Reply by Mr Alan Shatter TD, Minister for Justice, Equality & Defence.

I would like to thank Deputy O’ Sullivan for raising this important matter and for the opportunity to speak on this issue.

The House will be aware that Minister of State Kathleen Lynch and I announced a scheme of lump sum payments on 26 June, 2013 for women who were admitted to and worked in the Magdalen Laundries, St Mary’s Training Centre Stanhope Street, and House of Mercy Training School, Summerhill, Wexford. This followed the publication of the report by Mr Justice Quirke, President of the Law Reform Commission, on the establishment of an ex-gratia scheme and a comprehensive range of supports for the women involved.

The Government tasked an Interdepartmental Group with giving further detailed consideration to the steps necessary to implement the other recommendations in Mr Justice Quirke’s report.

Pending completion of that report, arrangements were put in place in my Department to invite and process applications from the women involved. To date, over 600 application forms have been received and over 200 of these have been processed to an advanced stage.

The Report of the Interdepartmental Group was discussed and the final details of the scheme agreed at Cabinet this morning. Full details of the Scheme will published over the next few days.

The payment of lump sums as recommended by Judge Quirke will be made by my Department. In cases where application forms have been completed and records verified and subject to the clarification of a few legal issues by the Office of the Attorney General, I expect that my Department will be in a position to issue the first offers of payments within the next 4 to 6 weeks.

The provision of other benefits including weekly payments, from the Department of Social Protection, and medical services to be provided through the Department of Health will be dependent on the introduction of administrative and legislative measures. Work has already commenced on these measures and they will be progressed as soon as possible. So that no individual is prejudiced by the time required to give effect to the Government’s decision, weekly payments to be made pursuant to the scheme are to be backdated to 1 August 2013.

As announced in the budget that these ex gratia lump sum payments will be exempt from income tax as well as the weekly payments and this will be provided for in the Finance Bill.

Judge Quirke recommended that as a precondition of receiving benefits under the Scheme, the women concerned should sign a waiver not to take proceedings against the State. Before signing the waiver, the women will be encouraged to receive independent legal advice. Applicants will be facilitated to engage their own choice of solicitor and will be provided with a maximum amount from the State of €500 plus VAT as a contribution to the cost of obtaining legal advice with regards to the signing of the waiver.

I am very pleased that payments of the lump sums will commence shortly and as already stated, full details of the Scheme will be published over the next few days.

Thank you.