More than a fifth of the institutional abuse victims who applied to the Irish government’s controversial financial support service, Caranua, left Ireland to live in the UK, the organisation has revealed.
Caranua, established in 2012 to help often elderly survivors with their specific health, housing and educational needs, will shut down this year, leaving many victims with no avenue for financial support.
The organisation, which has been bitterly criticised by Irish politicians for how it managed its funds, including the €110 million pledged by congregations as redress, stopped accepting new applications last August.
Caranua received applications from 1,245 UK based survivors, making up 21 per cent of total applications. Caranua is currently supporting 331 UK based survivors with their applications for funding supports.
The majority of UK based survivors eligible to apply are based in London and the South East, according to Caranua, with the second-largest group living in Birmingham and the West Midlands.
Social isolation emerged as the main concern for UK-based survivors.
“As the survivors grow older the linkages with each other and Ireland becomes more difficult,” a spokesperson for Caranua told the Irish World. “Survivors have voiced the need for a space where they can meet and socialise regularly with some supports in place to ensure they can access their rights and entitlements or counselling as needed.”
The scheme found that UK-based survivors are comparatively older than their counterparts in Ireland, with the majority in the 70-79-year-old age bracket, closely followed by the 60–69 years category.
In the past, Caranua has engaged survivors here in a variety of ways: directly by phone and email, via Outreach events in London and Birmingham and through strong relationships with the UK-based survivor support groups.
In 2019 alone, Caranua held two outreach events in London and one in Birmingham to provide additional face to face support to UK-based survivors.
“Appointments were targeted towards individuals who appeared to be finding the process difficult and those who had received a low level of funding supports as we want to ensure they avail of funding supports before our closure,” the spokesperson said.
“In our experience, survivors also use these events as a social occasion and avail of the opportunity to meet with other survivors to share stories and catch-up.”
A final outreach was held in London on July 5th, which according to Caranua, “resulted in a lovely sing-song, one or two songs were even in Irish”.
Caranua has been embroiled in a number of controversies since its inception.
It has been heavily criticised for mistreating survivors and for allegedly mismanaging funds.
A 2017 report submitted to the UN on behalf of Reclaiming Self, a volunteer group of solicitors, advocates and psychologists, argued that many survivors were “re-abused” by Caranua and that many “regretted” applying to the scheme for help.
Caranua, which means “new friend” in Irish, was taken to task for a lack of financial control.
“Victims regret applying to Caranua. Survivors report hostile, rude, aggressive and abusive treatment,’ the report said.
“The experiences of victims and their representatives are mostly negative. Victims categorised the process as demeaning as they were made to feel like they were begging for services. Staff behaved in an ignorant and condescending manner.”
While last year, two new members of Caranua’s board resigned just a year into their positions, citing the group’s “mistreatment” of survivors.
Thomas Cronin and Dr Mary Lodato, both survivors of institutional abuse, were appointed to the nine-member Caranua board in May 2017 by Ireland’s Minister for Education at the time, Richard Bruton. They told The Irish Times in early 2018 that Caranua “should be closed down”.
In 2017, the organisation came under fire when it’s then chief executive, Mary Higgins, offended many survivors, telling The Irish Times that many would “never be happy”.
She later withdrew the comments “unreservedly”, but this in part led to an Oireachtas hearing where the treatment of survivors of institutional abuse was described vividly as a “greater national shame” than the abuse people suffered as children.
To be eligible to apply to Caranua, a person must have spent time in an institution as a child, and received an award through settlement, court or the Residential Institutions Redress Board.
All survivors with open applications have received a final date for the receipt of their quotes or paperwork.
By Colin Gannon