Government will respond if orders agree to reopen deal


COWEN ON COMPENSATION:TAOISEACH BRIAN Cowen yesterday said the Government would respond if religious congregations were prepared to reopen talks about the agreement on compensating victims abused in institutions run by them.

However, he also pointed out that the Government’s current position was based on the statement issued by the Conference of Religious in Ireland (Cori), which negotiated the controversial deal in 2002 on behalf of 14 congregations. Cori said that none of the congregations had plans to reopen the agreement capping their contribution at €127 million.

“Obviously if those who were involved as the other party were prepared to reopen it and indicate as such, the State would sit down and look at the possibilities, and what the outcomes might be,” said Mr Cowen. “In the event of that not being their position the options open to Government must be examined. There are legal issues there.”

Mr Cowen also responded to comments made yesterday by the Bishop of Down and Connor, Dr Noel Treanor, and by Fr Timothy Bartlett, personal assistant to Cardinal Séan Brady.

Both had called for religious orders who ran the institutions in which children were abused to take responsibility for child abuse and also said there was a moral imperative on them to pay more.

Speaking in Portlaoise, the Taoiseach said that while “eminent church people” had made those comments, the position was that the agreement was drawn up with the orders that were involved in managing the institutions. They are independent of the hierarchy in managing their affairs.

“We still have to hear from the congregations over and above the Cori statement we heard initially.

“From our point of view as a Government we are going to look at the consequence of this report at a special Government meeting during the week,” said Mr Cowen.

He continued: “I don’t think really it’s helpful for me to speculate beyond saying that the Government will look at all aspects of this and see what areas can be reopened and see what areas where this might not be possible.”

Asked about his ministerial colleague Éamon Ó Cuív’s assertion that the main opposition parties were playing politics with the issue, the Taoiseach made no direct reference to Fine Gael or to Labour in response.

“In fairness to the survivor groups themselves, they are very anxious that a political football be not made of this. I have seen those comments on this during the week and I very much respect their view in this regard,” he said.

He also defended the record of the Fianna Fáil-led coalitions on this issue over the past decade. He said the administration run by Bertie Ahern was the first to engage with survivors and address the issue of abuse in institutions.

“No previous administration, and certainly not our immediate predecessor before 1997, wanted to know anything about this as far as I aware.

“It was the administration led by Mr Ahern who took on this task of ensuring that the truth would be heard and that people who suffered abuse would have their stories told and enabled to have them told.

“What he [Mr Ahern] gave was an open and full apology in 1999 on behalf of the State to those citizens who were so badly treated . . .

“It stands to that administration that it was obviously the right thing to do, given the horrendous and harrowing accounts that now form part of Judge Ryan’s report,” he said.