Contribution to the Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Bill 2012: Second Stage (Resumed)

June 15th, 2012 - Pat Breen

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Deputy Pat Breen T.D.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important debate. The Bill provides for the establishment of a statutory fund to support the needs of former residents of residential institutions, which was endorsed unanimously by the House following the publication of the Ryan report. The distribution of this fund gives statutory recognition to the victims of abuse in our residential institutions and makes provision for counselling, health, education, housing and other services which are necessary to support victims. I am also very conscious of the victims and am very aware that on every occasion on which this issue has been debated in this House and elsewhere, including on the airwaves, the victims have to relive the horror and suffering they endured throughout the years, which can be very painful for them. Any words of mine are wholly inadequate to express the suffering of victims, many of whom I meet regularly in my constituency office in Ennis.
There is a diversity of opinion among victims about the establishment of this fund. Some victims believe that money from the fund should be allocated directly to them. However, the Department of Education and Skills consulted widely with survivors’ groups and individual victims, including survivors’ groups and victims who are now living in the UK. The Minister for Education and Skills has explained his reason for the approach taken in the Bill. From the responses received during the consultation process, a number of needs were identified which this fund should address, including the importance of a holistic approach in counselling services, so physiotherapy and family support services are made available as part of those services; a proposal that home care packages should be made available for victims so survivors can avoid the need to be placed in institutional care in their older years; and the importance of providing adequate funding for the provision of health care services, including dental care, particularly in circumstances where such services are not covered by the provision of a medical card.
It was clear that the survivors’ groups are anxious that this fund be managed in an effective manner and I welcome the fact that four of the nine members of the fund’s board will be former residents. This gives victims confidence that the board will oversee the applications for support in an effective and fair manner. The Government is committed to implementing the recommendations of the Ryan report and I commend the Minister for Education and Skills on bringing this legislation before the House. It is an important step in supporting victims who suffered abuse in our institutions. Lessons must be learned from the past. That is the reason the Government has established the interdepartmental committee under the chairmanship of Senator Martin McAleese to establish the facts and clarify the State’s involvement with the ten Magdalene laundries that existed in Ireland between 1992 and 1996. The work is very important. The committee has already met and heard individual testimonies from many of the victims. I will be interested to see its findings when its work is completed. I commend Senator McAleese on the work he is doing on this.

When one meets with survivors of abuse, each of them will tell you that when they tried to tell the story of what was happening, nobody listened. For too long, people stood by and let abuse happen. For that reason it is essential that our child protection guidelines are put on a statutory basis. I welcome the Government’s plans to introduce a raft of legislative measures which will place children’s rights and child protection guidelines on a statutory footing. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs recently published the heads of the Children First Bill, which is a key step. Separate legislation will be published which will make it a criminal offence for a person to fail to disclose abuse. In addition, the children referendum will strengthen children’s rights in our Constitution.
Change and reform which had been promised to protect our vulnerable children has been delayed for far too long or has not been delivered. As a Government Deputy, I am glad that this Government is acting in support of victims. I commend the Bill to the House.