Saturday 29 April 2017

It's time to play hard-ball over deal

Leinster House (Stock picture)
Leinster House (Stock picture)
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

The religious orders that signed up to the 2002 Indemnity Agreement with the State got what would be viewed as the deal of the century if it wasn't founded on so much misery.

The then-government agreed to indemnify them from claims arising from decades of child abuse.

In return, the 18 congregations said they would hand over €128m in cash, counselling services, and property transfers.

With the overall costs of the abuse inquiry and redress scheme set to reach €1.5bn, it's extraordinary that not all of that original pledge has been honoured.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) heard that 11 property transfers from the deal - worth around €15m - have yet to be completed. TDs were told that property transfers are a complex matter.

But it's not unreasonable to expect that, 15 years after the indemnity deal was struck, the terms of the agreement - however flawed - would have been met by the Church organisations by now. And that's not the only commitment that has yet to be realised.

The committee heard that further non-binding pledges totalling €352m were made by the religious orders following the horrors that emerged upon publication of the Ryan Report in 2009. Some of this has been rowed back on meaning that the offers stand at €193m. Just €97m has been paid to date.

This isn't even enough to cover the €110m costs of Caranua, a service set up to support the victims of abuse.

The religious orders don't accept that they're liable for 50pc of the overall costs of the redress scheme. But it's past time that they cough up what they've already committed to.

The Government has taken flak for its decision - announced this week - that it is not possible to set up a redress scheme for former child residents of mother and baby homes. It said the commission investigating the homes had yet to make findings regarding abuse or neglect. The decision not to offer redress to survivors may be reconsidered after the commission publishes its report early next year. The cost of the previous redress scheme was a factor in the decision to hold off for now.

As was pointed out at the PAC, it's not the fault of the victims that the costs of compensation spiralled. The scale of the abuse meant that this was inevitable. If a new redress scheme is to come about, the State should play hard-ball with the Church organisations to ensure they pay their fair share.

Irish Independent

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