Public confidence vital over orders' payments

 

TAOISEACH BRIAN Cowen has stressed the importance of public confidence that contributions by religious congregations involved in the institutional child abuse scandal are “substantial and commensurate” with their resources.

He told Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny that he would have discussions with the orders about how they could proceed “in a way that will engender public confidence”.

Mr Kenny had welcomed the Government’s announcement after its Cabinet meeting on Tuesday night that the religious orders should make a far greater contribution in reparation to “the victims who were children in their care when they were abused”.

But the Fine Gael leader said this contribution by the institutions should be “neither voluntary nor discretionary”. He also said it was “imperative” that the victims and their representatives should be involved in those discussions and he called for an audit of the resources held by the institutions. This was important because “it may well be that some orders have far more reserves than others”.

Mr Cowen said he and the Government intended to talk to abuse victims “about issues that are relevant to them and that pertain to them and to listen to what they have to say regarding their general view in relation to these matters”.

He told the Dáil: “I think it is important in discussions that there is a trust and confidence built up . . . that in the end there’s public confidence that any contributions that will be made will be substantial and commensurate to the resources that congregations have at their disposal”.

During Leaders’ Questions Mr Kenny noted the intention of two of the 18 institutions examined by the Ryan commission to increase substantially their contribution, in the wake of the 2002 indemnity deal with the State and he hoped that the other 16 would “follow suit very promptly”.

It was “imperative that the negotiations involve not only the religious orders and the Government but particularly the victims of what were a whole series of heinous crimes”.

Mr Kenny asked if Mr Cowen intended “on the basis of accountability and transparency, to seek full recourse to the extent of their assets, capital resources, so that at least in formulating a plan there can be an understanding of what contribution can be made by religious institutions”.

Mr Kenny said the Charities Act gives power to direct a charitable organisation to “provide the authority with such information as it may reasonably require to enable it to perform its functions”.

He asked Mr Cowen: “Is it your intention to seek a full audit either under the Charities Act or by some other independent means or how do you propose to satisfy yourself that you’re getting the full picture in respect of the agreed contribution to be arrived at.”

He also asked if Mr Cowen intended to use some of the contributions from the religious institutions to fund inadequacies in the current system.

Mr Cowen said he understood that the relevant section of the Charities Act “is not operative”. But it “is very important that the congregations come forward with proposals. . . commensurate to their resources and the discussion I intend to have with them is how we can proceed in that way”.