Coalition to examine church assets in bid to break impasse over mother and baby homes redress

Minister has sought financial contributions from seven Catholic bodies that ran homes or were linked to them

The Government will carry out a financial assessment of church assets worth hundreds of millions of euro in a bid to break the deadlock in talks with religious orders on reparations for mother and baby homes survivors.

Three years after the disputed Commission of Investigation report into the mistreatment of unmarried mothers and their babies, none of the congregations involved in running the homes have been held to account financially for their role. The report investigated decades of harm caused to tens of thousands of women and children at 14 mother and baby homes and four county homes across Ireland between 1922 and 1998.

The commission found the harsh treatment of residents was “supported by, contributed to, and condoned by” the institutions of the State and churches.

Controversy over the findings and handling of survivors’ testimony prompted demands for the report to be repudiated but commission chairwoman Ms Justice Yvonne Murphy rejected the criticism.


The lack of church contributions to the €800 million State redress scheme for former residents of the homes comes despite the appointment last May of a special Government negotiator, former trade unionist Sheila Nunan.

She was asked to take command of the talks after Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman failed to reach a deal in his engagements with eight Catholic and Church of Ireland bodies.

With no breakthrough in sight, Ms Nunan has told the congregations she will engage financial experts to examine their assets.

The Department of Children declined to comment on the prospects for an agreement and had nothing to say about the mandate for the financial assessment.

It is known, however, that the aim is to examine what payments individual orders could sustain in any deal.

“The Minister and his department is committed to the process of assisting the independent negotiator in her work and as part of this process, the requirement for financial assistance was identified,” said Mr O’Gorman’s office in reply to questions.

“This was done as part of a competition under an Office of Government Procurement framework and as such, any documentation was only circulated to the relevant companies on that framework who were invited to apply.”

Mr O’Gorman has sought financial contributions from seven Catholic bodies that ran homes or were linked to them: the Bon Secours sisters; the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul; Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary; Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd; the Sisters of Mercy; the Sisters of St John of God; and the Legion of Mary, a lay organisation.

Their combined net assets were valued at some €347 million in 2022, according to Charities Regulator data.

Although the Minister wrote to Catholic leaders at the outset of the talks, the hierarchy’s position is that reparations are a matter for individual orders. “The correct authority in terms of governance remains each respective religious congregations,” a spokesman said.

The Minister has also asked the leadership of the Church of Ireland for a contribution in connection with the Protestant-run Bethany home, although it said it “neither owned nor operated any of the homes” in the commission’s report. Charities Regulator data show the net assets of the Representative Body of the Church of Ireland were valued at €592 million in 2022.

Certain church congregations believe the Government is working on the principle that there is no legal basis to compel any payments, with the case for contributions being made on moral grounds in light of the commission’s findings.

While most church bodies had no comment on the talks, a figure linked to a congregation said religious orders knew little about the looming financial assessments. “We simply know that it exists. We know nothing else.”

Only the Bon Secours order have stated publicly that they will contribute, but they will not disclose the scale of the offer. “The Congregation of Sisters of Bon Secours can confirm that we have made a commitment to make a financial contribution to the redress scheme,” it said.

“At the request of the Department of Children we have agreed not to make any further comment while the negotiations are ongoing.”

The latest effort to advance talks with church bodies comes more than two years after drug company GlaxoSmithKline ruled out making reparation payments for clinical trials on mother and baby home children between 1934 and 1973.

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Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley is Current Affairs Editor of The Irish Times