Saturday 24 February 2018

Church still owes abuse payments

Negotiations bogged down over handover of €66m in property

JOHN DRENNAN

Six years after Michael Woods signed off on a controversial €128m deal with the religious institutions of the Catholic Church as part of the State's compensation package for victims of clerical abuse, the institutions have still only coughed up a fraction of the agreed sum.

Under an "indemnity agreement'' the congregations who were represented by the high-profile CORI boss Father Sean Healy agreed to make a contribution of €128m towards the cost of the redress scheme.

This was to be made up of €51.9m in cash, €10m for counselling services and a property transfer worth €66.1m at 2002 market values.

The deal negotiated by former education minister Dr Michael Woods attracted severe criticism because of the decision to cap the costs to the religious orders while it was estimated that taxpayers would have to fork out €1.6bn in compensation to those abused in religious institutions.

Last week Fine Gael TD Brian Hayes was told that the cash contribution has been received and the €10m for counselling services has been provided.

But the transfer of 64 church properties valued at €66.1m has become bogged down in discussions between the Church and various State bodies.

The Minister for Education Batt O'Keeffe has admitted that while a certain number of properties have been fully accepted "my department continues to liaise with the Chief State Solicitor's Office in securing the transfer of the remaining properties''.

But the minister was also unable to give "any estimate of when the transfer of all 64 properties will be finalised as each transaction brings its own set of issues and, the transfer of property, by its very nature, is a complex and time-consuming process''.

Mr Hayes said this was "just the latest fine mess Batt has got himself into. At a time where school services were being razed the minister and his department were foostering around with a deal that should have been concluded years ago''.

More seriously still, Hayes claimed the minister's "procrastination has cost the taxpayers millions since the collapse in the property market means any property that is secured from now on will have halved in real value''.

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