Orders have 'moral responsibility' over abuse costs

 

THE GOVERNMENT is “fully satisfied that it is entirely right and proper” that religious congregations pay half the costs of compensation to those abused in residential institutions for children.

Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn yesterday met 14 of 18 religious congregations who managed the reformatories, industrial schools and orphanages and who were investigated by the Ryan commission. “Putting it bluntly, I believe that there is a moral responsibility on your congregations to significantly augment your contributions,” he said.

To date, costs incurred by the State as a result of the abuse of children in the institutions are estimated at €1.36 billion. The Government is seeking a contribution of €680 million (50 per cent) towards this from the congregations. They have offered €374.5 million. Mr Quinn suggested in recent months that they make up the shortfall by signing over property to the State.

“Quite simply, this issue will not go away,” he told them yesterday in a statement to the meeting. “I believe the public supports the 50-50 approach and will not see the issue closed until that is delivered . . . I urge you therefore to reflect on these points and to revert to me at the earliest opportunity with your response. Less there be any ambiguity, I am calling on you to significantly increase the cash offers that you have already made.”

Absent yesterday were the Rosminians, the Daughters of the Heart of Mary, and the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity “due to the timing of the meeting”. Also absent were the Sisters of Mercy. They had requested a separate meeting with the Minister and had declined “meeting as part of a group of 18” yesterday, they said in a statement.

They said they believed they had been “misrepresented and demonised” in recent years and that their congregation has been portrayed in a way that “seeks to undermine their voluntary service to this country and beyond”. They believe this is a very inaccurate reflection of their congregation, they added.

Speaking to the media after yesterday’s meeting, Mr Quinn said he would seek a bilateral meeting with the Sisters of Mercy as with the other congregations.

In his address to the congregations, he said the Government was “disappointed that the call made by the previous government for an enhanced contribution yielded a very poor response.”

He said the Government wished to explore with them “the possibility of putting in place a legal mechanism which would provide the State with a long-term option on the school infrastructure belonging to your congregations.

“This would in effect mean that the title to a property could not be altered, whether by sale on the open market or by transfer into any trust arrangement, without the prior consent of the Department of Education.” It represented “an avenue that should be considered . . . in the context of making progress towards achievement of the 50-50 share”.

Mr Quinn said the Government’s sole aim was to achieve a reasonable response in meeting the costs of the response to abuse.

He said such schools “would remain Catholic schools and that would not be altered without agreement; the lands, however would be available to the State”.

Leaving the meeting, Sr Victoire Mulligan of the Sisters of Nazareth said it had been “very good, very positive”. Br Alfred of the Brothers of Charity said it had been “very constructive”. The Oblates said they “will now work directly with Government to finalise arrangements for payment of further financial contributions.”