Q&A: What is the Redress Scheme and why has it cost so much?

Estimates for cost of inquiry and compensation for abuse victims were far too low

What is the redress scheme and where did it come from?

The Redress Scheme was set up in 2002 to compensate people who were abused as children in industrial schools, reformatories and other institutions between the mid-1930s to 1970.

Most of the children were committed to the institutions by the courts because they were deemed “needy”, had been convicted of a crime, or had not been going to school. Some were placed by health authorities or their families.

The institutions were run by religious congregations but the Department of Education had legal responsibility for the children and set rules which the institutions were, in theory, obliged to operate under.

During the 1990s controversy grew about how people had been treated in these institutions, culminating in an apology on behalf of the State by the then taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, in 1999.


A Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse was established and in 2002 the Residential Institutions Redress Board was established “to make fair and reasonable awards” to people who had been abused.

In 2009 the commission published the Ryan report which detailed how, for decades, thousands of children were physically and sexually abused, how the congregations running the institutions protected the offenders, and how the department, in part because of its deferential attitude towards the congregations, failed in its duty to carry out inspections and ensure the institutions were humanely operated. The sexual abuse of boys in such places was “endemic”, the report said.

Eight chapters in the report were devoted to the Christian Brothers, which had more allegations made against them than all other male orders combined.

How much has redress cost?

Up to the end of 2015, both the redress scheme and commission cost far more than originally envisaged.

The redress scheme has cost over €1.25 billion, having originally been estimated at €250 million. The commission has cost €82 million, up from an original forecast of €2.5 million. Other costs have also arisen from various supports given to former residents, such as counselling. The State has paid for most of this.

What about the congregations?

In 2002 the State did a deal with 18 religious congregations. In return for being indemnified against being sued, the congregations offered to hand over money and land with a total value of €128 million. So far, €107 million has been given.

In 2009, following the Ryan report, the congregations offered to pay a further €353 million. However, in September 2015 the Christian Brothers told the Department of Education they were withdrawing their offer in relation to school playing fields and associated lands with a value of €127 million. The property will now go to a trust set up by the congregation.

Only €85 million, or 38 per cent, of the additional money offered in 2009 has been paid by the congregations. They are under no legal obligation to pay the outstanding €141 million.

Also, the State wants the religious congregations to contribute half of the total cost of dealing with the historical abuse. This means they would, in theory, pay more than €750 million: as it stands they are €406 million short. The congregations have never agreed to this.

What about the lawyers?

They have done very well. The report published on Thursday by the Comptroller & Auditor General shows that 991 legal firms got €192.9 million for work associated with 15,345 claims.

The highest paid firm was Michael E Hanahoe Solicitors. It received €18.74 million for work on 1,097 applications; €2.93 million of that was associated with High Court costs. The second highest amount was paid to Peter McDonnell & Associates, which received €16.54 million for representing 2,001 applicants, with just €60,000 of that figure due to High Court proceedings.

Of the commission’s total cost of €82 million, some €45 million went on legal fees. The extended timescale for the commission, 14 years longer than planned, is partly due to delays in agreeing a scheme for legal expenses, as well as non co-operation from a number of congregations, and legal challenges.

There was an attempt to have the commission inquire into vaccine trials carried out in the institutions, but this was challenged successfully in the High Court. That cost the commission €2.6 million.