Taxpayer may end up paying most of €1.5bn redress for abuse by religious orders

Despite attempts to share bill on a 50:50 basis, contributions from congregations amount to just €480m, a shortfall of €270m

The taxpayer faces paying the bulk of the estimated €1.5 billion cost of redress for abuse in institutions run by religious congregations despite attempts to share the cost on a 50:50 basis.

The Department of Education estimates that a contribution of €750 million is due from congregations based on an estimated equal share of the final redress bill.

However, latest figures show contributions from religious congregations to date amount to €480 million, a shortfall of €270 million on the target of 50 per cent of costs.

“Apart from one congregation, which believes its contribution represents its 50 per cent share, the remaining congregations have either declined to comment on the appropriateness of, or disagree with, the 50:50 principle,” internal department records state.


Eighteen religious congregations that managed the majority of residential institutions – such as orphanages, reformatories and industrial schools for children – have contributed to a State redress scheme in two ways: a legally binding indemnity agreement reached in 2002, and voluntary offers made since 2009.

Under the 2002 agreement, the religious congregations were indemnified against any future legal actions taken against them by abuse survivors, in return for a €128 million contribution to redress costs. The deal was brought to the final Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats government cabinet meeting by then Minister for Education Michael Woods. Despite warnings from then attorney general Michael McDowell, the proposal was approved.

Records show that this sum has, “to a large extent”, been realised through a combination of cash and properties which have been transferred to the State.

Following publication of the Ryan report in 2009 into abuse into industrial and reformatory schools, children’s homes, hospitals and other settings which were run by religious organisations but inspected by the State, the then government sought to share costs on a 50:50 basis.

The report concluded that physical and emotional abuse were features of the institutions examined, while sexual abuse “occurred in many of them”. It found that the Department of Education had a “deferential and submissive attitude” towards the congregations that ran the institutions, to the extent that it compromised its ability to carry out its statutory duty of inspection and monitoring of the schools.

Engagement with congregations since 2009 resulted in them offering additional cash and pledging property valued at €352 million.

Internal records note that these contributions are not part of any legally binding agreement and “there is no apparent legal requirement on congregations to complete their contributions and no recourse if, for example, properties are not accepted or the valuation on transfer is less than the original offer”.

The bulk of the property offers include a portfolio of 49 school playing fields from the Christian Brothers valued at €127 million and 48 Sisters of Mercy properties valued at some €107 million. Records note that valuations placed on properties by the congregations were not subject to independent verficiation.

In the case of properties that have been transferred to the State, the valuations “attributed to the properties upon transfer are generally far below those assigned to the properties by the congregations in 2009″.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent