Religious orders must pay more, united Dail agrees


INCREASED REDRESS:EIGHTEEN RELIGIOUS orders must pay extra substantial reparations to victims of child abuse in their institutions over decades, Dáil Éireann unanimously agreed yesterday.

In a rare show of political unity in Leinster House, politicians of all parties signed up to a motion moved by Minister for Health and Children Mary Harney.

The 18 religious congregations which signed the indemnity deal with the State in 2002 will meet in Dublin today to consider their situation.

To date 10 of them, the larger congregations in the main, have indicated they will meet the Government next week to explore how best more of their resources can be used to help people abused as children in institutions they managed and which were investigated by the Ryan commission.

It is believed that today they will discuss whether to constitute themselves as a group in the context of dealings with the Government, or whether they will conduct such dealings separately or under the umbrella of the Conference of Religious of Ireland (Cori).

It is understood that a preference has grown on the part of Cori that the relevant congregations either constitute themselves as a separate group for the purposes of dealing with Government on redress matters or that they do so individually.

Until last Tuesday all 18 had been acting under the Cori umbrella with its director general Sr Marianne O’Connor acting as spokeswoman. Since then each congregation, which has expressed a view, has done so separately. It is not believed that the congregations will explore in any depth today what resources they may have available to offer as further redress for their former charges. A statement is expected when the meeting ends.

Yesterday’s motion by the Dáil said it “sincerely apologises to the victims of childhood abuse for the failure to intervene, to detect their pain, and to come to their rescue”. In addition, the motion accepted the 24 recommendations to improve child welfare services issued by the Ryan commission, which are to be progressed by the end of July by Minister of State for Children Barry Andrews.

Victims must be properly consulted on the types of help that they need, and support for them must “be the priority for all concerned”, the motion, accepted without debate, declared.

The 18 congregations blamed for the decades of abuse must “commit to making further substantial contributions by way of reparation”, the TDs of all parties said.

However, a trust funded by the congregations to pay for extra support for victims, along with more education and welfare service, must be “set up and managed by the State”, they insisted.

Meanwhile, the Government is to contact the Ryan commission, following Opposition concerns about its plans to destroy documentation about cases within months. Labour Party deputy leader Joan Burton said destruction of the documents “would be an appalling insult to the people who suffered in various institutions”.

Ms Harney said the commission’s documents are “a matter for Mr Justice Ryan, [but] very often in these cases, information is given on a confidential basis . . . I know this arose in my case with the Dunne inquiry into organ retention when it was not legally possible to publish its documentation. Whether it can be retained is a different issue and I will speak to the Attorney General on that,” she said.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen said that in its discussions with the congregations, the Government wanted to ensure they fully comprehended “the moral responsibilities that are now being imposed”.