THE Government last night launched an aggressive strategy to seek over €500m from the religious orders in a "50/50" share of the compensation bill for the victims of child abuse.
In a significant hardening of its position to date, chief whip Pat Carey said the Government will demand congregations foot the bill for half of the total paid out when the two sides meet later this week.
The new call for a "50/50" share is an aggressive pre- emptive stance being taken by ministers.
Campaigners for abuse victims have said a "firm line" should be taken with the 18 congregations which signed the 2002 indemnity deal that limits the amount they pay out to €128m.
The abuse bill has now grown to €1.3bn with the taxpayer accounting for the shortfall.
"What we are now proposing to do as a government, and hopefully with the agreement of all the other parties, is to go back, I think, to as near as we can to the 50/50 approach that was originally envisaged," said Mr Carey on RTE's 'The Week in Politics'.
Yesterday Sr Elizabeth Maxwell, who was secretary general of the Conference of Religious of Ireland (Cori) at the time of the controversial agreement, said that it was a good deal at the time.
However, she said that the deal may have been inadequate in relation to the full horror of the abuse which had emerged since, which they were not aware of in 2002.
"The point I am trying to make is that, at the time, I can truly say I was not aware of the extent of the abuse, of the cover-up and of the horror that has now become available to us in the Ryan Report," said Sr Maxwell.
There have been repeated calls for those who perpetrated abuse on the residents of religious institutions to turn themselves in to gardai. Br Edmund Garvey, the communications director of the Christian Brothers, said the indemnity deal struck by the religious orders does not mean that rapists and abusers cannot be prosecuted.
Groups representing abuse victims accused the religious orders of drip-feeding information and urged the Government to adopt an uncompromising approach when they meet with them on Thursday.
Christine Buckley, the head of the Aislinn Educational and Support Centre, said an audit needs to take place of the exact resources which the religious orders have.
"We are reading reports that they are worth between €15bn and €20bn. The Government must undertake an audit of their wealth. Their assets should be put in a basket and the Government should hold a meeting with survivors to decide where the money is distributed," she said.
John Kelly of the Survivors of Child Abuse (SOCA) said statements from the religious orders have been "ambiguous and rather vague".
"It is only under public pressure and anger that they are drip-feeding this bit, this bit, this bit but there has been no flesh on the bones. They haven't defined their intentions, they are not saying the deal should be re-negotiated," he said.
Meanwhile, the former professor of moral theology at St Patrick's College in Maynooth has said that the Ryan report was an indictment on the Catholic Church as a whole, and he called on the bishops and the religious orders to hold a national collection for the survivors of abuse.
"Careful thought should be given to how the money is dispersed, but the money collected should not be distributed by the church authorities, but by the survivors themselves," said Fr Enda McDonagh.
"We wrong either directly in the form of abuse or indirectly in covering up, ignoring, or not wanting to know," he added.