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Monday 21 October 2019

Woods denies he sought soft deal for religious reasons

Senan Molony Deputy Political Editor

THE man who sealed the Government's indemnity agreement with the Catholic Church last night condemned false claims that he was an arch-Catholic interested in achieving a soft deal.

Rumours that he was a member of Opus Dei or the Knights of Columbanus are untrue and are being spread by political enemies, former education minister Michael Woods said.

"I'm a common-or-garden ordinary Christian, and I go to Mass every Sunday, and that's it," Mr Woods told the Irish Independent.

Mr Woods, who engaged in social work and helped run a number of boys clubs some decades ago, including the Bru Padraig in Herbert St with Fr Peter Lemass, said false claims had resulted in his family being "beaten over the head" about his alleged arch-Catholicism.

Mr Woods said he was aware of attempts to paint him as a right-wing Catholic, because that suited political opponents who were spreading lies in an attempt to unseat him.

"I stick to what's right, honest and true," said the former minister, who was an altar boy in his youth. "They run various programmes to try and damage me, and put out false stories. But the people know me. Ten times they have re-elected me because they know I speak the truth."

The 73-year-old, vastly experienced politician stressed that revisiting the 2002 indemnity agreement was "not the issue".

If the religious orders felt there was something further for them to do, it was a matter for their consideration. He said he had set up the redress board and the Commission which had just reported, steered the legislation through the Dail, and brought about an addressing of the situation for the first time. "We were working for the victims," he said.

That was why he had received letters of thanks from dozens of abuse survivors, "not just in Ireland, but from England and America as well," he said.

"Most of the abuse was in the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, and the last of it in the 1960s, because these institutions were closed down in the 1970s after the publication of the Kennedy report which damned the places," he added.

Mr Woods said he was hardened to lies being spread about him after decades in public life. But the truth was that "nobody else set up the Commission. Nobody else set up the redress board.

"It was all done with debate and discussion. There was a negotiating committee with which I was not involved. It is true that the Department of Finance's opening position was for a 50:50 split of the cost, but the final agreement was on the expectation that the total would be €500m. The worst case scenario, it was thought, was that there was a potential cost of €700m," Mr Woods added.

Now that it was nearly double that, he could foresee a case for the establishment of a foundation to provide further support.

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