The head of the State body overseeing compensation payments to religious abuse victims has admitted its initial approach to victims was “appalling”, despite his own CEO defending claims some people are “so damaged” they will never be happy with the help that is given.
Caranua chair David O’Callaghan made the admission as the group faced fresh criticism over a new €15,000 cap on repayments and has admitted counselling services it obtained from a Catholic organisation have already cost more than €90,000.
Speaking during an at times heated Dáil public accounts committee on how the 2002 redress scheme is working, Mr O’Callaghan said the reality is a large number of victims have “not been treated properly” by Caranua.
He said lengthy delays in having their compensation claims assessed were commonplace when the group was set up in 2014, but insisted increased staffing levels mean the “appalling” situation has now been resolved.
However, during the same meeting his CEO Mary Higgins appeared to contradict the claims, saying while she “regrets” recent media interviews in which she described victims as “damaged” any criticism was because some people want to “suit a certain narrative”.
Responding to questions from Fine Gael TD Josepha Madigan and unaligned Independent TD Catherine Connolly, Ms Higgins initially said she had been “misquoted” in an Irish Times article and that the context had not been given.
However, when asked to explain near identical RTÉ Liveline comments, Ms Higgins apologised “if any pain was caused” by the “coverage”.
While Caranua controls a €110m fund to compensate abuse victims, it has been accused by a number of people applying for the supports of not always providing what they believe is needed.
The claim, rejected by Caranua, was raised again yesterday, with Ms Madigan, Ms Connolly and Fianna Fáil TD Marc MacSharry pointing to changes in the amount of money the group has released since 2015.
Asked about the “abrupt” change in policy by Ms Madigan, Ms Higgins insisted compensation levels only reduced after a three month review of payments.
However, asked by Ms Connolly and Mr MacSharry about a €15,000 cap on compensation payments put in place during the same year, Mr O’Callaghan said this was because almost half of the €110m fund has already been paid out and that Caranua needs to limit funding to ensure all victims receive compensation.
Caranua came under further criticism during the PAC meeting due to the fact a counselling service which was meant to be free has already cost more than €90,000.
However, Ms Higgins said this is because the service is offered by a religious group which has already contributed its €10m requirement to the Caranua fund, meaning it can now charge for the support.
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