Rabbitte condemns 'sweetheart deal' on abuse


Former Labour leader Pat Rabbitte today condemned the 2002 agreement with religious orders that capped their liability for institutional child abuse at €127 million as a "sweetheart deal".

Speaking this morning, Mr Rabbitte said everything about the deal made in 2002 by former minister for education Michael Woods was "unorthodox".

"Michael Woods was sent out the day before he left government by the-then taoiseach Bertie Ahern to make the deal. There was no cabinet memorandum. Cabinet procedures were not observed . . . and the deal was capped at a figure that was ridiculous," Mr Rabbitte said.

"When I made the claim in the Dáil first that it would cost one billion, it was ridiculed by former minister Woods and Bertie Ahern. The fact of the matter is that this of course was a sweetheart deal. They did no audit of the capacity of the religious institutions to make a fair contribution to this," Mr Rabbitte told Newstalk's Breakfast Show.

"What they did was they excluded the attorney general . . . they went out and did the deal without legal advice and entered into an indemnity that gave unlimited exposure to the taxpayer and capped the contribution from the religious organisations at 100 million Irish pounds.

When asked to speak directly to Dr Woods on the same programme, Mr Rabbitte said: "What I think he was doing was making a very bad deal for the taxpayers. It's obvious," adding: "I've listened to a lot of blather from Michael, dragging in a lot of things that have nothing to do it."

"How can anybody justify [it] given the liability those brutes had for what they did to little children, that those animals ought to be let get away with making a 10 per cent contribution to the liability. The taxpayer had ultimate exposure, and if those guys were hauled before the courts in individual cases, they would have paid countless amounts of money, and it would have bankrupted them," he said.

"Yesterday morning, [Minister for Foreign Affairs] Micheál Martin suggested it [the deal] could have been reopened, now we see . . . Minister Batt O'Keeffe going the opposite direction. The likes of Micheál Martin would say anything that would make him popular," the Labour TD said.

In response, Dr Woods said he did not regret the deal. "It did what we needed to do, I believe the country will be very happy in time - the main responsibility laid with the Government of the day and with the State, we knew that, and the report has borne that out in a major way.

"Bertie Ahern to his great credit as Taoiseach accepted the responsibility and said we're not going to welch on this." He said was a matter for the Government to decide what it wanted to do in relation to the deal now.

Dr Woods also denied ignoring the Department of Finance when drawing up the deal and accused Mr Rabbitte of "purely playing politics for the current election".

Senior Government figures have said there is no legal basis to renegotiate the deal. Taoiseach Brian Cowen said the Government would take legal advice on the deal, but he insisted that the Coalition would not be in a position to force orders into making additional contributions.

The 2002 agreement indemnified religious congregations from all redress claims made by victims of abuse in exchange for payments and property transfers totalling €127 million. The total bill for the redress scheme is likely to be about €1.3 billion.

Mr Cowen confirmed that there would be a special meeting of the Cabinet on Tuesday to consider the Report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse , and that would be followed by a two-day Dáil debate.

Minister for Education Batt O¿Keeffe also said there was no legal way in which the church could be coerced into going back to renegotiate the deal. But he added that it was open to the church to make further compensation available if it so desired.

In a statement today, the Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) said it was to be hoped the Ireland revealed in the Ryan report "is safely in the past" and that the Government "responds very differently on child protection matters today".

But it said that after two recent child-protection Oireachtas reports, such hope "may be premature".

Clíona Saidléar, RCNI policy and communications director, said: "The RCNI reiterate our call on Government to demonstrate in a credible, accountable and transparent manner that it is making real progress in protecting children and that it has learned lessons from the details so painfully revealed in the many recent child protection reports, the latest of which is the Ryan Report into institutional abuse."