Thursday 17 October 2019

State to review abuse deal with church

Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe has ordered a review of how property valuations were agreed with religious orders to compensate victims of institutional abuse.

The high-powered internal review of the valuation process surrounding 64 properties was sanctioned amid claims the State was short-changed.

The unexpected twist brings into further disrepute the controversial €128m deal, which has resulted in the religious orders paying only 10pc of the total €1.2bn victims' compensation bill.

Thousands of former residents of religious-run homes have been awarded compensation by the Residential Institutions Redress Board, which received almost 15,000 claims for sexual, emotional or physical abuse.

The 2002, €128m Indemnity Agreement between the Department of Education and the religious orders included the handing over of properties worth €66m to the State at agreed valuations. Many of the properties were former schools or health board buildings.

The valuations were to take account of any previous grant paid by the State for buildings or other improvements to the property, and adjustments made in the State's favour.

In cases where a grant or grants had been paid, a discount was to apply, reducing the value of the individual property to be transferred. The scale or extent of the under-valuations is not yet known, but Mr O'Keeffe has admitted that "an initial examination has raised questions as to whether such adjustments to market valuations were made".

It is understood that the department was not happy that in all cases proper account had been taken of the agreed valuation process.

The minister has ordered a review by the department's Internal Audit Committee. It is expected to be completed before the end of July.

Uncovered

Any deficiencies in valuation uncovered in the review will allow the department revert to the religious order in question to seek compensation.

The issue came to light after Labour education spokesperson Ruairi Quinn asked the minister about the protocols governing the indemnity deal, and the discount achieved by the State by reference to any grants or other payments previously provided for the acquisition, development or improvement of the properties.

Mr Quinn raised the issue on June 9 and the minister was unable to provide an answer. But the Labour TD's query prompted an internal examination, leading to Mr O'Keeffe's admission that questions had been raised. He said: "A full review is being undertaken of the valuation process applied for each property involved including the application of protocols relating to grants paid."

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