Sunday 22 October 2017

Church gives up €42m in land deal for victims

But amount surrendered so far is 'way short' of what Government wanted for redress system

Seán Ó Foghlú: passed memo to Dáil committee
Seán Ó Foghlú: passed memo to Dáil committee
Daniel McConnell

Daniel McConnell

The Catholic Church has surrendered ownership of 44 properties worth €42m to the State as part of the Residential Institutions Redress Act, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

The Government wanted the religious orders to pay half of the total bill of €1.4bn needed for redress payments and legal costs. But so far the value of the asset handover is still a long way short of the €700m the State is demanding.

School buildings, convents, vestries, playing fields and associated lands across Ireland are included in the list. The highest value property handed over was grounds in Merrion, south Dublin, valued at €8.9m.

Documents sent to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) by Sean O Foghlu, Secretary General of the Department of Education, show that the properties were handed over "under the terms of the 2002 Indemnity Agreement".

According to his letter, which has been seen by this newspaper, the department agreed in principle with the Conference of Religious in Ireland to take control of 64 properties. These properties have been accepted "subject to good and marketable title and agreed valuations".

"This number has been reduced to 61 as the department has accepted and received a sum of cash in lieu of three properties where good and marketable title could not be established," Mr O Foghlu wrote.

According to the documents, apart from the significant site at Merrion, eight other properties worth more than €1m were surrendered.

They include a Terenure secondary school valued at €4.5m; St Teresa's convent at Temple Hill in Blackrock, valued at €3.1m, and a Traveller site also in Blackrock, which was valued at €3.1m. Other significant properties handed over included two separate properties in Tuam, Galway, valued at €3,020,000; St Anne's Secondary School, which was valued at €2,600,000; Holy Cross Gardens, Killarney, Co Kerry (€1,270,000); 23 Parnell Square, Dublin (€1,270,000); and Goldenbridge Group Homes, which were valued at €1,269,700.

As of December 31, a total of 44 properties have been transferred to the department and "there are no outstanding issues," Mr O Foghlu said.

The 44 properties, he said, represented two-thirds of the total monetary value of all properties being transferred under the Indemnity Agreement, excluding the cash in lieu settlement.

The documents went on to state that 17 properties have not yet fully transferred and "arrangements are being finalised".

"As it was likely that nine of the remaining properties would not meet the standard of good and marketable title required by the 2002 agreement, the Government agreed in 2013 that such properties could not be accepted," Mr O Foghlu said.

He said his department was engaging with the office of the Chief State Solicitor, who in turn is dealing with lawyers for the religious orders as well as the Health Service Executive (HSE).

The total cost of offering redress to the victims of abuse has soared to almost €1.4bn.

Under a controversial 2002 indemnity agreement, 18 religious orders which ran care institutions pledged to contribute €128m in cash, property and counselling services towards redress costs for abuse survivors. However, they later agreed to contribute €352.6 million for victims of institutional abuse. So far they have paid less than a quarter of that.

The documents, published yesterday under the Freedom of Information Act, give an overview of the payments made by 18 congregations to date.

In 2013, the then-Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn said the State "got nowhere" in convincing Catholic religious orders to pay for half of the cost of residential abuse claims. He said the religious bodies would not accept the principle of 50-50 under the State-backed redress scheme.

He said the State had so far spent around €1.4bn on legal costs and awards relating to abuse at residential institutions. Mr Quinn said as a result of paying this money out, and the inability to get the church to contribute an equal share, everything else must be considered when it came to reducing expenditure at the Department of Education.

He was speaking about the cost to the State of compensation payments for abuse of children at former reformatories, industrial schools and other institutions over several decades.

The State established the Residential Institutions Redress Board in 2002 to make compensation payments to former residents who were abused.

At one time the Catholic Church in Ireland owned or occupied more than 10,700 properties across the country and controlled nearly 6,700 religious and educational sites.

The asset portfolio included schools, houses, halls, churches, convents, parks, sports fields, hospitals, farms, warehouses, shops and tracts of land.

Sunday Independent

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