Caranua urged to show ‘flexibility’ with closing date

Body set up to improve lives of survivors of abuse at religious institutions said it will shut

Advocates for survivors of abuse at religious institutions are concerned that some vulnerable claimants may lose out. Photograph: Reuters/Christian Hartmann

Advocates for survivors of abuse at religious institutions are concerned that some vulnerable claimants may lose out. Photograph: Reuters/Christian Hartmann

 

Advocates for survivors of abuse at religious institutions have called on Caranua, the independent body established to manage a €110 million fund to improve their lives, to show “flexibility” on its closing date next month.

Amid fears many vulnerable survivors could lose out, they also want to know what will happen with leftover money.

Caranua was established under the 2012 Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Act, to manage the fund pledged by the religious orders in whose institutions thousands of children suffered abuse.

It makes financial awards to survivors who apply under a number of headings, including housing, medical and educational.

It has said it will stop accepting quotes for works next week and will shut at the end of next month.

It has yet to clarify, however, what will happen in cases where quotes cannot be submitted before the deadline; where claims cannot be finalised before the end of September; or where an applicant who has appealed a Caranua decision to the Department of Education receives a positive outcome after the end of September. Nor is it clear what will happen to any undispersed funds once Caranua shuts.

As of the end of July it had spent €94.9 million on services for survivors and €12.9 million on operational costs, including salaries and rent.

In all, 56,158 applications have been paid out.

As of last week, 261 cases remained open with a fund of almost €2 million still available. The appeals officer was dealing with 13 cases, as of the end of July.

A Caranua spokeswoman said staff were working “towards the completion” of applications and were “focused” on getting the “maximum funding supports available” to each “within the guidelines before our closure”.

“Based on current projections the remainder of the fund will be utilised by survivors. However, if there are remaining funds they will be a matter for the concern of the Minister for Education.”

The Department of Education said the matter was for Caranua.

Fionna Fox, a solicitor who has represented, on a pro-bono basis, more than 60 survivors in disagreements with Caranua, said she has two outstanding cases which have been in progress for more than five years.

She is “hugely concerned these won’t be resolved” by the time Caranua closes and said her clients’ experience with Caranua has “retraumatised them”.

In one case, a survivor had work done on their home, sanctioned by Caranua and carried out by a Caranua-preferred contractor. The work was “substandard”, according to Ms Fox.

She said the contractor was “disrespectful” and “abusive” to her client, refused to provide blue tiles as requested for her bathroom, instead using beige tiles similar to those in the institution where she had been abused. “He told her these were the tiles he used in all bathrooms.”

Disagreements over whether the original contractor should repair the work, the extent of remediation works needed and communication difficulties meant the case remains open, she said.

Independent TD Catherine Connolly, who has been a critic of Caranua, has raised this and a number outstanding cases with Minister for Education Norma Foley.

She has called for “flexibility” on closing dates.

In correspondence dated August 10th, she asked the Minister: “Please clarify what arrangements have Caranua made to deal with cases which are not fully completed by September 30th, 2020... It would seem right and fair… for the fund to continue to support survivors by continuing to accept quotes and make payments until the money is exhausted.”

Ms Connolly said the department had acknowledged but not responded to her questions.

Caranua said it could not comment on individual cases.

‘I am angry and worn out’

Martin (66), from Limerick, was sent to St Joseph’s industrial school in Letterfrack, Co Galway, when he was 11, for missing school.

During his five years there, he experienced starvation, beatings, strenuous agricultural work and witnessed the aftermath of a younger boy having been raped. “I was terrified. It was like a concentration camp,” said Martin, who asked that his surname not be used.

Widowed in recent weeks, he has significant mobility issues. He cannot climb stairs. With no bed or bathroom downstairs, he sleeps in an armchair, cleans himself at the kitchen sink and urinates in his back yard. In August 2014 he applied to Caranua for funding for a downstairs bathroom and bedroom.

An occupational therapist, chosen by Caranua, recommended a downstairs bathroom and bedroom in an extension at the back of the house. Through 2015 Martin gathered quotes, staying in touch with Caranua.

In September 2015, Caranua said it would not fund the extension because it was too expensive, at up to €85,000. In another letter, he was told: “We cannot pay for a bathroom and bedroom extension as it has not been recommended by a professional.”

In February 2017 the appeals officer told Caranua to look at installing a lift in his house and if this wasn’t possible, to reconsider building the extension. In 2018 a lift was deemed unfeasible and Caranua said a new occupational therapist’s assessment was needed. The therapist’s report in 2019 recommended “a downstairs extension should be built out from the back of the house”.

When Caranua agreed to fund a downstairs bathroom but not the extension Martin, through his solicitor Ms Fox, sought the assistance of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission. On February 24th, 2020 Caranua agreed to pay for the extension.

However, a manhole cover in the narrow back yard means the extension must be built away from the main house. To comply with building regulations the existing kitchen must be partially removed, reconfigured and connected to the extension by a corridor.

Caranua has said it will not fund the reconfigured kitchen or corridor and has referred Martin’s case back to the appeals officer.

“I am angry and worn out,” says Martin. “I feel, the way Caranua has treated me, it’s like the money is coming out of their own pockets. They aren’t interested in helping people like me. I wonder now, with Caranua closing, will I ever use a shower or sleep in a bed again?”