It’s almost 20 years since the State signed an agreement with religious orders that indemnified them from claims arising from decades of child abuse in Church-run institutions.
In return the 18 congregations said they would hand over €128m in cash, counselling services, and property transfers.
Further voluntary pledges were sought by the government in 2009 in the wake of the publication of the damning Ryan Report on abuse. Somewhat astonishingly the process of collecting the pledges made continues to this day.
The overall offers made by religious organisations come to less than a third of the €1.5bn cost of redress so far with just €240m – around 16pc – fully realised to date.
It is not surprising then that Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Children Minister Roderic O’Gorman declined to go into detail on how much they expect religious organisations to contribute to a new redress scheme for survivors of mother and baby homes.
The Commission of Investigation into the homes has recommended that redress be offered to some survivors of the institutions they probed. Its report blames the harsh treatment of unmarried mothers in Ireland on the fathers of their children and the women’s own families. But it also says it was “supported by, contributed to, and condoned by, the institutions of the State and the Churches”.
The report cites the original Residential Institutions Redress Scheme (RIRS) as a model for possible compensation for the children in certain homes.
The more recent Magdalen Restorative Justice Scheme could be used as a basis of providing redress to mothers.
It suggested that children who lived at the infamous home in Tuam and those resident in other institutions without their mothers have a case to be considered for redress.
The Commission said that women that should be eligible include those who spent lengthy periods in the homes prior to the introduction of State supports for unmarried mothers in 1974; those who lived in the Tuam home; and others who did unpaid work in county homes and outside the institutions. Mr O’Gorman has written to the religious congregations involved seeking a meeting to discuss whether they will make a contribution to a proposed Restorative Recognition Scheme (RRS) to compensate survivors.
Asked if he would seek half of the cost of redress Mr O’Gorman would only go as far as to say he believes a “significant contribution” from religious organisations would be appropriate.
Mr Martin meanwhile, said they should make a financial contribution “in principle” but didn’t “want to get into the actual amounts”.
The outlines of the RSS are to be presented to Cabinet by the end of April.
Mr Martin will be well aware of the difficulties in setting up redress schemes and getting contributions from religious congregations having been a member of Governments that presided over the arrangements made in 2002 and 2009.
He was forced to defend the 2002 Indemnity Agreement which has been widely criticised as a very bad deal for the State. Mr Martin said it had been a “survivor first approach” that meant the former residents of industrial schools would not spend years seeking redress through the courts.
He said the survivor first principle will be used on this occasion as well and he wants as rapid a process as possible in implementing the Commission’s recommendations.
By the end of 2016 16,650 awards had been made under the original RIRS initiative. The average payment was €62,250 and the scheme cost €1.1bn. An organisation called Caranua was later set up to take applications from survivors for grants related to housing, health, well-being or educational services. It allocated around €97m to more than 6,100 people.
The Magdalen Restorative Justice ex-gratia scheme, set up in 2013 for women who worked in the laundries run by religious orders, has seen €31.95m paid to 803 applicants.
The vast majority of the costs of efforts to compensate and support the survivors of Church-run institutions has been borne by the State. The Department of Education was tasked with administering the contributions pledged by religious congregations.
Last night it confirmed that it is still finalising the full transfer of properties that had been offered to the State.
The slow progress in finishing this process has been criticised by members of the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in recent years. Religious organisations have previously said they have made every possible effort to complete the transfer of properties to the State.
The Department statement said that the 2002 Indemnity Agreement was “legally binding” and the offers made in 2009 were voluntary. In total €480.6m was initially pledged by congregations under the two arrangements.
In 2002, 18 congregations agreed to provide €128m in cash, property and counselling services.
The cash and counselling services have been paid in full and 58 out of 60 properties fully transferred.
The Department said the transfer of two properties “encountered difficulties but are nearing completion.” Both properties are in use by their intended recipients.
As of now €124.94m of the €128m pledged in 2002 has been realised.
In 2009 the 18 congregations made additional offers of cash and properties valued at the time at €352.61m.
Cash contributions of €107m have been completed. Fifteen of the 18 properties accepted by the State have been fully transferred. The Department said the transfer of a former primary school in Ballyjamesduff, Co Cavan is expected to complete shortly.
The remaining two properties, the National Rehabilitation Hospital, Dún Laoghaire, and Bláithín Children’s Home, Drumcondra, are to be transferred to the HSE. That process is said to be in train and both properties are currently in use by the HSE.
The State decided not to accept certain properties and there were differences between the valuations placed on properties by the congregations and their actual valuations upon transfer. As a result the department said the adjusted value of the offers made by the congregations in 2009 is €308.95m of which €115.2m has been realised to date. It said the figure will increase when the last three properties are transferred and more funds will come from half the proceeds of any future sales of playing fields that had been owned by the Christian Brothers.
The department said the “total adjusted offers made by congregations in 2002 and 2009 amount to €436.95m, of which €239.93m has been realised so far.” This is around 16pc of the total cost of redress to date of approximately €1.5bn. The Department referred to the shortfall between the offers made by the congregations in 2009, and the actual amounts realised noting that the agreement “is not legally enforceable”.
The long saga of religious organisations contributing to the compensation to survivors of the institutions they ran with the blessing of the State has not yet concluded.
It’s about to enter a new chapter as the Government asks for them to share the costs of redress for those who suffered in Ireland’s mother and baby homes.