Dáil Éireann - Volume 446 - 02 November, 1994

Adjournment Debate. - Criminal Injuries Compensation Tribunal.

Mr. Shatter: I thank the Chair for allowing me to raise this issue. It is unacceptable that insufficient funds are allocated by the Government to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Tribunal to enable it make payments of compensation it has already determined should be made to the victims of crime. It is particularly unacceptable that the funds allocated to the tribunal for 1994 do not allow it to make payments awarded by it during 1993. In agreeing the Estimates for 1994 the Government must have been fully aware of the outstanding moneys due and payable by the tribunal to the victims of crime as a result of adjudications made by it the previous year. The Government is not only blatantly ignoring the tribunal's adjudications but is treating with contempt the victims of crime to whom the tribunal has deemed it appropriate to make awards.

In recent years much lip service and concern has been expressed and many crocodile tears shed by Ministers for the victims of rape and sexual assault. In this area action speaks louder than words. It is clear that the action taken is, sadly, at variance with the honeyed words of concern regularly expressed. I will illustrate my point by giving an example. I will furnish the Minister of State with the name of the person concerned on the conclusion of the debate.

In February 1986 a young woman was attacked and raped in her home in Adare, County Limerick. The rape took place at approximatley 2 a.m. when she woke up with a man's hands around her throat. She was raped as she lay in bed. The perpetrator had a previous criminal record and the incident occurred on the day he was released from prison. Subsequently he was apprehended by the [1690] Garda and sentenced to 17 years' imprisonment.

The tragic victim of this horrific incident claimed compensation from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Tribunal as she was entitled. On 16 July 1993 she was advised that the tribunal had made an award in her favour in the sum of £20,205. It is now almost 17 months since the award was made. To date no payment has been made in accordance with the award to the victim of this rape. Upon payment being sought the tribunal informed her “the funds available to the tribunal this year for the payment of compensation are insufficient to enable it to pay the award in 1994”. She was assured, however, that it would be paid “as soon as sufficient funds are available”. This is unacceptable. When a tribunal established by the State to make awards of this nature determines that a payment of compensation should be made to a woman who has been the victim of rape the award should be paid without unreasonable delay. The delay in this instance is not merely unreasonable, it is scandalous and unacceptable. It is eight years since this rape took place. Not only will the compensation award not be paid this year it is not known whether a payment will be made to her in either 1995 or 1996.

I call on the Government to ensure that sufficient funds are provided to the tribunal during the course of the next two weeks to enable it not only to comply with its obligation to make the payment due to the woman whose case I have illustrated but also to enable it to make all payments due in respect of all other awards made by it to date. It undermines confidence in the institutions of this State and the credibility of this Government when it expresses concern for the victims of crime when those who have been affected in this way by a horrendous crime find themselves abandoned by the Government and compensation remains unpaid 17 months after a tribunal established by the State has determined a compensation payment should be made. It is also unacceptable [1691] that they can be given no indication of the time span within which the payment will be made.

I hope the Minister of State will deal with all the people to whom awards have been made but have not been paid. I will furnish him with the name of the person concerned. I am sure he will understand that I have good reason for not naming her in the House. I ask him to respond as rapidly as possible and give me an assurance that the award made to her will be paid, preferably before the end of this year.

Minister of State at the Department of Justice (Mr. O'Dea): If the Deputy furnishes me with the name of the person concerned on the conclusion of this debate I will communicate tomorrow with the secretary of the tribunal and do all I can to help.

I am very conscious of the delay in the payment of awards made under the criminal injuries compensation scheme and I share the Deputy's anxiety that additional funds be made available to eliminate this delay. Both the Minister and I have tried during the past two years to secure extra funding for the tribunal but, unfortunately, despite all our representations we have not been successful although we have secured extra funding for other items. Briefly, the history of the scheme is that it was set up on a non-statutory basis in 1974 to provide ex-gratia compensation (a) in respect of personal injury where the injury is directly attributable to a crime of violence, or (b) in circumstances arising from the action of the victim in assisting or attempting to assist the prevention of crime or the saving of human life.

An independent tribunal, the Criminal Injuries Compensation Tribunal, was established under the scheme to adjudicate on applications for compensation and to determine the amount of compensation to be awarded. The tribunal consists of a chairman and six ordinary members appointed by the [1692] Minister for Justice. Members of the tribunal must be either practising barristers or solicitors to be eligible for appointment. The scheme requires that the tribunal when determining the nature and amount of compensation shall fix the amount on the basis of damages awarded under the Civil Liability Acts.

In 1985, it was considered that the scheme was proving too costly and it was decided that the then Minister for Justice should review the scheme with a view to reducing its impact on the Exchequer. Following this review, the then Coalition Government approved a revised scheme in January 1986. Under the revised scheme, compensation may not be paid in respect of pain and suffering attributable to injuries sustained on or after 1 April 1986. Compensation for injuries sustained before that date is paid in accordance with the terms of the original scheme and it is the residue of such cases which continues to put the greatest demands on funding.

I understand that the time taken to pay awards made under the scheme varies from case to case and that priority as regards payment is determined by the date of acceptance of the award. In this context, the last persons to have their awards paid accepted those awards in December 1992.

Since her appointment, the Minister for Justice has been conscious of the need to reduce delays in the making of payments under the scheme. In this regard she indicated, when publishing the policy document entitled The Management of Offenders — A Five Year Plan, that she intended to seek an additional sum of £7.5 million over a period of time to clear arrears of awards made by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Tribunal. She has since taken this matter up with the Minister for Finance in the context of the Department's Estimates for 1995 and subsequent years and is hopeful that sufficient funding can be made available to eliminate the delay problem.

If the Deputy gives me the details of the case to which he referred I hope to have a reply for him tomorrow.