reference were finally published on the Department's website. Having read them, I wonder what the Department was waiting for because they do not display monumental amounts of work or effort and the only conclusion is that the Department has not got a clue about what is going on with survivors at the moment. The terms of reference mention consulting stakeholders and looking at eligibility criteria but none of the survivor groups, or the residents, has any confidence in the review. They do not address many of the concerns that were raised, or the ones I raised with the Minister towards the end of last year. Nor do they address the concerns of the Caranua appeals officer, who has had direct experience of how the scheme is being run.
Fianna Fáil's amendment suggests that we put this off again for another eight months but this is insulting to the applicants who have already been left hanging by Caranua. The opinion of the survivors has already been sought and the work already done, not just in the work that has been put into this Bill, which was produced with the input of survivors, but by people such as Fiona Fox, who has worked with many survivors and commissioned detailed reports. She has done excellent work with Senator Lynn Ruane for presentations to the education committee on the functioning of Caranua and she will also be appearing before the Committee of Public Accounts. Above all, in 2015 the appeals officer gave his adjudication on the administration of the fund.
The answers to the question of how to help survivors are already there. The adjudicator reported a 110% increase in the number of appeals and said that many appellants had raised issues about the manner in which their applications had been processed by Caranua. He highlighted the fact that the booklet and application form raised expectations about what people could apply for, which were not matched by the experience of people who made an application. He said many people complained about frustratingly long delays in getting a written answer from Caranua and refusing applications, which meant people could not launch an appeal, and that others went through lengthy procedures which required them to get several quotations for home improvements etc., only to be told several months later that their application did not meet the necessary criteria. Why put them through all that? His report highlighted what we need to do and, in effect, he did the review for us. His concerns reflected survivors' experiences, which reflect what I put into the Bill. The time it takes to process applications and to forward decision letters, the lack of clarity in the guidelines, the decision to prioritise first-time applicants and the lengthy procedures causing further delays are absolutely insulting. I also highlighted the difficulty people have had in accessing or engaging with Caranua advisers on the need to expand the range of services. I am sure the Minister will tell us we do not need this legislation as we have to wait for the review but the review, and Fianna Fáil's amendment, do not take into account any of those things. All they do is serve to kick the can down the road and drag out further the genuine concerns of the survivor groups.
What is needed is a simple scheme that is clear, quick, easy to access and easy to use. It needs limited bureaucracy as many victims have a poor education because of their abuse and find bureaucracy daunting and difficult to negotiate. The lack of respect and dignity which has been shown to them has revictimised and retraumatised many of them but the problem with Caranua was there from the start. The provisions to help victims had been put into categories of health, education, housing and training and people were asked to queue up to access these services.
It has been a demeaning experience for many of them. The testimony is there and it is heartbreaking to read when one considers what has already been done to these people. Most of the groups will say that there was no meaningful consultation with them about the devising of those categories. They fall well short of the needs of the victims. We have to look at the issue of the age profile. People in their 60s or 70s do not need education and training. The distribution of the funds reflects this. Many have sought assistance in housing, particularly to deal with mortgage and rent problems. What is the point in giving people a cooker if they cannot afford to put a roof over their heads and meet payments? We cannot have a one fit for all solution. We have to take into account people's different experiences.
Many survivors would make the point that the traumatic experiences that they underwent had a knock-on effect on their own children. They were not able to provide as best they could for their own children. They are right to have their own children included. These children were not unaffected by the abuse that happened to their parents. It should be up to the victims to decide what the best supports that they need are. Many of these people want to contribute to assisting their children and feel that would be a more beneficial use of funds.
We have to reiterate, loud and clear, that Caranua is not a charity. It is one of a series of State initiatives designed to acknowledge and compensate for the harm done to people who experienced abuse as children in educational institutions and facilities in this State. This fund is owed to these people. It is their fund. The customer charter talks about treating people courteously and giving clear information, feedback and so on but that has not been people's experience. Caranua calls them "customers". They are not customers. A customer is somebody who buys a good or service from a shop or a business. These are people who were illegally incarcerated by the State and were victimised and abused during that incarceration, such that the Taoiseach had to apologise to them. They represent and are the victims of systemic failure of the State. They need to be heard in this situation. The general approach adopted by the State to victims is reprehensible. We saw it in the Harding Clark report on symphysiotomy. We see it in what is going on in the courts, with victims of the Magdalen laundries being pursued, the women who had their children forcibly removed from them and so on. It is reprehensible. This type of approach will come back to haunt us and it is the type of approach that is here before us in the administration of the scheme as it now stands.
Our Bill is simple, straightforward, based on the experience of the people who need to access that fund and it has done the job of the Minister's review for him. It essentially comprises six amendments to the 2012 legislation. They are all practical and all based on victim and survivor experiences. They reflect and address the concerns that those people have.
The first is an amendment to section 3 of the 2012 Act, which seeks to address the question of eligibility. It seeks to widen eligibility to those who missed out previously. We know that the 2015 report of the appeals officer also recommends this change, when he said that the circumstances of such individuals can be equally as harrowing as those of applicants who were eligible. As I mentioned in my previous report, it is particularly harsh and unfair to deny, without exception, all persons who have not received awards the opportunity to benefit from this fund. That is an anomaly which must be addressed. People who did not previously get a settlement should be included if they were the victims of abuse in these institutions.
The second amendment is to section 8 of the 2012 Act, to broaden services to include costs associated with the funerals of a spouse, other services that would improve living conditions, to allow survivors to pay for education courses for their children and so on. The appeals officer recommends that the scheme be amended to provide for this. It also deletes the impediment to apply for funds to be put towards mortgage or rent. As I said, it is ridiculous to provide the funds to buy a cooker and not assistance to keep a roof over a person's head. Most appeals last year were in that area. I know there has been a certain relaxing for funerals, but it is not enough. There is no harm in including it here.
The third amendment is to section 9. It is to include a clause that takes into account the age of victims when considering applications. One of the problems here is the delays. Some people are experiencing deteriorating health. They are getting older. Their age needs to be a factor in a speedy processing of their application. This amendment also lifts the limits and the capping that have been put in place.
The fourth and fifth amendments to section 20 and section 22 are designed to speed up contact and replies to survivors when decisions have been made and when a decision on an appeal is made. Delays and poor communication have been a huge complaint from people. I have many examples. People are being dragged through the process at enormous length and being left in the dark about where their application is. Those delays have been consistently highlighted by the appeals officer in his annual report and they are a source of enormous stress. That is a ready amendment.
The last amendment is to remove the surplus of the fund which goes to the children's hospital. I have no problem with the children's hospital being funded. I have a huge problem with any surplus, which is money owed and belonging to survivors of this, being given to a project that should be funded by the taxpayer.
This is simple. I have no doubt that the Minister is going to tell me that the review is there and to wait for it. We were told that when we raised the concerns when this legislation was initially passed, almost five years ago. The review has been delayed. The work has been done by others. The needs of the people are obvious. They are the ones best placed to say what this scheme should be. It is insulting and demeaning to expect them to wait any longer, given their age and what they have been subjected to by this State, when we can move this legislation forward. It can provide immediate assistance to allow them to access their money for the abuse that they suffered at the hands of a negligent State which owes them an apology and a hell of a lot more than the paltry scheme before them.