THE Christian Brothers will hand over properties worth tens of millions of euro to compensate victims of institutional abuse, the Irish Independent has learned.
The dramatic, if belated, decision followed days of intense pressure on religious orders to contribute more than was agreed under the abuse deal with the Government.
Informed sources said the properties were unlikely to be handed over to the State, but instead to a separate trust which will decide how best they can be used. The trust will be "at arms length" from the Christian Brothers.
The Brothers will still retain some residences, but only to maintain the members of the congregation and to support selected commitments at home and overseas.
Last night, one of the other 17 religious orders who signed up to the deal also admitted further resources needed to be made available to victims.
When contacted by the Irish Independent, the Congregation of the Sisters of St Clare said they acknowledged "a need for further resources to be made available" but they were unable to offer any details on how they could do so.
The remaining orders refused to give any response.
Earlier, the Brothers said they accepted "with shame" the findings of the Ryan Commission and admitted that the congregation "had lost its way and failed in its most basic duty of care to children".
They promised an update on the details of how the move could be made within six weeks.
But the properties are certain to include the huge Emmaus Conference Centre which has 62 newly-refurbished bedrooms and is located near Dublin airport.
Also likely to be handed over are:
The move signals that the Christian Brothers will not contribute any more funds directly to the €1bn-plus compensation bill footed by the taxpayer.
However, it will heap considerable pressure on the other orders also covered by the controversial indemnity deal, which limited their liability to just €128m, to come up with further ways of compensating victims.
Taoiseach Brian Cowen last night told the religious orders they would have to make a "substantial additional contribution" to compensate institutional abuse victims.
Mr Cowen also said the Government would consider looking at the statute of limitations to allow further prosecutions against abusers.
In the continuing fallout from the publication of the Ryan Commission report, Mr Cowen said the Government intended to invite the congregations to a meeting to discuss what further steps they plan to take to address victims' needs.
The head of the Christian Brothers congregation in Ireland, Brother Edmund Garvey, said he could not put a figure on the value of the property that would be made available.
He added that the brothers would be discussing the situation with the Government.
"The congregation is deeply sorry for the hurt we have caused -- not just for the mistakes of the past, but for the inadequacy of our responses over recent years," he said.
The order now has just 250 members left in Ireland, many of whom are no longer active due to age or infirmity.
The Christian Brothers and the Sisters of Mercy are the two largest orders in the country in terms of assets.
A survey of properties owned by the Christian Brothers in 2001 estimated their combined value at around €500m.
The value of properties available to the Brothers diminished greatly last year when 97 schools, valued at €400m, were transferred to the Edmund Rice Schools Trust.
Full ownership and control of the schools rests with the trust. One brother sits on the trust board, but within the next few years its composition will be completely made up of lay people.
However, the Irish Independent has established that the order has retained ownership of at least 20 other properties. The vast majority of those are in Dublin, with some holdings also in Cork, Meath and Kilkenny.
The other major religious landowner, the Sisters of Mercy, has at least 47 properties, held for it in trust by a number of companies.
These include convents, tracts of land and dwelling houses.
•Meanwhile, a leading international canon law expert last night urged the Government to force the religious to pay for their crimes against children.
Speaking to RTE's Prime Time Investigates from Washington, Fr Tom Doyle, a Virginia-based Dominican priest with a doctorate in canon law, said the Government should make the religious orders compensate their victims.
"My advice, based on my 25 years of experience in this, is, first, don't trust anything they say and be prepared to follow up the urging for voluntary donation or contribution with some form of force because that's what they'll understand.
"You're dealing with bodies that have had a great deal of privilege afforded them, a great deal of deference, that have basically been allowed to write their own ticket. And now that things are catching up, and the exposure is becoming more and more horrendous, the fact remains that these organisations will not do the right thing on their own because they don't know how to do it.
"They must be forced by a power greater than themselves, and, in your case, it's the Irish Government."
THE heads of religious orders have traditionally regarded themselves as intellectually a cut above Lord bishops, who have often reciprocated with shows of touchy paranoid inferiority in zealously protecting their role as the Irish church's official leaders and teachers.