The Shame of Ireland
Should have been Sacked for Gross MisManagementt not Rewarded!
The state agency in charge of a €110 million fund for victims of abuse must be reformed because its chief executive and chairman are “completely out of their depth”, a member of the Dáil spending watchdog has warned.
The comments came as the chairman of Caranua, which runs a redress fund for victims of institutional abuse, admitted that it had run an “appalling” service, adding that it was overwhelmed by applications and had managed its finances poorly.
The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) also heard yesterday that the agency is set to spend €240,000 of the fund’s money in annual rent for a new office in Dublin city centre.
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 operating 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.
Last month The Times spoke to ten survivors who have had negative experiences dealing with the agency. Some said they had waited up to 18 months for cheques to be paid. Others complained of calls not being answered and emails not being replied to in a timely manner. They also accused staff of making hurtful remarks and said they were afraid to report their grievances in case it led to their payments being cancelled.
The comptroller and auditor general, the state spending watchdog, had previously identified issues with financial control at the agency.
Senior staff at Caranua revealed yesterday that two per cent of applicants had 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.
In June, Caranua imposed a €15,000 limit on payouts to guarantee the fund’s “sustainability”. Many survivors expressed concern about their claims for health payments suddenly being capped without warning.
Asked when the “penny dropped” that Caranua was spending too much on too few applicants, Mary Higgins, its chief executive, told the PAC that it was more than a year after it first started processing payments.
David O’Callaghan, the agency’s chairman, admitted to the Dáil committee that it had been running an “appalling” service when it was first set up because of a lack of staff and resources.
“We just weren’t treating people properly, we weren’t dealing with applications in a timely manner,” he said.
“If applications were lying there for three, six, nine months, I think that that was appalling.”
Ms Higgins admitted that relations between the agency and survivors had been “very fraught.” The chief executive has been heavily criticised for giving several media interviews in recent weeks in which she suggested some survivors of abuse would “never be happy” and had a “hole” in them that Caranua could not fill.
“I unreservedly withdraw those comments,” Ms Higgins said yesterday.
Both Ms Higgins and Mr O’Callaghan faced criticism from TDs for failing to send survivors who had been refused claims a decision letter so that they could appeal against the decision. Caranua’s own internal appeals officer had also criticised this practice.
Last night Catherine Connolly, an independent TD and member of the PAC, expressed concern about the agency’s financial management and called for an urgent review of its policy and procedures.
“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,” Ms Connolly said.
“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 hired 17 agency staff on top of the 10 permanent members it had already employed. The same year, it 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 full-time staff.
“The use of agency staff is an absolute indictment of the government and its failure to set up the agency properly,” Ms Connolly said.
The PAC was also told that the Office of Public Works would no longer be paying for Frederick Street office space for Caranua. The €240,000 a year rent of its new offices will instead be paid using money supplied by religious congregations towards victims of institutional child abuse.
Ms Higgins said it was “at the stage” of signing a contract for its new rented offices. Ms Connolly appealed to the Department of Education to stop the agency from signing the contract and find another location.
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.
Caranua was called before the PAC yesterday as part of a review of its financial management. Ms Higgins said that it had improved: “For the first time we have a director of finance who is a qualified accountant, with extensive relevant experience,” she said. The director was appointed in June 2016.
Last month, The Times reported that Ms Higgins , received a €10,000 raise in 2015, taking her salary to more than €87,000. Her wages are also paid out of the fund.
Caranua has always maintained that the majority of survivors had good experiences with the agency, and that it welcomed feedback from those who did not. Last month it told The Times that it was satisfied that staff “provide a professional, responsive and compassionate response to people who apply to us, in keeping with our core principles and values”.
Its a mess. These people dident organise properly. Why some recieved large sums and others were put on a waiting list for months in spite of bad health. Or urgent needs is incredable.While others give themselves large salerys for this.
Hi Rob, maybe this is the start of our day the "SURVIVORS" the wanta be nun Higgins she and the Chairperson of the Board were way out of the depth answering the questions by PAC and squirming in their seats yesterday. Shame on everyone who has allowed this bad management of our fund to continue and the total incompetence of these people running the fund. During part of the questioning by Ms. Connolly TD a question about letters being sent to survivors stating their claims were closed and Higgins responded by stating that we couldn't read properly shocking stuff. We shall over come!!!!!!!!!!!!!
if justice is done this week mary higgans should be sacked for her crimes agenst the suvevers of phedo priets and
christen brothers this woman is evil and is out to boost her bank account using money that the surveyors should be
getting she done every thing to stop us from getting what we were promesed so there would be more money for
the church the same people that abused children and not one of them went to jail i won't rest till iget justice for the
hell they put me through . james fox,,
Take a bow EVERYONE You All Played Your Part in Getting this PAC investigation!