Victims’ agency strongly criticised by TDs

Victims agency strongly criticised TDs

The Irish agency in charge of a €110 million fund for victims of abuse must be reformed as it is “completely out of its depth”, according to a member of Dail Eireann’s Public Accounts Committee, Independent TD Catherine Connolly. Caranua, which runs a redress fund for victims of institutional abuse, admitted it was overwhelmed by applications, managed its finances poorly and provided a poor service.

Last week TDs were told the agency is nevertheless about to spend €240,000 of the fund’s money in annual rent for a new office in Dublin city centre.

Survivors

Caranua was set up to distribute funds provided by religious orders to survivors of abuse at industrial schools, who can apply for help based on their health, housing or educational needs. The agency started in 2013 but didn’t have a financial manager until last summer. Its administrative costs are paid out of the fund itself and there is now €48 million of the initial €110 million left. Two per cent of applicants have been awarded one fifth of the total fund so far.

Two people received €100,000 or more, three people were given €90,000 or more and another three were granted between €80,000 and €85,000, The Times reported in an investigation published in its Irish edition last week. Last June Caranua put a €15,000 cap on pay outs, the year before it increased its chief executive Mary Higgins’ annual pay by €10,000 bringing it to more than €87,000. Ms Higgins has been criticised for saying that whatever the agency did or paid out some of the victims would never be happy.

The agency has also been criticised by TDs for failing to send survivors who had been refused claims a decision letter so that they could appeal against the decision. Independent TD and member of the PAC Catherine Connolly said of Caranua last week: “There seemed to be a complete lack of sensitivity and understanding towards survivors.

“I got the sense that Caranua was making up policy off the hoof, on an ad-hoc basis.” She told the Irish edition of The Times: “There was an absolutely appalling complete failure of the chief executive and the chairman of the board to even realise the impact that bad management is having on survivors.

“I thought the chief executive and the board were completely out of their depth when it came to the agency’s policy and procedures.”

In 2015 Caranua doubled its spending on wages from €790,000 in 2014 to €1.3 million in 2015 and expenses claims rose from €12,000 to €23,000 in the same period. It now employs 24 fulltime staff. The committee also heard yesterday that Caranua was paying money to the Catholic Church for counselling services. It was unable to say how much it had given to Towards Healing, which charged survivors after they had received more than 60 counselling sessions.

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