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Baby shoes hang on a gate outside Áras an Uachtaráin during a demonstration in 2020 Sasko Lazarov/RollingNews.ie
Delays

Mother and Baby Home redress scheme won't open until next year, missing 2023 deadline

“Intensive” work is happening to get the scheme up and running, a junior minister said.

THE GOVERNMENT’S REDRESS scheme for survivors of mother and baby institutions will not open for applications until 2024, missing its deadline of this year.

The scheme was meant to open for applications in 2023 but it was today confirmed that this deadline will not be met.

Speaking in the Seanad today, Minister of State Josepha Madigan said the Government and Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman, whose department oversees the scheme, “are acutely aware of the sense of urgency” to open the scheme.

She said “intensive” work is happening to get the scheme up and running, but “a number of months will be needed to conclude this work”.

Senator Victor Boyhan, who raised the issue in the chamber, said it is “somewhat disappointing” the scheme has been delayed. “The minister [Roderic O'Gorman] did commit to having this in place and fully functioning within 2023,” Boyhan noted.

One survivor told The Journal she is disappointed by the missed deadline but not surprised, as it is the latest in a long line of delays.

The Mother and Baby Institutions Payment Scheme Act 2023 was signed into law by President Higgins on 11 July, having passed votes in the Oireachtas earlier this year.

Ahead of the final Dáil vote on the legislation in February, TDs labelled the Bill “morally obnoxious” and “callous” because it excludes people who spent less than six months in an institution as a child.

The scheme also does not specifically cater to people who were boarded out as children, a precursor to fostering; people who were subjected to vaccine trials; and people who experienced racism or other discrimination in the system.

Around 34,000 people will be eligible to apply for redress under the scheme, which is estimated to cost around €800 million. However, some 24,000 survivors are excluded from the scheme.

Tendering process

Madigan today said: “Intensive work is underway to establish the infrastructure needed to deliver the scheme.”

She told senators: “A number of months will be needed to conclude this work and open the scheme for applications, I understand.”

Screenshot 2023-10-25 11.02.52 Minister of State Josepha Madigan speaking in the Seanad today Oireachtas.ie Oireachtas.ie

The junior minister said that “following careful consideration on a number of important factors including the need to open the scheme as soon as possible, and the ability to be responsive… a blended operating model is being developed”.

“This will provide for the Chief Deciding Officer appointed under the Act to be supported by a core executive office space in the department and also by an experienced third party,” she said.

“So to this end, the department is currently concluding a tendering process with a preferred bidder that has been identified following a procurement process.

“All staff in the executive office, as well as the third party support team, will operate under the direction and supervision of the Chief Deciding Officer, and a comprehensive training programme for all staff involved in the scheme is being developed.”

Online application process

Madigan said an online application system is also currently being developed.

She added that the Department of Children has contacted a number of survivors to be part of “a stakeholder reference group to provide feedback on the draft application materials for the payment scheme”.

Responding to Madigan, Boyhan acknowledged his disappointment with the delay but added: “People have waited a long time, so it’s only a matter of months and I suppose we can take some encouragement from that too.”

Screenshot 2023-10-25 11.00.52 Senator Victor Boyhan raised the redress scheme in the Seanad today Oireachtas.ie Oireachtas.ie

Boyhan also expressed concern about the use of an online application system for people who wish to apply to the scheme.

He noted that, particularly in the case of people who grew up in these institutions, some “left formal education at 12, 13 and 14 years of age, not by choice of their own”. As such, they may have difficulty filling in forms online, he said.

Boyhan added: “But more important, they have their own dignity and confidentiality. They may not wish to avail or seek a third party to assist them in filling up an online form. So I’d have an issue with that.”

Boyhan encouraged the department to consider this issue when developing the scheme. Madigan said she would relay this concern to the minister.

She also noted that the scheme is “designed to be straightforward and non-adversarial”, and applicants will not have to “bring forward evidence of abuse or harm”.

“In relation to the time in an institution all an applicant in the scheme will need to tell the executive office is the name of the institution or institutions they spent time and the dates they were there or the approximate dates if known, and then the executive office will be able to undertake searches of institutional records.”

Madigan added that some survivors “may still find it difficult to engage with the scheme”. If needed, she encouraged them to avail of the free counselling available to survivors via the HSE’s National Counselling Service.