ENSURING PEOPLE WITH INTELLECTUAL DISABILITIES AVAIL OF THEIR RIGHTS THROUGH THE RESIDENTIAL INSTITUTIONAL REDRESS BOARD

by John Leinster, Head of Social Work, Brothers of Charity Galway

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The Residential Institutional Redress Board was established under the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002, with the purpose of providing people raised in the care of the state as children the choice of applying for financial compensation if they suffered abuse or neglect while in the institution. One hundred and twenty eight institutions were named in the original Act and a number have been added subsequently .The establishment of the RIRB is of crucial importance to people with intellectual disabilities who were raised in these institutions. For a variety of reasons people with intellectual disabilities are more vulnerable to abuse and also much less likely to receive justice through the existing legal system. In the eyes of the law people with intellectual disabilities in general make poor witnesses and do not stand up well to the rigours of cross examination. Consequently they do not have recourse to the same legal channels as the majority of the population. As the burden of proof required to make a successful application to the RIRB is lower than the criminal or civil courts, it is a much more viable option for this group of people.

Applications to the RIRB are normally, but not exclusively, submitted through a solicitor and the closing date is 15 December 2005. In general, reasonable legal fees are met by the RIRB. If there are people who have spent time in one of the named institutions as children who have not made an application they have less than three months to do so.

Many people with intellectual disabilities who presently are in care with an organisation may be eligible to apply to the Redress Board. Some of the people may have little or no contact with their families and thus the responsibility for informing them of their rights rests with their carers While it is debatable whether an organisation has a legal responsibility to inform someone of their entitlements, from a moral and human rights perspective it is incumbent on each organisation to inform people that they may have an entitlement to make an application, the least we should do is give people accurate information in an accessible form to allow them to make an informed decision to consult a solicitor who can make an application on their behalf. If the person has poor communication skills I would argue that they should still consult a solicitor with the support of an advocate and allow the legal profession or the Redress Board make any necessary decisions regarding their eligibility to apply.

In the Brothers of Charity Services in Galway we have been fortunate to receive some funding from the Order to allow us to identify people who currently receive a service from us who may wish to enter an RIRB and we are informing them of their rights. We have also identified a group of people who have passed through our services and now receive support from a wide range of organisations covering the length and breadth of the country. We have managed to track many of them down and have informed their respective carers of the rights which they have. Many others alas we have been unable to trace but hope to do so by placing adverts in the local and regional press.

After contacting many organisations providing care for people with intellectual disabilities around the country it is particularly noticeable that while some are aware of the role of the RIRB and are working to inform people of their entitlements not all of them appear to be aware that people with intellectual disabilities are eligible to make an application.

It is important to recognise that for many this is their one and only chance to gain any recognition and redress for the abuse and neglect which they may have suffered while in care as children. It is imperative that we do not miss this opportunity to inform these vulnerable people of their legal rights and facilitate them to exercise those rights. If we fail to inform people of their rights we could be accused of failing in our duty of care as did the generations before us, only this time we cannot plead ignorance.

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