Dáil Éireann - Volume 639 - 11 October, 2007

Adjournment Debate. - Residential Institutions Redress Scheme.

  Deputy Joe Costello: The subject matter of this Adjournment debate is very much related to the Minister of State’s reply to the previous matter. It concerns residential care which had been part and parcel of this State for the first 70 years of the last century. That form of residential care was closed down in 1970.

My request to the Minister for Education and Science is that she add Bethany Home, located on Orwell Road, Rathgar, Dublin 6, to the list of institutions in the Schedule to the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002. I am seeking this specifically at this time because the Department of Health and Children examined some papers in its archives earlier this year and concluded that Bethany Home was subject to a regulatory and inspection function in accordance with the requirements of Schedule 4 to the Act. Subsequently, the Minister for Education and Science was informed of the discovery.

I will read the relevant section of the letter sent to a solicitor whose client is one of the former residents of Bethany Home. It states:

Dear Sir,

I refer to your letter dated 19 July 2007.

This Department contacted the Department of Education on 14 May 2007 regarding your client. We confirmed that we had examined papers in relation to the Bethany Home, Orwell Road, Rathgar, Dublin 6. We also advised the Department of Education that they may wish to give consideration to the inclusion of this institution on the Schedule of the Residential Institutions Redress Act, 2002 as there is evidence of a regulatory or inspection function as set out in Schedule 4 of the Act.

[894] The inclusion of institutions on the schedule of the Residential Institutions Redress Act, 2002 is a matter for the Department of Education.

That letter was sent by the child welfare and protection policy unit of the Department of Health and Children to the Department of Education and Science. As it states, inclusion of any new institution on the Schedule to the Residential Institutions Redress Act is the sole prerogative of the Minister for Education and Science.

When the Act was progressing through the Oireachtas five years ago, I raised the issue of Bethany Home, which was largely a home for Protestant orphans, and requested that the then Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Woods, include it in the Schedule. At that time, I possessed only anecdotal evidence to support my arguments of abuse at the home. I also only had anecdotal evidence regarding departmental supervision and regulation. Now, however, the Department of Health and Children has confirmed my viewpoint and is making to the Department of Education and Science the same case I made five years ago.

Recent disclosures indicate that, to date, over 16,000 complaints have been received by the Residential Institutions Redress Board in respect of the abuse of children in residential institutions that were subject to State regulation and supervision. Over 9,000 of these have been processed to a conclusion, with average compensation in the order of €67,000 per person. Some €750 million has already been paid and the total sum is likely to be in excess of €1 billion.

It would be very harsh if the Minister for Education and Science were to close the door to the inclusion of further institutions such as Bethany Home when new information comes to light. The children from Bethany Home, who are now elderly, are entitled to recognition by the State that they were detained in an institution in which they were abused and in which they were neglected by the State, which had a legal responsibility to supervise and to ensure that their welfare was protected.

The Minister should do the right thing by these children and announce that Bethany Home will be referred to the Residential Institutions Redress Board.

  Deputy Seán Haughey: The Residential Institutions Redress Board was established under statute in 2002 and is governed by the terms of the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002. The board was established to make fair and reasonable payments to persons who, as children, were abused while residents in industrial schools, reformatories and other institutions subject to State regulation or inspection and who were placed in such institutions by the State. The board offered an alternative to the then often [895] daunting prospect of bringing a claim for damages through the court system. The threshold of proof that an applicant must satisfy at the board is far lower than in the civil courts, where the burden of proof is much higher.

The Residential Institutions Redress Board is independent in the performance of its functions. In addition, the board and the review committee are independent in the performance of their functions in accordance with the terms of the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002. When the Act initially became law, the Schedule contained a total of 128 institutions. As provided for in the Residential Institutions Redress Act, these comprised industrial schools, reformatories, special schools established for the purpose of providing education services to children with physical or intellectual disabilities, orphanages, children’s homes, hospitals providing medical or psychiatric services to people with physical or mental disabilities or illnesses in which children were placed and resident and in respect of which a public body had a regulatory or inspection function.

In compiling the list, the Department of Education and Science had cause to make inquiries from the Department of Health and Children — under the jurisdiction of which some of the institutions operated — as to whether certain institutions could be considered for inclusion having regard to the criteria for eligibility. Under section 4(1) of the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002, the Minister for Education and Science may provide for the insertion in the Schedule of any of the institutions to which I refer.

Since the enactment of the legislation, my Department has received correspondence from both individuals and survivor groups identifying a number of other institutions that may warrant consideration for inclusion. Following examination of the matter, the Minister signed an order on 9 November 2004 which provided for the inclusion of 13 additional institutions in the Schedule. A further order was made on 1 July 2005 adding three institutions to the Schedule.

The question of including additional institutions has been fully considered by the Department of Education and Science. It is not proposed to add any further institutions to the Schedule. The intention was that all institutions which were brought to the attention of the Department would be considered and a decision made as to their eligibility for inclusion prior to the closing date for receipt of applications to the board, which was 15 December 2005.

In making its initial inquiries in respect of the Bethany Home, my Department consulted the Department of Health and Children to establish if it could be considered for inclusion on the Schedule to the Act. The response was that following a review of papers available in the Department of Health and Children, officials were unable to locate any documentation which would indicate that a public body had an inspection or [896] regulatory function in respect of the Bethany Home. At that time, the Department of Health and Children was not in a position to recommend its inclusion in the Schedule. Given that we were not in a position to confirm whether there was a State inspection or regulatory role, Bethany Home could not be considered to be eligible for inclusion. No further inquiries were made at that time as to whether this institution would have been eligible under any other criteria.

The Department of Health and Children advised my Department in May 2007 that certain papers had come to light which indicated a State regulatory and inspection role and that my Department might now wish to consider its inclusion on the Schedule to the Residential Institutions Redress Act. Further inquiries made by my Department with the Department of Health and Children have revealed that one of the papers relating to the Bethany Home, which prompted it to recognise a regulatory or inspection function, was the report of an inspection conducted under the Registration of Maternity Homes Act 1934. The expression “maternity home” means any premises either wholly or partly used or intended to be used for the reception of pregnant women or women immediately after childbirth. There are several references on the papers held by the Department of Health and Children to “Bethany Mother and Baby Home”. It does not appear that persons were placed in this facility by the State.

Section 4(1) of the Act states that the Minister for Education and Science may, by order, provide for the insertion of any industrial school, reformatory, orphanage, children’s home, special school which was established for the purpose of providing education services to children with physical or intellectual disabilities or a hospital providing medical or psychiatric services to people with physical or mental disabilities or illnesses. It is clear from the information available to my Department that Bethany Home operated as a mother and baby home and is, therefore, not eligible to be considered for inclusion on the Schedule to the Residential Institutions Redress Act.

  Deputy Joe Costello: That is not at all clear.

  Deputy Seán Haughey: It should be pointed out that ineligibility to be considered for redress under the terms of the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002 does not affect a person’s statutory right to pursue other legal avenues which may be open to them.

In dealing with correspondence relating to the inclusion of Bethany Home on the Schedule, the issue of the religious ethos was put forward as a possible reason for the decision not to include it. As the religious ethos of an institution was not part of the criteria prescribed under section 4 of the Act, the Department did not require full details of the religious ethos of all the institutions listed. It appears, from records held by my [897] Department, that there are 19 institutions listed that were non-Catholic facilities. Of these, one was multidenominational, five had a Protestant ethos and 13 were run by the State.