Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 24 Feb 2015

Vol. 238 No. 4

Redress for Women Resident in Certain Institutions Bill 2014: Second Stage

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am pleased to come before the House today to represent the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, and present the Redress for Women Resident in Certain Institutions Bill 2014. The purpose of the Bill is to provide for health services to be made available without charge to women who were resident in Magdalen laundries and similar institutions. The Bill also provides that the women concerned will not be required to pay the statutory charge for public acute hospital inpatient services and that the ex gratia payments being made, including top-up pension payments, will not be included in the financial assessment of means under the Nursing Homes Support Scheme Act 2009.

As Senators will be aware, the Bill is just one part of a wider package of supports for the women concerned. Before I go into detail about the Bill, I will outline the background to the legislation and other supports the Government is providing for the women concerned. In June 2011 it decided to set up an inquiry to establish the facts of State involvement with the Magdalen laundries. Former Senator Martin McAleese chaired the inquiry. His report of over 1,000 pages was published in February 2013. It is a very detailed, clear and objective exposition of the facts in regard to the ten Magdalen laundries. It found that just over 10,000 women had spent time in a Magdalen laundry since the founding of the State.

The manner in which the women concerned found themselves in Magdalen laundries varied greatly. There were a large number of referrals by the women themselves. There were also many referrals to Magdalen laundries made by families, priests or clergy, as well as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, the Red Cross and Samaritans. In addition, 27% of referrals were made by or facilitated by the State. The McAleese report makes the point that in today's world it is difficult to understand the circumstances which could in the past have led to daughters, sisters and mothers being placed in the laundries. It may be equally difficult to understand the apparent acceptance by families of instructions from people in positions of authority, particularly priests, in family matters.

The report further states it would be unfair to judge these cases or the people concerned by applying today's standards and societal norms. It points out that, because of the general life expectancy in society at the time, it was common for one or more parents of the girls or women to be deceased. The point needs to be made that many of these girls or women ended up in these institutions simply because they did not have any person in a position to look after them. The Magdalen laundries were, in many cases, used as a temporary measure in the absence of more appropriate services which simply were not available at the time. They were described in the McAleese report as “often the only door open to these women".

Many of the women and girls worked in the laundries for long periods. About half of the women were in the laundries for periods in excess of three years. The referrals made by State agencies came about in a variety of ways. There were referrals from industrial and reform schools, as well as health and social services, the then existing county homes and psychiatric hospitals. There were also referrals from the criminal justice system, including persons on remand; referrals as a condition of probation; other less formalised referrals facilitated by the courts; referrals from prison; and referrals made by An Garda Síochána. Owing to the lack of more appropriate services, many of the case studies demonstrate widespread acceptance of practices that would be unacceptable to us today. The case studies often illustrate the fact that alternative social care arrangements for the women concerned were often simply not available at the time.

The report also makes the point that there seems to be a mistaken public perception that women referred to these institutions were predominately lone parents. This perception does not reflect the reality in most cases. The report found that placements of girls or women in Magdalen laundries were made for a wide range of reasons. It is hard to credit nowadays that some referrals were seen as a means of providing for girls or women with physical disabilities, or with a mental or psychiatric illness. Some had intellectual disabilities and special needs, while others were referred because of advanced age. In other cases girls or women were placed in Magdalen laundries by their families following family disputes or as a result of abuse or neglect in the home. Only in a minority of cases did they relate to girls or women rejected by their families for having a child.

The case studies which are included in the report provide very sad and harrowing accounts of a traumatic time in the lives of the girls and women concerned. This is especially the case when we consider the fact that, at that most vulnerable time in their lives, they did not just experience a very traumatic removal from their homes and communities. In many cases, this was also followed by a prolonged and extreme level of social exclusion and ostracisation by society.

On the basis of the McAleese report and, in particular, based on the wishes of the women themselves, the Government decided that a non-adversarial scheme for women who had worked in Magdalen laundries or similar institutions should be introduced. Mr. Justice Quirke was then asked by the Government to make recommendations on an appropriate scheme. He reported in May 2013 and all of his recommendations were accepted in principle by the Government in June that year. The Department of Justice and Equality then started work immediately on setting up a scheme which was publicised widely both in this country and abroad.

The primary support being provided by the Government is the scheme of ex gratia payments to women who were in these institutions. Under the scheme, applicants do not have to prove that they suffered any abuse or damages. The manner of their referral to the institution is also not considered relevant. All that has to be established is that a woman was admitted to and worked in a relevant institution. For this reason, it should be recognised that the scheme represents a very appropriate and caring provision by the Government and the State for the women concerned in respect of what was inevitably a very traumatic experience in their lives. Under the scheme’s provisions, they are eligible for a payment of between €11,500 and €100,000, depending on the length of stay. As recommended by Mr. Justice Quirke, the balance of lump sums in excess of €50,000 is being paid in weekly instalments to provide an income spread over a longer period. To date, decisions have been made on almost 90% of applications out of 776 received so far.

A total of €18 million has so far been paid out to the women.

The remaining applications are at various stages of the process - some have been received only recently, some require further information, investigation or verifications. Work is progressing on these cases as quickly as possible. For the purpose of clarity, applications for the scheme remain open and I anticipate that a small number of further applications will be received.

The processing of all applications starts off on the premise that the testimony of the applicant is correct and the officers processing the application then seek to verify the application by checking appropriate records. Where the records of institutions are incomplete, as they are in a small number of cases, the Department arranges to meet the applicants affected and the Department is generally able to verify the information provided by the applicant by corroborating the information with the institutions or third parties.

The Quirke report also recommended that the ex gratia payments should also include top-up pension payments of up to €100 for those under the age of 66 years and up to €230.30 for those aged 66 or over. These payments are being made by the Department of Social Protection and I would like to thank the Minister for Social Protection for her assistance in that regard.

Mr. Justice Quirke recommended that legislation be introduced to give effect to his recommendation with regard to the provision of health services. In his report, Mr. Justice Quirke was of the opinion that Magdalen women should be provided with access to a comprehensive suite of health services. Mr. Justice Quirke's recommendation that the women receive medical services equivalent to those provided to the holder of a HAA card is being given effect in this Bill. However he also stated "not all of the services described in the [Hepatitis C] Guide may be directly relevant to the Magdalen women and any comparable Guide for the Magdalen women would require suitable adaptation"

It should be noted that the services provided in section 2 of the Bill are precisely those recommended by Mr. Justice Quirke on Page 35 of his report. These are: GP services; prescribed drugs, medicines, aids and appliances; dental services; ophthalmic services; aural services; home support; home nursing; counselling services; and a range of other services, to include chiropody-podiatry and physiotherapy. All of these services are specified in section 2 of the Bill and will be made available free of charge to the women who were in Magdalen laundries.

There has been some incorrect comment in regard to the Bill which has suggested the Health (Amendment) Act 1996 also provides for alternative therapies such as massage, aromatherapy, reflexology or acupuncture; counselling services for immediate family members of persons with hepatitis C; provisions that the persons not have to wait more than two weeks for an appointment with a specialist, liaison officers; and personal advocacy services. There are no such provisions in the Health (Amendment) Act 1996. However, some additional services are available to persons with hepatitis C under the HAA card scheme on an administrative basis that are in addition to those provided for in the Health (Amendment) Act 1996. These include drug treatments for hepatitis that are not on the approved medicines list; counselling for immediate family members in regard to the effects of hepatitis C, and the need to avoid infection of other family members; and open access to specialist hospital treatment for hepatitis C.

These provisions are not contained in the Health (Amendment) Act 1996 and it would make no sense whatsoever to include these specific provisions in this Bill. The Magdalen women do not have this illness and would not need or benefit in any way from the specific treatments for hepatitis C.

With regard to the question of alternative therapies, the Minister for Health has reservations about such therapies being provided and funded through the health service and, for that reason, they were not included in the Bill, just as they are not included in the Health (Amendment) Act 1996, or in Mr. Justice Quirke's recommendations. However, the Minister for Justice and Equality is considering options for provision of such services on an administrative basis outside of legislation.

I thank the Minister for Health for his assistance in the provision of this very comprehensive suite of medical services, as recommended by Mr. Justice Quirke. Senators will note that the range of health services being made available, without charge, are also those services listed in section 2 of the Health (Amendment) Act 1996, which provides for persons affected by hepatitis C. This very comprehensive list of services includes all of the health services identified by Mr. Justice Quirke. The Bill also provides these women with exemption from charges for acute inpatient services. It also provides that payments made to these women arising from the scheme of ex gratia payments will not be included in any financial assessment of means under the Nursing Homes Support Scheme Act 2009.

The focus is firmly on the health needs of the women and some of the services provided will be accessible through referral by a doctor or nurse.

Referral will ensure that the health care provided will be co-ordinated and the most appropriate to each participant. There is no means test to access these services and they will be provided without charge to relevant participants in the ex gratia scheme.

All health systems around the world vary in arrangements and each system is practically unique. Therefore, the Minister for Health has agreed, given the wide variation in the organisation of different countries' health systems, that access to equivalent health services for participants living abroad is best dealt with on an administrative basis by the HSE. The HSE will deal with a woman residing overseas as appropriate to the specific circumstances of the individual, the country of residence and its health system. Those women living abroad will be supported in sourcing and paying for services and securing refunds to the extent that they would be entitled to if resident in the State. There will be circumstances where a service similar to or aligned with what they would receive in the State may not be available and the HSE will have a variety of arrangements with such participants. A specific contact will be established in the HSE with whom the overseas participants can liaise in terms of arranging access to services and recouping the costs. This dedicated point of contact will provide clarity on what exactly the participant is entitled to in line with what is available in her country of residence. The HSE will also provide an information booklet to the women here and abroad setting out in detail the services to which they are entitled.

I understand there has been some comment about the lack of explicit reference in the Bill to a so-called enhanced card. It is important to clarify that neither the standard medical card nor any new card is explicitly set out in the Health Act 1970 or the Redress for Women Resident in Certain Institutions Bill 2014. This is normal legislative practice. It will be a matter for the HSE to decide on the practical arrangements, such as a type of card, to be put in place in order to ensure that the women can easily demonstrate their eligibility for services under this legislation. One operational possibility is that an RWRCI card, based on the name of the legislation, may be issued to the qualifying women.

There has also been some comment suggesting no provision is being made for women entitled to these supports who do not have capacity to make the necessary applications or arrangements but this is incorrect. The women are already covered by section 21 - appointment of a care representative - under the Nursing Homes Support Scheme Act 2009. Separate legislation which the Minister has already brought before the Dáil will cater for cases where the applicant is found to lack capacity but has not been made a ward of court or where there is no enduring power of attorney. The Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Bill provides for the appointment of a person by a court to act on behalf of the applicant in regard to his or her financial affairs and this will include applications for ex gratia payments under the scheme. This Bill is already awaiting Committee Stage in the Dáil and I expect it to be enacted in the first half of this year. That Bill also provides for decision making assistants, co-decision makers, decision-making representatives and the public guardian, measures which are well suited to look after the best interests of the Magdalen women who have capacity issues. It would not make sense to introduce a special scheme for the women who lack capacity in the light of the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Bill which has already passed Second Stage in the Dáil.

The Department of Justice and Equality is careful to ensure applicants have the necessary capacity and cross-check with other Departments to establish whether there are issues. A medical assessment is sought if there is any indication that an applicant under the scheme has capacity issues. Some 40 women in this category have been identified to date and payments to these women are being made once proper safeguards are in place. As we need to have regard to the mental capacity of a number of these women, section 2 of the Bill must allow for a situation where a woman does not have the capacity to make decisions in regard to these services. That is why the wording is slightly different from that of the Health (Amendment) Act 1996. In some cases a family member or a carer, rather than the woman herself, will have to make decisions about GP or other services. Again, we are trying to ensure that all care provided will be most appropriate to the needs of each participant.

I reiterate that the Government is committed to implementing all of the commitments we made to the Magdalen women. The Government will implement all of Mr. Justice Quirke's recommendations in full. I believe there is broad support in this House for all of the measures that the Government has decided to put in place for these women. In drafting the Bill the Government has had regard to points made by Senators and Deputies in representations. I commend the Bill to the House and will very much look forward to discussing it with the Senators.

I welcome the Minister of State. On 27 February 2013 I stood up in this House and warmly welcomed the Taoiseach's apology the previous week to the Magdalen survivors. I also said that I was proud of him for the genuine, warm and sincere manner in which he had delivered that apology. Unfortunately, as Maeve O'Rourke of the Justice for Magdalenes group has pointed out, while the Taoiseach's apology was the highlight of his term, the legislation before us today is in danger of being a low point. She argues that the Government is preparing, quietly and deliberately, to break its promises to the approximately 500 elderly women regarding the redress package they were promised in 2013.

The Minister of State has given reasons as to why there has been a misunderstanding about the benefits that were promised to these women. Mr. Justice Quirke's very first recommendation was that the women would receive a medical card entitling them to the full range of services currently enjoyed by holders of the Health (Amendment) Act 1996 card or HAA card. The Magdalen women understood that this would include the full range of benefits available to the hepatitis C survivors and made a statement to that effect at the time. I am not aware of anyone disabusing them of that understanding. It was on that basis that they warmly welcomed the Taoiseach's apology and the recommendation of Mr. Justice Quirke that they be provided with a full range of health benefits. Two years on and there is great disappointment among these women. They waited for an awfully long time, not just for a State apology but for a genuine acknowledgement of the torture that they were put through. It is so disappointing now to see their unhappiness at how they are being treated by the Government.

As the Minister of State has pointed out, the hepatitis C survivors can visit any GP of their choice, including private GPs. They can see a dentist, public or private, at any time for any necessary treatment. They are also entitled to ophthalmic services at any time and to priority hospital-based ophthalmic care. They can be given unlimited aural services and referred to ear, nose and throat specialists within two weeks. These benefits will not be provided to the Magdalen survivors under the current Bill. There are much greater restrictions on the medical card list in terms of the types of medicines that are covered in comparison to those available under the other scheme. Furthermore, the Magdalen women will not receive the same type of counselling service. The Minister of State has argued that this is justifiable as far as the Government is concerned because the Magdalen women do not need the same range of services as the hepatitis C survivors but I disagree with the Minister of State on that. The experience that women went through in the Magdalen laundries has caused them incredible torment. It has not just affected the women themselves but also their families. Many of them were deeply affected by their experiences in the Magdalen laundries on an emotional level, to the detriment of their mental health. The impact for many has been long term with some suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and other mental illnesses. Their experiences in the past up to the present day have often affected their loved ones too, to the great pain of the women involved who would have given anything to have had a happy family life and not to have had their experiences affect their children. They want their children and other family members to have the opportunity to receive counselling in order that all of those affected by the experience of the women can try to work through that. That is really important and the Government should not underestimate the importance of counselling for these women and their families. I ask the Department to look at this issue again before the Bill comes back to the House for the Committee Stage debate.

There is also an issue with regard to complementary therapies, which are excluded under the provisions of this Bill. Such therapies include massage-based therapies, manipulation-based therapies, hydrotherapy, reflexology and acupuncture which the Minister of State has argued are not necessary. However, I note that the Minister of State at the Departments of Justice and Equality and Health, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, is a strong advocate of such therapies. Indeed, she will launch the Acupuncture Awareness Week at the beginning of March. On the one hand, the Government is saying that such services are not important and do not need to be provided to the Magdalen women, while, on the other, it is selling them as positive therapies that can improve the quality of life.

It appears that personal advocates or liaison officers will not be provided for the women.

That is unfortunate because in my experience of dealing with vulnerable groups I have found that they are unable to advocate for themselves. They need help so the provision of personal advocates is very important.

The expectation following the publication of Mr. Justice Quirke's report was that the full range of benefits would be provided to the women concerned but clearly that is not the case. The Minister said that the HSE might be minded, on an administrative or discretionary basis, to provide services to the Magdalen survivors above and beyond those covered by the medical card but Senators should appreciate that we are talking about women who are particularly vulnerable. They do not want to have to live on grace and favour in the hope that a service will be provided for them by the HSE. They want an entitlement to that service. They want to see this House following through on the Taoiseach's apology in a meaningful way by providing them, as of right, with the range of services they require.

I ask the Minister to look at the Bill again. As a country we can never compensate the Magdalen survivors for the hurt, pain and torture inflicted on them in the past but we have an opportunity to at least give these, now elderly, women the highest possible level of comfort, health and dignity that we can. We will table amendments to the legislation on Committee Stage to ensure that the full range of benefits are provided as of right and I will ask Senators across the House to support them.

Fianna Fáil is also concerned that the Magdalen laundries have been excluded from the commission of investigation into mother and baby homes. The Minister of State has pointed out that the interdepartmental report looked into this area but the report has met with a lot of criticism. The Justice for Magdalenes research group published a report last week pointing out that the death rates were much higher than stated in the interdepartmental report because burial records have not been taken into account. There were other discrepancies too. We would have liked the investigation into mother and baby homes to have been, finally, a comprehensive investigation for these women. We think the mother and baby homes and the Magdalen laundries were both part of the same architecture of containment which existed for a long time for vulnerable women and girls and they should be fully investigated by the commission set up by the Minister.

We welcome that this legislation will provide some redress and some services for the survivors of the Magdalen laundries but we do not feel it goes far enough. We are talking about a limited number of women who have suffered great torture and pain and deserve, at this point in their lives, some comfort and dignity. I do not think it is beyond the Minister of State to go the full way and give them the services they expected.

I welcome the Minister of State. As a woman, I wholeheartedly welcome this Bill which will take steps towards reparation for the thousands of women who were virtually imprisoned in the Magdalen laundries from the late 1800s to late in the last century.

According to the McAleese report, 10,012 women in Ireland were confined to these laundries over eight decades, not including those in two institutions run by the Sisters of Mercy. Most women, actually some 61%, spent less than a year in the laundries and the median age of their entry was 20 years old. The Bill seeks to make available, without charge, certain health services and supports to women who were admitted to and worked in certain institutions. It also provides that their income from the ex gratia payment element of the redress scheme would be exempt from means testing for the nursing homes support scheme, should they need to avail of these services.

The Bill may affect up to an estimated 1,000 women who were admitted to and worked in these laundries and who are still alive. In 2013 the Government established a commission under Mr. Justice Quirke and he recommended a redress scheme be put in place with financial, lump sum and pension-type payments and a benefit-in-kind element. Interestingly, these institutions were not confined to Ireland nor were they exclusively Catholic-established or operated. Their history in Europe may date back to mediaeval times but the first of what could be determined to be a Magdalen home was established in England in 1758. The first in Ireland was a Protestant asylum established in 1765 and in the late 1800s there were at least 41 Magdalen institutions in Ireland. The Government is to be applauded for taking up the cause of the Magdalen survivors. Previous Governments contested the State's role in the operation of the laundries. For example, in 1998 the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats coalition Government posited that a public inquiry was not warranted since the Magdalen institutions were private entities. I am sure even Senator Averil Power would recognise that, in this context, a reasonable amount has been done to give some support to survivors.

In 2010 the then justice Minister, Mr. Dermot Ahern, stated there were no plans for a redress scheme. Fast forward to June 2013 and this Government committed to implementing all the recommendations of the Quirke report, including lump sum payments and healthcare provisions. The Minister said that there had been some incorrect reporting on this but the Bill appears to fall short of the Quirke report and is somewhat limited. According to the report, survivors should also be entitled to private GP care as well as private ophthalmic and aural services and I would welcome the Minister of State's clarification on these points.

The Justice for Magdalenes research group wrote to Senators asking us to do our best to ensure the Magdalen survivors got what was promised to them. They point out that the women should be entitled to any prescribed medication drugs or appliances whatsoever but this appears to be limited in the Bill. They also state they should be entitled to private GP care and pointed out that, under the health amendment act scheme, hepatitis C women can visit any private practitioner. When they are referred for hospital treatment they should be entitled to an appointment within two weeks but this does not appear to be provided for.

The research group also called for complementary therapies to be made available to relatives of Magdalen survivors, as in the case of family members of HAA card holders. The JFMR was extremely concerned for the welfare of Magdalen survivors who lack capacity. Senator Averil Power called for every woman who remains institutionalised in the care of the religious orders, especially women lacking capacity, to have a personal advocate assigned to her. I note the Minister's comments about section 21 to the effect that a care representative is to be appointed to such women but I wonder if this amounts to the same thing as a personal advocate being assigned to a particular patient. I agree with the Senator on this point.

In fairness to the Government, it has made huge efforts to help the survivors but they were promised extra benefits to what are available on the medical card and they are entitled to them. I do not think we can ever be too decent or kind to these survivors. As Senator Averil Power said, they are limited in number and we may be able to go a little further than the distance travelled by the Bill.

I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House and look forward to his response.

I welcome the Minister of Stateand thank him for the history lesson. It was a good reminder of what we all know, to our cost in our hearts and minds, happened to the Magdalen women.

I emphasise the word "justice" throughout my speech. I do this because "I emphasise the word "justice"" was the major sentence in an address by Deputy Alan Shatter who was Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence at the time of publication of the report of Mr. Justice Quirke on the former residents of the Magdalen laundries.

Let us all emphasise it again today. It is about justice for the needs and the interests of the Magdalen women, justice for all their needs and all their interests and justice for all. Mr. Justice Quirke's report states:

During the consultation process the following were amongst many health concerns of Magdalen women: (1) cancer, (2) heart complaints, (3) high blood pressure and diabetes, (4) mental health illnesses, (5) mobility problems, (6) dementia, (7) arthritic complaints, (8) arterial difficulties and (9) visual and hearing deficits [...] The health needs and requirements of the women surveyed are diverse in nature so the women should be provided with access to a comprehensive suite of health care services. Those services include: GP services; prescribed drugs, medicines, aids and appliances; dental services; ophthalmic services; aural services; home support; home nursing; counselling services; [and] a range of other services, to include chiropody/podiatry and physiotherapy.

That is what Mr. Justice Quirke said was to be done. The Government approved the publication of the report in full and accepted the recommendations made by him.

Mr. Justice Quirke's most important recommendation after the ex gratia payments to all Magdalen women was that Magdalen women should have access to the full range of services enjoyed by holders of the Health (Amendment) Act 1996 and with it the HAA card. This is where justice for the Magdalen women begins and completes its restorative nature and path. The Taoiseach made an outstanding speech about his Government's need to give back some aspect of lost lives to the Magdalen women. His promise amounted to a national covenant. Women know that in some way this promise to the Magdalen women parallels how we should view our own lives with quality, value and worth, for unless we can think and feel through the travel shoes of others, we cannot understand the heart and the geography of our own lives. The promise to the Magdalen women was a very profound promise. The Minister of State is a good Minister and the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, is an excellent Minister and I know that they understand the profundity of this. However, when we start, either through the Department of Health or the Department of Justice and Equality, snipping and fraying around the recommendations, the result becomes an uneven, unfair and unjust fabric. When the Minister of State and the Minister start snipping and fraying around the recommendations, they undermine the profundity of the promise and the humanity of the justice.

The Bill is good, but it is not what was promised. I might remind the Seanad that the women promised not to sue the State in exchange for a full redress package and they have kept their promise. Where are their legitimate expectations now? In view of this and with respect and regard for the Minister of State's and the Minister's portfolios, I will be tabling some detailed amendments throughout the passage of the Bill on Committee and Report Stages. This Government needs to think at length and loudly about promises. A promise is not a half-belief. It is not a snip and a fray. It is a true rhyme. It is a reality and a justice. If I were to define a government, I would say a government is a promise and a promise is a government and one must keep one's promise totally. I remember making my first speech here, when I had the privilege of coming into the Seanad to speak about the power of women who were oppressed to stay standing and about the power of other women to come in and help them to stay standing. I intend to do that for the Magdalen women, even if it is to be my last speech. I will leave Members with this thought from a Magdalen laundry survivor:

Have you heard anything new about the HAA Medical cards? The waiting is so stressful for me, because I have found out in late January, I have macular degeneration. I would love to go private, but I have to wait on the waiting list to get treated on the HSE. I got an appointment to see a private eye specialist for Monday 16 February but I can't go, because I can't afford the treatment. This is so unjust, have they the Government got any conscience? I hope it will be good news and quickly.

I stood up on my first day in the Seanad and stand up again today. It is one thing to be talking about metering and paying for water but it is another thing to break the promise made in respect of these women. This promise must be kept in totality. If I were sitting in a Government position this evening, that is exactly what I would be doing, because the people need to know that this is a good Government. Good governments are defined by promises and keep them totally.

I also welcome the Minister of State to discuss this very important Bill. The purpose of the Bill is to provide health services without charge for women who were resident in the Magdalen laundries and other similar institutions. We must take into consideration the age of some of the Magdalen women and the urgency attached to dealing with issues related to them. These women have been waiting a considerable amount of time. That is why urgent action was required and provided. GP services; prescribed drugs, medicines, aids and appliances; dental services; ophthalmic services; aural services; home support; home nursing; counselling services; and chiropody-podiatry and physiotherapy service will all be made free of charge to women involved.

The women are in a very difficult situation and some are extremely vulnerable. They have been taken advantage of in so many ways during their lives. With these benefits being made available to them, I hope their remaining years will be much better and that a better quality of life is ensured for them. However, we can go a step further and consider the proposals for the provision of alternative therapies. It is believed such therapies, for example, acupuncture, hydrotherapy, aromatherapy and other alternative therapies, will greatly benefit the overall sense of well-being of these women and truly enhance their overall care. I was very disappointed to hear in the Minister of State's speech that the Minister for Health has reservations, but I am glad to hear that the Minister for Justice and Equality is considering options for the provision of such services outside of legislation. I hope that will be forthcoming as quickly as possible.

As the Minister of State will appreciate, many of the women who were resident or incarcerated in the Magdalen laundries have had their confidence knocked out of them over the years. Many of them have become meek, mild and totally unable to stand up for themselves, which is why organisations such as the Justice for Magdalenes Research, the National Women's Council of Ireland, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and Amnesty International Ireland have taken up their cause and are fighting for justice and redress for these women, who have been so disempowered by the system.

The HAA card is very specific to hepatitis C sufferers, but I ask the Minister of State to consider extending the same card to the Magdalen women, as it has been shown to work. Surely what happened to the Magdalen women at the hands of the State is no less a crime than what happened to hepatitis C sufferers, so why not give these women the HAA cards? A rebranding of the card entitlement is an easy and relatively painless resolution to historically recognise the women. This may sound like a minor issue, but this resolution may foster a great deal of goodwill and recognition of the women who suffered so dreadfully in the Magdalen laundries. There is a valid fear that it will not be enacted fully unless written into legislation.

As the Minister of State said, the primary support being provided by the Government is a scheme of ex gratia payments to women who were in these institutions. Under the scheme, the women are eligible for a payment of between €11,500 and €100,000, depending on the length of stay. To date, the Department of Justice and Equality has made decisions on 86% of applications. A total of €18 million has so far been paid out. The Quirke report also recommended that the ex gratia payments should include top-up pension payments of up to €100 under the age of 66 years and up to €230.30 from the age of 66 . I commend the Minister for Social Protection for acting quickly and putting these payments in place. The focus is now firmly on the health needs of these women. Some of the services provided will be accessible through referral by a doctor or nurse.

There is no means test in accessing these services which will be provided without charge for relevant participants in the ex gratia scheme. The HSE will deal with women residing overseas as appropriate to the specific circumstances of the individual concerned and the health system in her country of residence. A specific contact person in the HSE will be identified for the purpose of liaising with participants overseas. This dedicated point of contact will provide clarity on the participant's entitlements in line with what is available in her country of residence.

I take the opportunity to raise the issue of women who lack the capacity to act on their own behalf. Justice for Magdalenes and the other organisations are anxiously awaiting enactment of the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Bill 2013, as time is not on the side of many of the women concerned owing to their age or ill-health. We should allow a personal advocate for them to process their applications under the restorative justice scheme. Such a representative would ensure redress for the most vulnerable Magdalen women. The Minister of State, Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, stated the women concerned were already covered by section 21 of the Nursing Homes Support Scheme Act 2009, which deals with the appointment of care representatives. If that is the case, why not include a similar provision in the Bill before us to offer the women concerned a little security? What about those women who are not in nursing homes? Who will be appointed to advocate on their behalf? I ask the Minister of State to consider these questions before Committee Stage.

I acknowledge the commitment shown to the Magdalen women. More was done in recent years than ever before in the history of this State. I am delighted that we are at last bringing forward this redress legislation and acknowledge the progress made thus far. Some 7% of the more than 10,000 women who stayed in these institutions during the years were referred by the State. All of this happened since the foundation of the State in 1922. Clearly, the State has a responsibility to these women. Some were referred from other sources on an informal basis and without proper justification. Often the way their problems were dealt with was on the basis of "out of sight, out of mind". That does not mean, however, that we are absolved of responsibility for providing for thorough redress and this legislation seeks to meet that responsibility in a comprehensive manner.

The Magdalen women have a legacy that must never be repeated. Regardless of how much we dislike what happened, it is now part of our history and we must learn from it. I hope the Bill will allay the fears and concerns of the representatives of the women concerned and cater for their needs. The Government has acknowledged the wrong inflicted on them and they deserve all the help they can get. I wish them, whether they live in Ireland or abroad, the very best in the future. I hope they will have the peace, security and stability denied to them during the horrific years they spent in Magdalen laundries and similar institutions. In an era when we strive for equality for women across all nations, it is only fair that we start at home with our own.

I am one of the few Members of this House who worked in a Magdalen laundry. As the son of a gas fitter, I frequently visited the Magdalen laundries in Galway to repair water heating systems. I have two abiding memories from that time. One is of the oppressive heat in the laundries. The second is of the silence among, in some cases, beautiful young women. Nobody spoke to us. We just went in to do our work and then left. My colleague, Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell, referred to strong women. The women concerned are in need of strong women right now. I met some of the Magdalen ladies outside the front gates of Leinster House last week. They were not strong; they were elderly, frail, afraid and ill.

We have had the McAleese report and that of Mr. Justice Quirke on the establishment of an ex gratia scheme and related matters. Mr. Justice Quirke was unequivocal in his finding that the women concerned should be provided with access to a comprehensive suite of health care services. The health provisions of the scheme should operate in a similar manner to the provisions of the scheme made available under the Health (Amendment) Act 1996. Medical cards issued under that Act allow access to a comprehensive range of services, including a GP of choice; free prescriptions; dental, ophthalmic and oral care; home supports and nursing; counselling services; physiotherapy; chiropody and psychotherapy. These services are provided free of charge.

One might be led to think we are doing the women concerned a great favour, but we are only giving them that to which they are entitled. They have been mistreated since the foundation of the State and people in authority knew what was going on. Doctors and teachers visited these places. Let us not, therefore, clap ourselves on the back for anything we are doing for women who were treated so appallingly by the State.

Mr. Justice Quirke viewed the care provided under the 1996 Act as an integral part of the ex gratia scheme. The expression of sincerity is integral to the operation of restorative justice. Such sincerity requires that everything that can be done and more besides should be done. We should be tripping over ourselves to restore to these ladies the lives we stole from them. As a child, I recall hearing people being threatened with industrial schools or the Magdalen laundries. If they were not horrible places, they would not have been used as threats. The women concerned have a legitimate expectation of receiving services that are equivalent to those provided under the 1996 Act. They have signed legal waivers in good faith because the Government publicly promised to implement the recommendations made in the Quirke report. The Bill falls far short of these recommendations. If the Government is reneging on it promises, surely the women's waivers are legally unenforceable. I hope some firm of lawyers will take them on as clients if they do not receive everything to which they are entitled. We already know that the majority of women participating in the redress scheme have medical cards, but none of the services provided under the 1996 Act is available to them. Justice for Magdalenes has pointed out that there is no commitment to physically provide a medical card for the Magdalen women. In other words, the Bill does little more than extend the medical card to the small minority of women who do not already have one.

When I met the Magdalen ladies last week, they expressed grave concern about their pensions. While Mr. Justice Quirke recommended that they be in the position they would have occupied had they acquired sufficient stamps to qualify for a State contributory pension, it is shocking that the scheme only provides them with a State contributory pension backdated to August 2013, rather than their date of retirement.

The Bill is also lacking in its provisions on capacity. It has been pointed out to me that a number of the Magdalen women lack full capacity. The Bill makes no provision for the appointment of care representatives for those who have difficulties in managing their affairs. In addition to asking the Minister of State, Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, why there is no reference in the Bill to care representatives, I ask him what assessments have been carried out to determine which women have capacity and which do not. Has his Department accepted applications from religious orders for ex gratia payments for a woman who lacks capacity but is not already a ward of court or the subject of enduring power of attorney? I cannot believe we have not gone the distance, let alone 100 miles beyond the distance to repay these ladies for their lost youth and the denial to them of the dignity of being paid for their work. In their old age they have nothing to look forward to but fear. Like other Senators, I will be tabling amendments on Committee Stage and will support those amendments that need to be taken on board. It is my hope that, for the first time since I entered the Seanad, some of the amendments will be accepted.

I welcome the Minister of State. I am very encouraged by what all of my colleagues have said so far and hope the Committee Stage debate will prove fruitful.

I stand in solidarity with Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell who so eloquently expressed her views on this matter. This is an issue about which I feel strongly and become quite emotional. Of course, it is an emotional subject and during the years I have met so many survivors of the Magdalen laundries who have shown such courage and dignity. The time has come for us to display similar courage and dignity.

When the Taoiseach made his formal apology in February 2013, there was much debate about whether it was sufficiently good, sincere, etc. At the time I stated I had been profoundly moved by what he had said. However, the apology he gave was not to me; it was made on my behalf and that of others to the survivors and their families. The litmus test of the Taoiseach's apology was the tenor of the response to it. I was heartened, therefore, by reports which indicated that survivor advocacy groups had very much welcomed the apology. With the passage of time, I have reached the view that the real litmus test of the veracity of the Taoiseach's apology is the robustness of the redress scheme delivered for the Magdalen survivors in our name.

Several Senators have referred to the position on HAA cards and a number of other issues which remain outstanding and continue to cause hurt to many of the survivors. My experience and that of those who work directly with the women concerned is that the cards in question are desperately needed. Magdalen survivors who already have medical cards cannot use them, particularly those in nursing homes and other institutions. They are being informed that resources are not available and that waiting lists are too long. This means that they cannot access care or treatment.

The Minister of State referred to complementary therapies and indicated that he might perhaps look outside the legislation and consider the position on an administrative basis. That is extremely difficult to accept because this matter relates to rights, not charity. What we are discussing is that to which the women concerned are entitled. This issue brings to mind the image of Lady Justice holding her scales. For so much of the lives of the women concerned, the scales were balanced against them. We must take it on ourselves to rebalance the scales and ensure justice is done. I have heard some people speak against complementary medicine. Many of the Magdalen survivors I have had the honour to meet have informed me about their sense of loneliness and isolation and complementary therapies could provide the healing and therapy they require. They are so stressed and distressed that being touched by another person can be a hugely powerful experience. I do not think we should underestimate or diminish the power of complementary therapies.

Mr. Justice Quirke recommended the establishment of an office for survivors. I cannot speak strongly enough in favour of this suggestion, especially for those women who are still in the care of nuns and who need support and oversight. People need to be appointed to work with, protect and support these individuals in the years to come.

The Minister of State referred to nursing home regulations. The reality is that many of the women concerned do not live in nursing homes. What about those who avail of disability services? They are not covered by the regulations. These are some of the women about whom some of my colleagues and I are talking. We need to cater for them in the legislation.

On the issue of capacity, the Bill is a step forward, but we are too long waiting in this regard. There is a need to consider how we can ensure the women concerned can have a voice and access the money to which they are entitled. Is it the case that we are allowing the clock to tick and that we are waiting for them to die? When I was preparing for this debate, I came across a strong and powerful comment made by Mr. Colm O'Gorman at the launch of Amnesty International's In Plain Sight report when he said:

But the focus cannot be purely on the past, as if this history has no relevance for our society now. We must consider the degree to which this history reveals vital truths about the nature of our society today. The past only becomes history once we have addressed it, learnt from it and made the changes necessary to ensure that we do not repeat mistakes and wrongdoings.

I will be supporting the amendments Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell intends to table on Committee Stage. I still have questions about State involvement in and oversight of the Magdalen laundry system. Did the relevant Department knowingly make efforts to deny or minimise the level of State involvement? The UN Committee Against Torture made reference to this matter in 2011.

I have outstanding issues with regard to the unnamed graves and about granting dignity to those women who died behind the walls of these institutions. I do not think we can allow this opportunity to pass without commending the late Mary Raftery for her efforts to bring the issue of unexplained and unregistered deaths to the fore in her article entitled, "Restoring Dignity to Magdalens", which appeared in The Irish Times in 2003. The article in question was extremely powerful and I advise the Minister of State to take the opportunity to reread it.

As a society, by our silence we were complicit in the past. We cannot be complicit again by remaining silent now. We must ensure the women concerned obtain their rights. This matter relates to their rights and I am not requesting that they be given anything extra. However, they should be treated like royalty in view of everything they have done. As a society, we cannot be complicit by remaining silent. The Bill cannot pass through the Oireachtas unless it delivers full redress to the Magdalen survivors.

Céad fáilte romhat, a Aire Stáit. The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, has indicated that she is aware of the criticisms of this legislation that have been levelled by Justice for Magdalenes Research, the National Women's Council, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and Amnesty International. These organisations are of the view that the Bill does not honour the promise made by the Government in June 2013 to implement in full all of Mr. Justice Quirke's recommendations for a Magdalen restorative justice scheme. Before I detail the criticisms to which I refer in detail, I emphasise that we are talking about redress for inhuman and degrading treatment, the arbitrary deprivation of liberty and forced labour. I further emphasise that we are talking about a scheme designed to persuade the victims to accept less than the full effective remedy, to which they would otherwise be entitled under law, in the interests of saving the State the potential expense to which it would be exposed should each individual victim take her case to court. That is, by definition, what an ex gratia scheme is: a reduced remedy in exchange for comparative speed and certainty of outcome. The women who have received their lump sum compensation payments and pensions under the ex gratia scheme have agreed not to sue the State in exchange for the full redress package recommended by Mr. Justice Quirke.

The first set of criticisms levelled relates to sections 2 and 3 of the Bill which provide for supplementary health care for the victims. Mr. Justice Quirke did not recommend that those who had signed up to the Magdalen scheme should be entitled to ordinary medical cards. He went much further than this. His actual recommendation, to be found on page 7 of his report, is that Magdalen women should have access to the full range of services currently enjoyed by holders of the Health (Amendment) Act 1996 card, also known as the HAA card. Notwithstanding the provisions in section 3 which amends the relevant provision contained in section 53C of the Health Act 1970, the nature of Mr. Justice Quirke's recommendation is the reason the survivors expected to see legislation in that particular form and explains why they are alarmed that it is not reflected in what the Minister for Justice and Equality has produced. In their view, the full list of services available to HAA cardholders are not provided for in the Bill. Under the regulations relating to the HAA card and, therefore, Mr. Justice Quirke's recommendation, holders are entitled to private GP services. HAA cardholders are also entitled to any and all prescribed drugs, including high tech drugs, medicines, aids and appliances; any and all chiropody or podiatry services, without the need for a referral from a GP or registered nurse; complementary therapies; and counselling services which are to be made available without restriction and without the need for GP referral. HAA card eligibility also contemplates comprehensive dental care, including access to private dentists, and audiology services from private practitioners where services are not available within the public health service; access to dedicated liaison officers to help to obtain optimum home nursing and home support services; enhanced ophthalmic services, beyond those restricted services available to ordinary medical card holders; and access to private physiotherapy services. As I understand it, having again reviewed the list and the Bill's provisions in the light of the Minister's assertions to the contrary, all of the services to which I refer are not provided for under the terms of the Bill.

The next set of concerns relates to the Bill's failure to make any provision for the appointment of care representatives under the Nursing Homes Support Scheme Act 2009. This is required in order that applications may be made to the redress scheme on behalf of those survivors who lack full capacity in order to ensure their payments will be secured, protected and used exclusively for their benefit in a regulated manner and with judicial oversight.

This recommendation is crucial, given that there have been allegations that some of the women may have had their lack of capacity exploited in order that their institutional carers or others would realise financial benefit from their compensation packages and pension payments. I do not know whether there is substance to these allegations, but legislative provisions providing protections against this very possible outcome should have been in place long before now, given that a significant number of the survivors lack full capacity and many are still institutionalised in nursing homes or hostels run by the religious order responsible for the Magdalen laundries in the first place. The Minister has said this will all be provided for in the forthcoming Assisted Decision-making (Capacity) Bill. Survivors expected specific and dedicated provision in this legislation, for avoidance of doubt.

The final area of concern is with respect to pension provision and the fact that the Bill utterly fails to implement in full, as promised, the Quirke recommendation on the State contributory pension. The current scheme provides the women with the State contributory pension backdated to August 2013 only. However, Mr. Justice Quirke recommended that the survivors should, as a consequence of redress scheme measures, find themselves "in the position that they would have occupied had they acquired sufficient stamps to qualify for the State contributory pensions". This would require the back-dating of pension payments to each woman's retirement age. Anything less is unacceptable. I ask the Minister to bring forward amendments on Committee Stage in acknowledgment that this was indeed stipulated by Mr. Justice Quirke.

Even if this Bill entirely fulfilled the terms of the Quirke recommendations to the letter, as promised to these women in 2013, it still would not be enough to ensure justice is done. The redress scheme the judge recommended was, by definition, limited to the mandate imposed upon him by the Government, and related to the inherent limitations of the McAleese interdepartmental inquiry. We need to establish a full commission of investigation, as was done for the victims of residential institutions and mother and baby homes. Tá súil agam go dtiocfaidh an Aire ar aghaidh le leasuithe, mar tá mé cinnte go dtiocfaidh muidne, mar Sheanadóirí, ar aghaidh le leasuithe, agus go mbeidh an Rialtas sásta glacadh leo sin le go ndéanfar an rud ceart do na mná seo.

I welcome the Bill. The points made by my colleague, Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell, are particularly worthy of support and the delivery of them here, without any hyperbole, in a calm manner, is exactly how we should conduct our business in this House. It is a great opportunity for the Seanad to give expression to the wishes of the Magdalen women and the Labour Party and the Government are very keen to do it. There is a distance between what the Bill says and what people believe the Bill states and this is where the main concerns arise. Several speakers have pointed out, with varying degrees of heat, the disparity between the Health (Amendment) Act 1996 and what is in the Bill. In fact, the wording of both is exactly the same, word for word, apart from section 2(1)(f) in the Health (Amendment) Act, which specifically references hepatitis C sufferers. I cannot see where there can be any ambiguity.

While operational difficulties surround the administration of all medical cards and, because of the nature of the system, individuals will experience difficulties at the interface between the services, we are dealing only with legislation and we must confine ourselves to it. It cannot be disputed that the wording of section 2 of the Bill is the same as that in section 2 of the Health (Amendment) Act 1996 where it is written. Any legislator who disputes it is wilfully misunderstanding it because the legislation is clear.

There are other areas in which we could extend a little more generosity and we will seek to do so and will talk to the Minister. We have invited some representatives of the Magdalen groups here later this week. We will invite all my colleagues here in the Seanad to get clarity before Committee Stage, which will be taken next week. The difference in many areas between what is in the Bill and what is understood to be in the Bill is a matter of language and interpretation as opposed to the actual content of the Bill. I will have a great deal more to say about this at a later time. In the past several months I have done much work on it and talked to many people. I have some other concerns that are probably best expressed on Committee Stage. I appeal to our colleagues to confine the debate to the legislation before us. This topic is very emotive. The State has perpetrated a grave injustice on these women from the foundation of the State, and it dates back to before it. Although it is probably right that emotion become entwined with the legislation, as legislators we must coldly look at what is before us. What I see is a Bill which is not a great distance from what the survivors of the Magdalen laundries seek.

The Minister may define the Act as he wants. I define it in my way.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. On first reading, the Minister makes a very plausible argument and if one were unaware of the detail of the Bill as proposed, one would conclude that it is a pretty good piece of legislation. However, as has become evident, there are serious flaws inherent in the Government's good intentions. While Fianna Fáil supports the Bill broadly, concerns have been expressed. Maeve O'Rourke of Justice for Magdalenes Research, JFMR, has said:

This draft legislation does not meet Judge Quirke's recommendation on healthcare for Magdalene women. [From the Minister's statement, one would say the Government had implemented all the Quirke recommendations in full.] It is an obvious and unacceptable paring back of what the Government promised as part of the women’s redress package. Judge Quirke could not have been clearer in recommending that each woman should receive a card entitling her to the full range of health services provided to State-infected hepatitis C survivors under the HAA card scheme. Instead, the Bill promises little more than the regular medical card, which most of the women already have.

Dr. Katherine O’Donnell of JFMR said:

The women who have received their lump sum compensation and pensions have promised not to sue the State in exchange for the full redress package recommended by Judge Quirke. [Here is the rub. They have promised not to sue the State if the full redress package is implemented.] However, this legislation is in clear breach of the women's legitimate expectations and puts those waivers on shaky ground.

This should be of concern to the Government.

Another criticism is that, without explanation, the Government has ignored Mr. Justice Quirke's recommendation to extend the Nursing Homes Support Scheme Act 2009 to Magdalen women who lack full capacity. The Bill, as proposed, is a further denial of the rights of women survivors of the Magdalen laundries in that it undermines the scheme as proposed by the Quirke report which provided only minimal recognition for the abuse women suffered and that a particular area of concern is the denial of full pension entitlements for the women. Although Mr. Justice Quirke clearly recommended that the women should be treated as if they had made full pension contributions, the Government is refusing to backdate the pension entitlements for women.

The charges made against the Bill are very serious, and the Minister is already aware of them. Perhaps he is formulating a response and it will be interesting to hear what he has to say. The charges are very specific and focused and the overall thrust of the criticism is that the Government broke its promise, notwithstanding that everybody appreciated the heady days of the Taoiseach's apology. This applies particularly to women who had to leave the country for economic reasons having gone through the torture and trauma of a Magdalen laundry experience. Many of them returned and I well remember the day on which many of them appeared outside the gates of Leinster House, were in tears and said they had never thought they would see the day when a Taoiseach would stand up in the national Parliament and apologise in public on behalf of the people. It is a long way from then to now.

I can understand the distress the survivors are experiencing following on that experience, when they believed all the loose ends had been tidied up and all the promises would be implemented. Although all the right noises were made, several years later the position is there has not been a totally adequate response from the Government in this regard.

Before I conclude, I wish to make one or two other points to which the Minister of State perhaps might respond. While I understand there are more than 1,000 survivors of the Magdalen laundries, the Minister of State stated that almost 90% of applications out of 776 have been received so far and that he anticipates a small number of further applications will be received. I remember that at the time, there was widespread advertising among the Irish diaspora, particularly in England through the Irish Post and Irish World newspapers and through the Irish Embassy. Is the Minister of State satisfied that everybody has been identified and notified at this stage? Have a small number of people fallen through the net? Are there some people who may not know about these provisions and about the redress scheme? In the context of top-up pension payments, will this affect those Irish living in England in particular who already are in receipt of State pensions from the United Kingdom Government? Will such a top-up affect their payments in any way? It appears as though this will not be means-tested here in Ireland but will be given to people as a top-up payment.

I will make one final and rather interesting point in the context of the history of the Magdalen laundries and I thank the Acting Chairman for her indulgence. I had grown up believing, particularly in recent years when this issue broke into the public domain, that the Magdalen laundries were homes for those families that literally had turfed out their daughters who had become pregnant, yet I am pleased to learn that only a minority of cases related to girls or women rejected by their families for having a child. I often remember, whenever this issue about pregnant Irish pregnant girls being turfed out by their families came up, that my late father used to rail against it. He used to say that in rural Ireland, there was much greater sympathy and understanding within families than often was reported and subsequently has been reported in the media. I thought I would make that rather interesting historical point, namely, only a minority of cases related to women or girls rejected by their families for having a child out of wedlock.

I welcome the Minister of State and I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on this debate. I was present in the Dáil when the Taoiseach made that emotional apology to those women who spent time in Magdalen laundries and felt an immense pride and hope that day, as I saw the expressions of joy and relief on the faces of the women who were present. Consequently, I am absolutely dismayed that all Members are reading through the e-mails with which I am sure everyone has been bombarded and has received in recent weeks on how unhappy the women are with the situation. I too join in the calls for the Minister to examine some of the amendments and discussions arising here because I believe all Members essentially are coming up with the same points as to the items that must be considered. I will make three points, the first of which is on the issue of medical cards. This appears to be a huge bone of contention and must be examined. Women who have ordinary medical cards - as many of them already do - cannot access the equipment and other services due to waiting lists and exhausted budgets. On reading all of these messages and having spoken to women who have contacted me, I agree they should get an enhanced system and should be entitled to all the supports needed. In addition, those women in nursing homes should be considered as some have reported to me they now are being neglected and cannot get the equipment they need on their medical cards. They end up either paying for it from their own savings or not getting it at all.

Another major issue that has been brought to my attention and about which I am very concerned is the lack of oversight and support for the survivors as has been reported. The Quirke report proposed that an office be set up to support the women and while I acknowledge that an office has been set up to support them from a financial perspective, I do not refer to monetary matters but to an office to offer support and help to women. I am calling for something like that to be set up to support the women because such supports are vital to ensure the women have somewhere to which to turn to have their needs understood by those who can help them because they are all of an advancing age. In this context, I note that Caranua was set up for industrial school survivors and something must be put in place to take action on behalf of these women.

Almost everyone has referred today to the plight of people with intellectual disability. The delay in bringing forward the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Bill 2013 has had a huge impact on those women who have intellectual disabilities or mental health issues and are not in a position to apply themselves for funds. This is an issue that must be examined on Committee Stage because as matters stand and given the way this is going through in the Bill, these women will be dead before anything gets sorted out. It is highly unfair that those in need of the most are being made to wait the longest. I concur that some of these issues should be examined on Committee Stage because Members on both sides of the House all are singing from the same hymn sheet that something must be done and areas of this legislation must be reconsidered.

It never will be possible to compensate these women for what happened to them and the shameful way in which they were treated. However, Members owe it to them to ensure they have the highest level of comfort, support and services and to do everything that can be done for them now. Senator Craughwell mentioned that he had worked in or visited a Magdalen laundry. Magdalen laundries were present in part of the schools to which one would go and one could hear stories. In addition, on looking at the film, "The Magdalene Sisters", it is absolutely appalling. I am delighted that in some schools, particularly convent schools, English teachers are using it and are bringing this forward because younger people should be educated on this issue. They should be shown what did happen, how ashamed we are that this was allowed to happen in our country and that it will not continue. As I stated, I was present and met the women on the day the Taoiseach stood up in the Dáil Chamber to apologise to them. It was an absolutely wonderful moment and I feel strongly about how Members now are obliged to find out precisely how unhappy the women are about the whole situation.

I thank the Minister of State for his attendance. All Members have looked forward to this legislation and to going the full way towards taking care of the Magdalen survivors. This truly is what the Seanad is for and having listened to Senator Mary Moran, thank goodness most of these ladies still are around because Members can take action now and all parties can come together. I beg Senator John Gilroy's pardon but I will be emotional because Members are dealing with elderly, frail, tired, vulnerable and frightened people. Senator Paschal Mooney quoted Maeve O'Rourke's words that this draft legislation does not meet the recommendation made by Mr. Justice Quirke. How did this Bill get as far as the Seanad? In common with my colleagues, I am calling for justice to be done to honour the promise made by the Government in June 2013. I apologise to the Minister of State for looking up at the ceiling but this is a small group of people and Members cannot stand here and not give them everything they need.

Mr. Mark Kelly of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties stated:

The UN Committee Against Torture (CAT) has made clear that this means that funding must be provided to restore, as far as possible, their independence and their full inclusion and participation in society. CAT has made crystal clear that this obligation ‘cannot be postponed’.....

As Senator Mary Moran said, let us not postpone anything because the women concerned are elderly. The Government must act to honour its promise to the Magdalen women in line with our international human rights obligations.

Mr. Colm O’Gorman of Amnesty International Ireland said:

Truth and justice have still not been provided to victims of human rights violations in the Magdalene Laundries. That the Government continues to assert that the McAleese interdepartmental inquiry was a comprehensive investigation is shocking. The Restorative Justice Scheme proposed by Justice Quirke and accepted by the Government did not even meet the human rights requirements of an effective remedy, but was seen as a welcome step by survivors.

We are not pleasing the survivors by introducing the legislation we are debating and I know that we will have to table serious amendments to it. I know that the Independent Members will support them. We must ensure the survivors get what they need and what they want.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin. I thank him for bringing forward this Bill which is a major step in providing redress for the women who were in the Magdalen laundries. Nothing was done for them, even though they had suffered for decades. The Government has now faced up to the issue and the Bill should be seen in a positive light and as a good step in dealing with the issue.

The Minister of State has outlined what is included in the Bill. Among the services included are GP services; prescribed drugs; medicines; dental services; home help services; nursing services; counselling services; and a range of others to include chiropody and physiotherapy. The impression has been given that it was proposed to exclude a great many services.

The Bill provides for an exemption from charges for acute inpatient services. It also provides that ex gratia payments are not to be taken into account when the women concerned are being assessed for the nursing home support scheme. It makes provision to support those who are now living abroad by having a specific point of contact for them in the HSE.

There was reference to the fact that the Bill did not provide for the provision of care for those who did not have the capacity to make the necessary applications. The Minister of State has said the women concerned are already covered by section 21 of the Nursing Homes Support Scheme Act 2009 which provides for the appointment of a care representative. There is provision in separate legislation, the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Bill 2013, which has already been brought before the Dáil. Many of the issues raised are covered by legislation. However, there are areas of concern that we need to discuss, but we need to be positive that the right decisions have been made in the Bill. This issue was ignored for too long, but now we have a positive to show that we care and are taking account of the issues raised. The Minister of State has provided a comprehensive overview of the Bill. Of course, we must deal with the issues raised by Members, but let us acknowledge that the Bill is a positive step forward.

On behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality, I thank Senators for their comments on the Bill, the purpose of which is to implement the recommendations made in the report of the Magdalen Commission which was chaired by Mr. Justice Quirke. The Bill relates to medical card and health service provision for the women concerned. The recommendations in this regard are contained on page 35 of Mr. Justice Quirke's report. The Bill provides fully and comprehensively for the health services recommended by him. I ask Senators to read the report, in particular page 35, if they are in any doubt about what the Government is doing about it. I will list the health services recommended which include GP, medical and surgical services, drugs, medicines and surgical appliances, nursing services, home help services, dental, ophthalmic and aural services, counselling services, chiropody and physiotherapy services. With regard to GP services, the women concerned will be able to choose any registered GP, not just one contracted to the HSE under the normal medical card scheme. The choice will rest with them. The Bill also provides them with an exemption from charges for acute inpatient services, as recommended by Mr. Justice Quirke. Furthermore, it provides that payments to them arising from the scheme of ex gratia payments will not be included in any financial assessment of means under the Nursing Homes Support Scheme Act 2009. This is fully in accordance with the recommendations of Mr. Justice Quirke.

The other services Mr. Justice Quirke recommends in his report are also being provided in full, but these elements do not require further legislation and, therefore, do not form part of the Bill. The fact that this is not included in the Bill does not mean that it is not being done. These other services are included in the scheme of ex gratia payments to women who were in the institutions which provides that the women concerned are eligible for a payment of between €11,500 and €100,000, depending on length of stay. To date, decisions have been made on 86% of the 776 applications received, while €18 million has been paid to date. There is provision for pension-type top-up payments of €100 weekly for those under pension age and up to €230 weekly when aged 66 years or over, depending on other State payments. These payments are already being made by the Department of Social Protection.

The women concerned are already covered for the appointment of a care representative under section 21 of the Nursing Homes Support Scheme Act 2009. Mr. Justice Quirke recommended provision be made for a mechanism whereby a person could be appointed to act in the best interests of a woman where she lacked the capacity to do so. This is being done through the Assisted Decision-Masking (Capacity) Bill 2013 which is awaiting Committee Stage in the Dáil. The Minister for Health has also agreed that, given the wide variation in health services in different countries, the issue of access to equivalent medical services for participants living abroad will be dealt with on an administrative basis by the HSE, as appropriate to the specific circumstances of the individual and the health system in her country of residence.

We are dealing with two elements. There is a significant level of emotion when we discuss this issue I have heard the statements and public comments made by Members of the Oireachtas. I know that Members are coming from a position of compassion and caring in dealing with the injustice done to the women who were in the Magdalen laundry system, but in all honesty some of the statements made are not in keeping with the facts. Nothing was done about the issue by previous Governments which refused to touch it and would not go near it. The Government is implementing in full the recommendations made in the report of Mr. Justice Quirke, on which we need to work together. The whole sorry saga reeks of Ireland's attitude to women as second-class citizens which, in many instances, continues to this day.

There are many aspects of our laws, legislation and provisions in the Constitution that need to be challenged. Members of this House need to assist Members of the other House in continuing to challenge mechanisms, legislation and realities in society that keep women, effectively, as second class citizens. In the other House, of which I am a Member, 86% of its membership is male which has a massive implication on the type of legislation and budgetary measures passed by this House.

I wish to mention a second matter, and give credit to this House in regard to this matter, namely, our love affair with the institutionalisation of people. That ranges from people with mental issues in the past, from the Magdalen laundries to the mother and baby homes, to industrial schools and our common cause in this House - the issue of direct provision. We have a lot of issues to deal with. On the issue of women's rights, we still have a huge amount to achieve and also in terms of our love affair with institutionalisation.

I cannot let this opportunity pass without clarifying, as Senator John Gilroy quite accurately did in his contribution, that the Quirke report is being implemented in full. There can be a political temptation to try to find the negative in every piece of legislation but I appeal to Senators to look at the Bill as it actually is. If one compares it with the Quirke report one will find, in all fairness and taking away the temptation to turn this matter into a political football, that the Government is implementing the Quirke report in full. That is why I commend the Bill to the House.

No. Senators will have plenty of time to debate the legislation on Committee Stage.

Question put and declared carried.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 3 March 2015.

When is it proposed to sit again?

At 10.30 a.m. tomorrow.

The Seanad adjourned at 6.25 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 25 February 2015.