12. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if testamentary evidence from women and relatives or friends providing corroborating information will be given equal, if not superior weight, as the records of the religious orders in respect of applications to the Magdalen restorative justice ex-gratia scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49815/18]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): The Government is committed to complying with all of the recommendations of the Ombudsman in relation to the operation of Magdalen Restorative Justice
Ex Gratia Scheme
. In relation to the Ombudsman's principal recommendation that the Scheme should be applied to women who worked in the laundry of one of the 12 'Magdalen' Institutions and who were resident in one of 14 adjoining institutions, the Addendum to the terms of the scheme giving effect to this recommendation has been finalised and published on the Department's website -
Letters have issued to all persons known to date to my Department who may be eligible for an award under the terms of the Addendum. These letters do not seek any information which the Department already has and any additional information sought is necessary to process the applications in as timely a fashion as possible. Further, the letters to the women concerned make it clear that any further relevant information sought relates to work in the laundry in as much detail as they can remember.
The Addendum provides that the first phase of processing a completed application is the making of a provisional assessment as to whether the applicant comes within the scope of the scheme. This assessment will be made based on the records of the institutions concerned, where available, and any other relevant records or statements, which may indeed include the applicant's testimony and in some cases testimony from other persons. If an applicant has any difficulty in obtaining records or if another form of practical assistance is requested, my Department will be glad to assist.
On this basis, a decision will be made as to whether on the balance of probabilities the applicant comes within the scope of the scheme. In addition, for those cases where there is insufficient documentary evidence available to make an assessment on their case, an interview process is in place so as to facilitate a fairer assessment of a woman's application. Each application will be assessed individually on its merits. The weight given to testamentary evidence will be decided on the unique facts and circumstances of each case.
I will take this opportunity to say that to date almost €27 million has been paid to 711 women under the scheme. Also, in line with two other recommendations of the Ombudsman, a Senior Counsel, Mary O’Toole, is carrying out a review of assistance to applicants who lack capacity to accept an award and a review of those cases where there is a dispute in respect of length of stay in a Magdalen Institution. Significant progress has been made in relation to the capacity cases, all of which have now been resolved and award payments have either been made or are in the course of being made.