Thursday 17 October 2019

€128m indemnity cap was 'no sweetheart deal', says Woods

Shane Hickey

THE former minister who orchestrated the controversial child abuse compensation fund has revealed that the 2002 Cabinet had no idea how many victims would come forward looking for money.

And Dr Michael Woods yesterday told how a Canadian court ruling had been instrumental in deciding that the religious orders should contribute just €128m towards the fund, which eventually soared to a bill of €1.2bn.

He also denied allegations by Pat Rabbitte that there was a "sweetheart" deal for the religious orders, saying the former Labour leader sat on the Public Accounts Committee which reported that this was not the case.

The taxpayer has been hit with 90pc of the bill for compensating victims after an indemnity agreement capped the amount the religious groups should pay.

Dr Woods, who was education minister at the time, said that after the agreement was made in 2002, victims claiming compensation "poured out of England and everywhere" and the bill skyrocketed.

"You didn't know. I made that clear to the Cabinet and [the Department of] Finance did as well. You didn't know how many people were involved with injuries coming out of it. And you didn't know what injuries they had," he said.

Initial estimates put the bill at €508m and a committee of civil servants estimated the share of that total for the 18 religious organisations involved in the negotiations should be one quarter, or €128m.

This was based on a 1999 Canadian court ruling in British Columbia in which the state was judged to be liable for 75pc of the costs. Subsequent estimates put the bill at over €700m.

"They [the religious orders] wanted to make a contribution that was in some way meaningful. Given what the supreme court had said in Canada, against €508m, it looked like a meaningful contribution. Whether they should [now] be making more is another question," said Dr Woods.

Despite the huge cost to the taxpayer, he said he was proud of the deal, adding that the State was responsible to the victims.

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