I am pleased to be here to introduce the Redress for Women Resident in Certain Institutions (Amendment) Bill 2019. The purpose of this Bill is to amend the Redress for Women Resident in Certain Institutions Act 2015.
As Senators will be aware, the 2015 Act was enacted to provide certain health services to be made available without charge to successful applicants under the Magdalen Restorative Justice Ex-Gratia Scheme. It also provides that ex gratia payments made to the women arising from the Magdalen redress scheme will not be included in a financial assessment of means under the fair deal scheme.
The purpose of this amending Bill, which is short and technical in nature, is to apply the same benefits to those women who qualify under the November 2018 addendum to the Magdalen redress scheme.
As Senators will be aware, the Ombudsman made a number of recommendations in November 2017 in relation to the operation of the Magdalen Restorative Justice Ex-Gratia Scheme. The principal recommendation of the Ombudsman was that the scheme should be applied to women who worked in the laundry of one of 12 Magdalen institutions and who were resident in one of 14 adjoining institutions.
Following the report of the Ombudsman in relation to the Magdalen redress scheme, the Government agreed to apply the scheme to women who worked in the institutions covered by the scheme, while residing in certain adjoining institutions. The addendum to the Magdalen redress scheme of November 2018 expended the scope of that scheme to include this new cohort of women.
There are currently 99 applications under the addendum. These consist of 52 cases refused under the original scheme who may now be eligible and 47 new applications. Applications are being processed as quickly as possible. Some 35 applicants have received their ex gratia award and offers have issued to a further 26 applicants. To date, €28.734 million has been paid to 750 women under the ex gratia scheme.
As it is Government policy that benefits should accrue to both cohorts in the same way, the Ombudsman's recommendation also necessitated changes to two primary legislative measures. A specific provision was included in the Finance Act 2018 to provide for tax exemption in respect of awards made. The second relates to the provision of certain health services, which is the subject of the Bill we are debating today. This will ensure that the same health benefits that apply to the women covered by the original 2013 scheme also apply to those women now covered by the addendum.
This amending Bill will also make a technical amendment to the Nursing Home Support Scheme Act 2009, which provides for the fair deal scheme. This amendment is necessary to ensure that any lump sum received through the Magdalen redress scheme by this new cohort of women is not taken into account when assessing them for nursing care under the fair deal scheme.
There were three other recommendations of the Ombudsman at the time. These relate, first, to assistance to applicants who lack capacity to accept an award and, second, to a review of those cases where there is a dispute in respect of length of stay in a Magdalen institution. A senior counsel was appointed to carry out both these tasks. All but one of the capacity cases have now been resolved and the review in relation to length of stay is ongoing.
The third recommendation by the Ombudsman was that guidance should be provided for future redress schemes. A working group, led by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, is examining this issue.
Officials in my Department have kept the Ombudsman informed on progress in relation to the implementation of his recommendations and on 13 June, I met the Ombudsman, who acknowledged the progress that has been made in implementing his recommendations.
The Redress for Women Resident in Certain Institutions (Amendment) Bill 2019 consists of five sections. Section 1 defines the 2015 Act in the Bill. Section 2 amends the definition of the scheme in the 2015 Act and includes a reference to the addendum in the 2015 Act. Section 3 expands the provision of health services without charge to this new cohort of women and section 4 provides that any ex gratia payment made under the scheme will not be included in an assessment for the fair deal scheme, which provides nursing home support.
I appreciate that the relevant Oireachtas committee decided to forgo pre-legislative scrutiny of the general scheme of this Bill and I hope that the Bill can now progress quickly through this House so that these women can avail of these benefits as soon as possible. Accordingly, I am pleased to present this Bill to the House and I very much hope that it can proceed through the appropriate Stages of debate.