'Religious orders' properties should be handed over before Pope's visit' - PAC
The remaining properties promised by religious orders under the redress scheme for victims of abuse should be handed over to the State in advance of the Pope's visit, members of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) have said.
It comes after a report by the powerful Dáil committee criticised the Department of Education's approach to the property transfers, saying there is a "lack of determination" to bringing the process to a conclusion.
The report also said: "After 16 years, the ongoing delay is not acceptable."
It recommended that the department "urgently concludes the transfer of property from religious organisations".
PAC chairman Fianna Fáil TD Seán Fleming said he wants to see the remaining properties transferred "fully signed and sealed before Pope Francis comes to Ireland".
"You can't have legacy issues in relation to the redress scheme still unresolved when the Pope comes to Ireland," he added.
Committee vice chairman Alan Kelly said the fact that the transfers haven't been completed yet is "shameful".
Fianna Fáil TD Marc MacSharry said there are "no excuses" for the transfer delays and in his view the way the policy has been executed is "unacceptable".
Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy said the second round of promised property transfers came after the "appalling" 2009 Ryan report into abuse, but that this was not a legally binding agreement between the Government and the religious organisations.
Pope Francis is due in Ireland for the World Meeting of Families at the end of August.
A spokesperson for the Association of Missionaries and Religious of Ireland (AMRI) said that individual religious congregations are dealing directly with the Department of Education on "all matters" relating to the redress scheme and property transfers.
"AMRI is aware that the individual congregations have made every possible effort to complete the transfer of properties to the State in accordance with their earlier commitments," the statement added.
In relation to the 2009 voluntary agreement with religious congregations, nine out of 18 properties are outstanding and yet to be transferred.
A Department of Education spokesperson said that one of the nine had been transferred to the State since the PAC published its report, adding "this illustrates that progress is being made".
The department's statement said it is "actively pursuing the full completion of all outstanding contributions from religious congregations towards the costs incurred by the State in responding to residential institutional child abuse".
It has set a target of the end of the year for the completion of most of the remaining property transfers. The statement said "significant progress" has been made in the completion of contributions. It said 96pc of the €128m in cash and property transfers promised under the legally binding 2002 indemnity agreement has been received.
Some €101.5m of the €110m in cash offered voluntarily by the religious congregations in 2009 in the aftermath of the Ryan report has been received, along with nine of the 18 properties offered.