Government alarm at possible redress for mother and baby home victims

Report recommends extending compensation scheme for residential child abuse

An altar at the babies burial ground in Tuam, Co Galway,  seen from  behind construction hoarding. Photograph: Barry Cronin

An altar at the babies burial ground in Tuam, Co Galway, seen from behind construction hoarding. Photograph: Barry Cronin

 

The existing redress scheme for victims of residential child abuse could be reopened to cover those abused as children in mother and baby homes, an unpublished report to the Government has recommended.

The proposal is contained in the second interim report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes, The Irish Times has learned. It has caused alarm in Government circles, due to the cost of the existing scheme.

It says the redress scheme established in 2002 could be used again to provide compensation for those who were abused as children in mother and baby homes.

The redress board was set up under the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002 to make “fair and reasonable awards” to those who were abused as children “while resident in industrial schools, reformatories and other institutions subject to State regulation or inspection” from the mid-1930s to the 1970s.

It stopped taking applications in 2011, but the second interim report from Judge Yvonne Murphy raises the prospect of reopening or extending it to cover those abused in mother and baby homes.

It is understood, however, that the new proposal has caused alarm across Government because of the cost of the first scheme, which totalled €1.5 billion up to the end of 2015.

Religious congregations

An indemnity agreement was also signed in 2002 between the State and 18 religious congregations, which meant the State became liable for any claims made against them. It was agreed by the religious orders to contribute cash, property and other resources totalling €128 million. At the end of 2015, €21 million of this remained to be transferred to the State.

The latest report is understood to say, in effect, that those who were abused in mother and baby homes are in the same position as those who were in industrial schools, but that they have not received redress.

It is understood that the second interim report does not get into specific details of any compensation plans, but does cite the 2002 redress scheme.

It is not clear if the Government will take up the latest suggestion outlined by Ms Murphy, the chairwoman of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes. One senior Government figure said: “Nobody wants to go down that road again.”

The commission comes under the remit of Minister for Children Katherine Zappone.

Sources said the Department of Education, which administers the 2002 scheme, has strong reservations about Judge Murphy’s suggestions. The Department of Public Expenditure is also worried about the cost implications.

Ms Zappone has been repeatedly pressed in the Dáil for the reason for the delay in publishing the second interim report, which she received last autumn.

A briefing on it was given to Cabinet in the autumn, but a number of Ministers could not remember a redress scheme being discussed. Well-informed sources said the delay in its publication was due to the controversial nature of the proposed form of redress.

Discovery of remains

One source suggested that it may never be published if there had not been public outcry over the commission’s confirmation last month of the discovery of the remains of babies and infants at the site of a former mother and baby home in Tuam, Co Galway. However it is now expected to be published next week.

Ms Zappone, however, has insisted in the Dáil that it was her intention to publish the report when the Government’s response to it was ready.

Earlier this year, she told the Dáil that the first interim report was submitted in July 2016.

The commission was also granted an extension of time for two of three further reports it is preparing.

“The social history report and confidential committee report will now be submitted along with the final report by February 2018,” Ms Zappone said. “In granting the extension, the Government also asked the commission to separately report on any additional matters outside of its scope which it considers may warrant further investigation in the public interest as part of its work.

“A second interim report has been submitted by the commission in response to this request. It is my intention to publish the report as soon as possible in conjunction with Government’s response to the commission’s findings.”