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Tuesday 25 April 2017

Christian Brothers withdraws offer to give €127m to redress scheme

Former education minister Michael Woods
Former education minister Michael Woods
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

The Christian Brothers has withdrawn an offer to hand over to the State an interest in school playing fields worth more than €120m - which was part of a contribution to the redress scheme.

The property was to help pay the State bill of €1.5bn in redress to compensate people who suffered institutional abuse. An original offer was made after the publication of the Ryan report in 2009, which unveiled a catalogue of abuse in religious-run homes.

The order said it would set up a joint trust between the Edmund Rice Schools Trust and the Government for 49 school playing fields and associated lands, valued at around €127m, a report of the Comptroller and Auditor General said yesterday.

However, the order has since said it intends to transfer the freehold title of the properties solely to the Edmund Rice Schools Trust. In response, Br Edmund Garvey, province leader of the Christian Brothers said the joint trust proposal was not accepted.

He said the plans to transfer the playing fields to the Edmund Rice Trust, for the benefit of 37,000 students and "ultimately the State of which they are part" are at an advanced stage.

Br Garvey insisted the financial watchdog's report pre-dates significant payments by the Christian Brothers and 2009 pledges will be honoured.

Some €24m of the €34m pledged in cash has been honoured, with the rest paid on a phased basis this year, he said. Total contributions will be over €600m.

The Comptroller's report said the combined cost of the child abuse inquiry, which resulted in the Ryan Report and the redress scheme, had run to €1.5bn at the end of 2015. The cost of redress at the end of 2015 hit €1.2bn.

The bill is five times higher than the original estimate of €250m.

Religious orders, which entered into an agreement to pay over an equal amount as the State, in return for indemnity if sued, had made a contribution of €192.9m, including interest, at the end of 2015.

In the six years since the publication of the Ryan Report, which led religious orders to pledge another €353m, just €85m - around 38pc - of this had been realised. Based on projections that total redress costs will reach €1.5bn, the contribution from religious congregations is expected to be €760m.

The agreement was worked out with former education minister Michael Woods.

The Comptroller highlighted massive overruns and said the final cost of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse was originally forecast to be €2.5m, but it ended up with a bill of €82m. Around €2.6m of this was spent on an examination of vaccine trials which then had to be abandoned following a High Court judgment.

When it was set up in 1999 it had a two-year time frame but it took a decade to publish its report.

At the end of 2015 the Sisters of Mercy had paid over the most at €24.9m, although the order pledged €127.5m in 2009.

Christian Brothers had paid €10m and pledged €34m.

The Oblates paid €20m, having pledged €20.7m.

The Dominican order pledged €6.5m and had paid this in full.

At the end of 2015, awards of €970m in total were paid out to 15,597 survivors of abuse.

The Sisters of Mercy said last night it honoured all of its commitments and contributed property and cash worth €33,091,114.

The Oblates of Mary Immaculate, who managed St Conleth’s Reformatory, Daingean in Offaly on behalf of the State until 1971, said it “honoured in full commitments to make a voluntary cash contribution towards Redress, following publication of the Ryan Report.”

In a statement, the Order said: “Following a call from An Taoiseach for voluntary contributions, the congregation immediately responded  and committed to a payment of €20m.  This was paid on a  phased basis following discussions with the Department of Education and the final amounts were paid in 2013.”

The Order said the “payment was made in cash, no properties were associated with the contribution”.

The highest award was €300,000 and the majority were at, or below, €100,000

The awards are based on the severity of abuse and the level of injury. Most of the applicants had legal advice and solicitors were paid €192.9m which was shared among 991 firms.

Seven of the solicitors' firms were paid between €5m and €19m.

The indemnity for religious orders has been invoked 33 times from legal actions taken by survivors.

This resulted in awards of €4.4m and legal costs of more than €5.7m.

The redress scheme is now near an end but there are ongoing support costs for survivors. Some €176m has been spent on counselling, health, housing and educational supports.

The report recommended that the Department of Education actively pursue the €21m due at the end of 2015.

In response the department said it expected cash contributions to be fully realised by 2018, while property transfers are being actively progressed.

Education Minister Richard Bruton expressed "frustration and disappointment" at the lack of progress by the religious congregations.

"This means that even if all the offers currently on the table are delivered upon, the religious congregations will have funded 21.1pc of the total cost of residential abuse, while the State will have funded 78.9pc," he added.

Irish Independent

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