Sunday 28 December 2014

Lawyers profit as cost of clerical abuse tops €1bn

JIM CUSACK and DANIEL McCONNELL

Published 14/10/2012 | 05:00

Taxpayers foot bill as Shatter firm earns €700,000

The cost of compensation, legal fees and of running the Redress Board arising from the sexual and other abuse of children in the care of Catholic institutions has so far cost the taxpayer well over €1bn -- with €160m of it going to lawyers, it can be revealed.

Since the Fianna Fail-led coalition indemnified the Catholic Church so its compensation contribution was capped (reputedly at €120m, but in reality far less than this), the State has paid victims €875,446,608 up to the end of last year, along with €160,414,187 in fees for their solicitors and barristers.

The deal signed in June 2002, shortly before the Dail's summer recess, restricted the church's liability to a cash sum of just €40m and a property handover said to be valued at €76m.

The average compensation payment for victims works out at just under €70,000, the figures suggest.

The cost of the Redress Board itself was €44,874,732 from 2002 to 2011. Twelve board members who sat for years were paid daily fees of €825, though this was reduced in line with State cuts to €668 a day from January last year.

Three judges also sat on the board, though their fees are not detailed in figures released to independent TD for Dun Laoghaire Richard Boyd Barrett last week by Minister for Education Ruari Quinn.

Costs for the board, lawyers and compensation paid out over nine years reached €1,070,735,527, but this excludes the legal costs paid for State-employed lawyers and civil servants, which, legal sources say, added tens of millions of euro on top of this.

At least 20 of the dozens of firms of solicitors representing the 12,000 victims were paid more than €1m in fees. The top-earning company was Michael Hanahoe and Co of Dublin, which received €17.75m, followed by Lavelle Coleman, which was paid €13.4m, and Peter McDonnell and Co on €12.4m.

The Minister for Justice Alan Shatter's firm, Gallagher Shatter, was one of the medium earners at €713,259, according to the list of payments released by Mr Quinn.

In the first year that compensation was paid by the board, 2003, the total payment amount was €424,172, but at its high point in 2007 some €31.35m was paid out to victims.

The payments fell to €7.7m last year. In 2007, legal fees were paid out to 260 firms of solicitors. The very top-earning firms were probably representing around 200 clients.

The documents released to Mr Boyd Barrett also contain the contract entitled 'Indemnity' which the then Minister for Education Michael Woods agreed with religious orders. This has never been publicly revealed before.

The key Part 7 of this document reveals the details of the highly controversial deal under which the parties agreed "a cash payment to the State party amounting to the sum of €41.14m" and the "transfers of real property", "in aggregate to the sum of €40.32m" in a first instalment then a further instalment of property to the value of €36.54m.

The contract stipulates that €12.7m "shall be used by the State for educational programmes for former residents of institutions and their families" and that the church contribute a further €10m in "support services" for victims.

The "contributing congregations" include the Sisters of Mercy; Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul; Christian Brothers; Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd; Presentation Brothers; Rosminians; Oblates of Mary Immaculate; Hospitaller Order of St John of God; Sisters of Charity and several others.

Meanwhile, victims of child abuse in Protestant-run institutions have hit out at Catholic groups who they say have dominated the "abuse agenda" at their expense.

Derek Leinster, chairman of the Bethany Homes Survivors Group, has said while €1bn has been given to victims of child abuse, not one cent has been given to his group or other Protestant victims.

However, he said his main focus is on his fight to have the plight of those who suffered and died in Bethany Homes, a Church of Ireland run institution for children, recognised.

Mr Leinster has accused the Government of ignoring their calls for justice and compensation, as well as funding for a proper memorial for those in the unmarked graves in Mount Jerome.

In response, Mr Quinn said he considered the case of the Bethany Homes survivors but it was found they were not suitable for inclusion in the redress scheme.

Sunday Independent

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