Saturday 17 November 2018

Cowen to make Orders foot €680m abuse bill

John Cooney

THE Government is pressing 18 religious orders to pay half of the expected €1.36bn bill for the Ryan investigation into systematic abuse of children in industrial schools and orphanages.

This would require all the orders including the Christian Brothers and the Sisters of Mercy to contribute towards the overall target assigned to them of €680m.

This represents a radical revision of a 2002 indemnity deal negotiated by the then Minister for Education, Michael Woods which capped the liability of the religious congregations at just €128m. Since the publication of the damning report last May by Mr Justice Sean Ryan, the Congregations pledged to top up the 2002 deal with further contributions which they valued at €348.51m. This would have brought the sum to be paid by religious -- much of it in land -- to €476.51m.

But at a meeting with the religious at Government Buildings yesterday, Mr Cowen demanded that the bill should be shared on a 50-50 basis between the taxpayer and the religious.

This meant, he said, that the orders needed to come up with an overall figure of €680m. Mr Cowen noted that the improved offer from the religious still left a shortfall of over €200m to be bridged by them. In a new development Mr Cowen signalled that this additional contribution of €200m would be used as a contribution to the planned National Children's Hospital.

Mr Cowen told the religious that he plans to embark on a series of bilateral meetings with each of the 18 congregations to find this extra €200m. "The Government has proposed to each Congregation a process to establish how this objective can be achieved over time," Mr Cowen said in a communiqué issued late last night.


Sr Elizabeth Maxwell, of the Presentation Sisters, said the religious congregations had never expected round-table talks to go on for so long, and the bilateral talks would represent a new phase. "No agreement has been reached with the Government other than we are going to move forward together."

Later, at a separate meeting last night with survivors' representatives Mr Cowen told them that in line with a Dail resolution, the Government plans to place in a Statutory Trust the Congregations's cash offer of €110m over the next few years.

"The Government will be consulting with the former residents as to the exact nature of the fund, how it will operate and the uses to which it will be put," the Taoiseach said.

But a prominent survivor dramatically walked out of the meeting with the Taoiseach and four Government ministers in protest against the new compensation plan.

Mr Michael O'Brien, a former Fianna Fail mayor of Clonmel, also pledged to go on hunger strike outside Government Buildings in three weeks time after he had undergone a scheduled medical operation. Angrily accusing Mr Cowen of "not doing his job" of properly compensating survivors, Mr O'Brien, claimed that for the past year the Taoiseach "has been leading us the garden path."

Describing the cash offer of €110m as "a joke," Mr OBrien, 77, said that not one extra penny had been paid by the religious orders, because "he (Mr Cowen) is not doing his job."

Mr O'Brien said that all he wanted was for the Taoiseach to look after former residents of institutions for once and for all. "I want nothing for myself," he added. "I will not beg for myself but I will beg for the like of them.

"This man (Mr Cowen) has not even be listening to us." Other survivors of institutional abuse stayed on at the talks with the Taoiseach, Tanaiste Mary Coughlan, Health Minister Mary Harney, Justice Minister Dermot Ahern and Children's Minister Barry Andrews.

But they also vented their rage as the Taoiseach announced he would be embarking on a new phase of talks with each of the 18 religious orders Mr John Kelly, of SOCA Ireland, said that the post-Ryan report offer was mainly in properties "which are of no value to anyone."

He said that the money should "be put into a fund to be handed to the victims directly and they can look after their own families. "We do not want this money to be given in kind." He said survivors wanted someone to underwrite the contributions, but not the taxpayer.

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