Survivors tell of ‘re-abuse’ by State redress group Caranua

Statutory body’s chief spurns criticism, that ‘majority’ of applicants happy with scheme

Caranua is an independent body established under the the 2012 Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Act. Photograph: Getty Images

Caranua is an independent body established under the the 2012 Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Act. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Survivors of childhood institutional abuse say they are being “re-abused” by a statutory body meant to improve their lives.

They say that Caranua, which was established in 2012 to manage €110 million pledged by religious congregations to enhance survivors’ lives, treats them with neither compassion nor dignity.

Some have described to The Irish Times being shouted at, left for months without a response to letters or calls, told without warning they would get no more support, and being reduced to tears by Caranua personnel.

Others say they were so traumatised by Caranua that their recovery from childhood abuse has been set back.

Caranua, which means “new friend” in Irish, is an independent body established under the the 2012 Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Act.

It is run by a nine-person board, including four survivors, under the auspices of the Department of Education. Applications were accepted from January 2014 under three headings: health and wellbeing, housing support, and education, learning and development.

No limit on services

Guidelines published in May 2014, tell applicants that “there is no limit on the number of services you can apply for”. The guidelines say Caranua can fund such things as hearing tests, dental treatment, housing insulation and adult education fees, but cannot fund services already purchased, services not recommended by a professional, such as a doctor or occupational therapist, or ongoing costs such as rent, mortgages or utility bills.

Each applicant is assigned an adviser and eligibility is confined to those who have been before the Residential Institutions Redress Board. To date, Caranua has received about 5,600 applications and spent €58 million. It expects about 500 more applications over the next three years, when it will cease.

Caranua staff will “listen to you”, say the guidelines, “treat you courteously, fairly and in a consistent manner”, and “apologise if we get something wrong and do our best to put it right”.

From mid-2015, many applicants were told, apparently without warning, that they had reached “cut-off” and Caranua had “closed” their file, causing upset.

Cost of Child Abuse Inquiry and Redress report

In June 2016, Caranua also changed some of its criteria, including one that each applicant is limited to €15,000 worth of services. Again, this upset applicants who had originally been told they would not be cut off if they had ongoing needs.

Beaten and starved

“Bernadette”, a Dublin woman in her 50s, spent her childhood, being “beaten and starved” in St Vincent’s Industrial School, run by the Sisters of Mercy, in Goldenbridge, Dublin. She left with little education, which affected her life badly.

After many years in counselling, Bernadette accepts her past. But she says she was reduced to tears by Caranua, as calls were ignored and she was challenged on things she applied for, including help clearing a garden she could no longer manage. “You’d swear it was their money,” Bernadette said. “It’s our money, the survivors’.”

Dublin solicitor Fionna Fox is dealing with about 40 survivors unhappy with Caranua. Cork-based barrister Eugenie Houston represents about 20, but is in touch with more than 100.

“My clients have no confidence at all in Caranua and want it dissolved,” said Ms Houston, while Ms Fox said Caranua is acting beyond its powers in changing criteria and cutting people off.

Caranua chief executive Mary Higgins accepts that Caranua was “overwhelmed” and under-resourced in its first two years, which led to long delays. But she rejects claims of widespread dissatisfaction. “The vast majority of applicants are very happy,” she said.

The board is not acting beyond its powers in prioritising new applicants and applicants over the age of 70, or in setting a €15,000 limit per applicant, Ms Higgins said, arguing that it is necessary to sustain the fund for as many survivors as possible.

All advisers are trained to understand the impact of childhood abuse and are never rude to survivors, she said. Some applicants, however, will “never be happy” and grievances “suit a narrative”, she said.

“It suits a narrative of the ‘big, bad State’ and the ‘big, bad religious congregations’,” Ms Higgins said. “If people feel [disrespected], it’s not because we are nasty or horrible . . . You can’t control people’s experience of what we do for them.

“We have to face the fact, the damage that has been done to these people is so deep that it doesn’t matter what anybody does. It’s never going to be enough to satisfy them and make them feel cared for, loved, honoured or whatever else.”

Survivors

Responding to allegations that Caranua has treated survivors without compassion and has denied services they believed they should get, she said Caranua had to have tight criteria to ensure the fund was not abused.

“We are uncovering a lot of fraudulent behaviour . . . Now I don’t want to exaggerate because I don’t want to tar survivors as criminals. But we have identified a lot of collusion between suppliers and applicants and we have passed on a number of cases now to the gardaí for investigation. It’s not many, like 19, not massive. About €300,000 is involved. But it shows, we have to have controls.”

Last year Caranua expanded services to pay in advance for survivors’ funerals. This had been “abused” in a small number of cases.

“What happens is they get a quote from a funeral director and we pay up to €5,000,” said Ms Higgins.

“We make a cheque out to the funeral director and the idea is they keep that until such time as the person dies and it pays for the funeral. But what has happened is we have issued the cheque and they are turning up to the funeral directors and saying, ‘Can I have the cash instead?’ So we are having to rethink the controls around that.”

The Department of Education is currently drawing up terms of reference for a review of the eligibility criteria for those applying to Caranua.

Caranua is due before the Public Accounts Committee and the Oireachtas Committee on Education in the coming months.