Indemnity deal with congregations over redress was mistake, says Martin

Mary Laffoy tells documentary government ‘resistance’ led to resignation from abuse commission

The State's decision in 2002 to indemnify 18 religious congregations that had run residential institutions for children against legal claims above €128 million was "a mistake", Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has said.

The deal was brought to the final Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrats government cabinet meeting by then minister for education Michael Woods. Despite warnings from attorney general Michael McDowell, the deal was agreed.

Under it, the religious congregations concerned were indemnified against any future legal actions taken against them by abuse survivors, in return for a €128 million contribution to redress costs.

Speaking on an RTÉ One documentary about redress, Mr Martin, who was minister for health at the time, said: "In retrospect in my view, that was, that was a mistake at the time.


“I think there was that window. You’re talking about the last cabinet meeting [of that government]. This is something that has been negotiated. It’s in the best interests of everybody, bring it to closure and that’s how it got through.”

Retired High Court judge Mary Laffoy has said she resigned as chair of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse in 2003 because of "resistance" to the commission by the Department of Education. She recalled telling colleagues at the time that "I think they want us to wilt on the vine".

Not co-operating

Mr Martin and Ms Laffoy spoke in the first part of a documentary Redress: Breaking the Silence broadcast on RTÉ One, which continues on Tuesday night.

Ms Laffoy recalled that almost from the beginning of the commission’s work in 2000 “most of the congregations were not co-operating . . . it was being fought like a legal battle”.

There were also difficulties with the Department of Education when it came to accessing records, she said. “The records they had . . . they were crucial to the investigation – it is true that it was a difficult task for the department but I think there was more to it than that – I think there was resistance.”

By 2003, as chair of the commission, she said she was “conscious that if it was going nowhere – the effect it was going to have on survivors, the expense to the public, we had spent €10 million at that stage”.

She resigned in September 2003. “I’m not one to give up, that’s for sure. There wasn’t a desire that the survivors would get an opportunity to tell their story – and that the commission would be in a position to make findings. The commission did not get sufficient support from the State to do its work.”

In response, then taoiseach Bertie Ahern told the documentary: "I never quite understood what we were doing to make life difficult for her. I don't think the government I was part of ever, ever, ever resisted her work and my view is she shouldn't have resigned. She, she walked out at a sensitive period and she would have been better to stay and finish the job."

‘Gagging order’

Meanwhile, some survivors will tonight tell the second Primetime programme that the Redress Board hearings were adversarial, despite original pledges made by the government.

A gagging order prevents survivors from naming their abusers, the institution where they were abused, or how much compensation they were awarded by the Redress Board. Should they do so they face jail or a substantial fine.

Alan Carr, Professor of Psychology at UCD, describes the law preventing survivors speaking about their experiences at the Redress Board as a “gagging order” which “effectively silenced survivors of institutional abuse once again.”

He notes that “many of them wanted to disclose their abuse. But they were told, under no circumstances were they to do that or certain awful things would happen to them.

“And anything that approximates (to) silencing now as adults is likely to make them feel similar emotions to those that they experienced back when they were children.”

Human Rights lawyer Dr Maeve O’Rourke says the impact of the gagging order on survivors “seems to have been absolutely enormous,” so much so they “often have felt they can’t even speak to the police,” which was not the case.

Nor does it mean “you can never speak about what happened to you.”

However, she feels that “if a state does something that makes people feel they can’t speak, that is a very real interference with their right to freedom of expression.”

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is Religious Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times