Families of seriously ill children and adults awarded a combined €1.3bn in compensation through wards of court system are being “locked out” of any role in how the State invests the funds.
The Dáil’s public accounts committee heard the claim during a meeting with senior court service officials yesterday.
Speaking during a three-hour hearing, court service director of resource management Sean Quigley said 18,500 people — including 14,000 children — classed as “wards of court” are currently in receipt of the awards after high-profile cases.
However, despite Mr Quigley’s insistence they are updated, PAC member and Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald alleged some families involved are effectively “locked out” of decisions.
Wards of courts are people who, due to a mental incapacity such as a brain injury, cannot represent themselves, with a close relative instead acting on their behalf.
Under the current system, awards provided to these people in the event of successful legal cases are re-invested by the State until the individual turns 18 in a bid to help further grow the fund.
Officials insist these people are kept fully informed on how the investment is progressing through quarterly updates.
However, Ms McDonald told the PAC “that is not what people are reporting”. Pointing to a case where an award fell from €510,000 to €280,145 in five years, she said a review of the entire system may be needed, warning: “This family and others are alarmed. There aren’t sufficient defences, checks or balances for these funds. It is almost impossible to get detailed information on these investments and returns. They feel locked out.”
Responding to the claim, Mr Quigley said the referenced case did not involve “a real loss” as it was “on paper” during a “fluctuating” financial period, adding “whenever information is sought we give it”.
Meanwhile, courts service chief executive Brendan Ryan has said he has no problem with plans for pay-outs after legal cases to be provided on a staggered basis instead of in one lump sum.
Responding to questions from Fine Gael TD Kieran O’Donnell over whether once-off funds have ever ran out for those involved, Mr Ryan said the Department of Justice is currently examining a Civil Liability Amendment Bill to allow the change in policy.
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