Sr Maxwell says 2002 deal may have been inadequate Cori figure has 'open mind' on payments


CONGREGATIONS:THE PRESENTATION Sister who helped negotiate the 2002 compensation agreement for abuse victims with the Government has said she is keeping her mind “totally open” on what further contributions the religious congregations may make in the context.

Speaking to The Irish Timesyesterday, Sr Elizabeth Maxwell said she was “waiting until the meeting with the Taoiseach next Thursday to see what proposals he has’’. Then “the congregations can decide how much they can contribute’’ towards that, she said.

The 2002 agreement was conducted “in good faith’’ at the time, she said, and “on the basis of figures made available to us by the Government and the congregations.’’

Earlier yesterday Sr Maxwell said the 2002 agreement may have been inadequate in the light of information in the Ryan report. Secretary general to the Conference of Religious of Ireland (Cori) at the time of the 2002 agreement, she said she was not then aware of the extent of the abuse.

She also said she had remonstrated with the government then about the low validation threshold being set for compensation.

Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster, Sr Maxwell said it had not been a mistake, but if the 18 congregations had known in 2002 what they know now about how children in their care had been abused, the agreement would have been different. “It may be inadequate in the light of new information that has come out in the Ryan report,” she said.

Sr Maxwell later told RTÉ’s Marian Finucane Show that it was she who approached the Department of Education about the deal, because she had read about the establishment of the redress board and knew the 18 congregations in whose care the children had been abused were searching for a way to make some response.

The meetings were held in the offices of the attorney general, she said, though then attorney general Michael McDowell was not present. The Department of Education legal adviser Tom Boland outlined the scheme devised by the Government and asked the congregations to become involved. The reasons for the request were both compassionate and pragmatic, she said.

Should the congregations insist on the court route, the Government could give 50 per cent of the claim and tell the claimants to go after the congregations for the balance. “It was the vista of 20 years of clogging up the courts that was the most compelling reason,” she said. At the time there were 780 people making claims, she said.

She said, she and the rest of her negotiation team, Sr Helena O’Donoghue and Br Kevin Mullan, remonstrated with the Government about the low validation threshold. “We pointed out that it was very likely that the very low threshold . . . was likely to encourage claimants who had not yet come forward, and that proved to be true,” she said.

The highest number of claims discussed as “worst-case scenario” had been 2,000, she said, but they had ended up with a figure of 780. “They began to fall through the letterbox like confetti,” she said.

The Residential Institutions Redress Board ultimately received 14,584 applications by its deadline of December 15th, 2005.

Sr Maxwell objected to the agreement with Government being called a “deal” because this suggested there had been something underhand, but the congregations had never lobbied or asked for favours. Asked if she had tried to negotiate the figures down, she said, “Of course, isn’t that what you do in negotiations?”.

The highest figure put to them in negotiations was £100 million (€128 million) and they came up with that, she said. All of it had been handed over, except where there may have been some delays about the final transfer of some property, because of delays in the State Solicitor’s office and other solicitors’ offices.

Asked if congregations should hand over €15 billion to the scheme, an estimated figure of their value, Sr Maxwell said they had not been asked. “We may arrive at some point like that when we speak to the Taoiseach . . . the Government may not have to forcibly take anything from us.”