| 16.8°C Dublin

Bailiff threat to church over abuse

The Government has threatened to send in the bailiffs after only two of 18 religious orders responsible for horrific child abuse moved to breach a compensation shortfall of up to €375m.

Despite the Catholic Church agreeing to cover half the €1.36bn bill for clerical child abuse claims, the congregations have refused to budge.

In the clearest signal yet that the Government is determined to force payment, Education Minister Ruairi Quinn is to pressure the orders to sign up to laws allowing the state to seize assets.

The minister said he was disappointed at offers made since the 2009 Ryan report revealed the shocking extent of decades-long sexual, physical and psychological abuse of the most vulnerable in institutions.

"The congregations' total offers fall well short, by several hundred million, of the €680m contribution they should bear towards the cost of institutional residential child abuse," he said.

"In April, I called on the orders to consider handing over appropriate school infrastructure as a way to make progress towards the 50:50 target contribution. I reiterate that call now."

The Department of Education said the 18 orders of priests and nuns offered €128m in cash, property and counselling services as part of a controversial indemnity deal dating back to 2002.

This was increased in 2009 to €348.5m after the Ryan report called for the 50:50 split between state and church - a cash pot of more than €100m which was boosted by property which the orders valued at €235.5m.

Mr Quinn has warned the congregations that the state has use for only a quarter of the total properties offered - 12 sites, which the Government now values at just €60m.

The lack of offers from the congregations, combined with a the property crash, has created a massive shortfall in the compensation fund, running to €375.5m.

"Of the properties offered to the State, only 12 have been identified as of potential immediate benefit to the State and these will be pursued," Mr Quinn said.

The minister said he wants congregations to agree to allow the state to identify assets and property such as schools, nursing homes, playing fields and land and legally take possession of them.

There would be blocking orders on transferring title without prior consent of the Department, he said.

Officials said congregations are also being asked to transfer properties currently leased by the state or of specific interest.

"I believe that this approach affords the congregations involved the opportunity to shoulder their share of the costs of responding to the horrendous wrongs suffered by children in their care, while at the same time, recognising the legitimate legacy of their contribution to Irish education," he said.

Mr Quinn also said a €110m trust will also be set up to fund the Residential Institutions Statutory Fund to support the victims of institutional abuse.

The offers of property include 49 Christian Brothers' playing fields; Presentation Sisters' St Bernard's Group Home, Fethard, Tipperary; Sisters of Our Lady of Charity childcare facility at Gracepark Rd, Drumcondra, Dublin; and Sisters of St Clare primary school, Ballyjamesduff, Co Cavan.

The Sisters of Mercy offered several schools St Joseph's VEC College, Carrick on Suir; the Adult Education Centre, Waterford; land at Convent Road, Cahir, Seamount Convent and College, Kinvara, Galway Scoil Mhuire Secondary and Mercy Primary School, Ennistymon, Clare; and the Old Primary School and Hall, Trim, Meath.

The order also put forward the McAuley Centre, Kells, Meath; Beaumont Convalescent Home and grounds, north Dublin; 33 acres at the National Rehabilitation Hospital Dun Laoghaire; and St Anne's Lenaboy Castle, Taylor's Hill, Galway.

The Government said it will propose long-term option on further Sisters of Mercy properties including two convents in Cork, two primary schools in Mayo, and schools in Longford, Leitrim and Meath.

Mr Quinn has written to the 18 orders with his response to their offers and asked for meetings to pursue the massive shortfall.

The Government said it has only received €20.6m in cash to date.