Religious congregations ‘had no role’ in setting up €1.5 billion redress scheme

Oblates claim child abuse fund was established ‘to meet the government’s moral obligations’

Ryan report: the Oblates point out that, according to the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, the indemnity agreement “was not based on any apportionment of responsibility for abuse”. Photograph: Peter Morrison/AP

Ryan report: the Oblates point out that, according to the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, the indemnity agreement “was not based on any apportionment of responsibility for abuse”. Photograph: Peter Morrison/AP

 

The religious congregations that managed residential institutions for children have clearly been stung by the assertions of Taoiseach Enda Kenny and others that they are morally obliged to pay half the costs incurred by the scheme set up to compensate survivors.

A statement by the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, which The Irish Times has established reflects the views of all 18 congregations involved, makes it clear that the State put together the redress scheme without their input. The Oblates note that the government at the time made this explicit in a written reply to Róisín Shortall TD in June 2002, when it said that the fund was established “without regard to whether the religious would be involved”. This was against a background of more than 1,000 cases pending in the High Court against the State and various congregations. The reply continued “that ‘the religious’ then ‘came on board’ saying they wished to make a meaningful contribution to the scheme, and that after long negotiations they agreed to pay €128 million in ‘cash, counselling costs and real property’.”

The Oblates observe: “In other words, it was the Government’s very own initiative, to meet the Government’s own moral obligations, and the Government would lay down all the provisions that governed it.” The congregations “were adjuncts to the scheme, and certainly not partners”, while “the Government was certainly not initially looking for the religious to pay a fifty-fifty share”.

The most generous feature of the scheme was that it would be made easy to get an award

The congregation also regards the redress scheme as generous. Average awards of €62,250 were paid to 15,579 former residents, bringing the cost to €1.5 billion by the end of 2015.

“The most generous feature of the scheme was that it would be made easy to get an award. Applicants had to prove they had been residents in a Government-sponsored institution. They had to show they were injured while so resident and that the injury came within the wide definition of abuse given in the Residential Institutions Redress Act, 2002.

“They did not have to prove or give any evidence at all that this was because of any fault or negligence on the institution’s part,” the statement says. It acknowledges that this was “also intended to spare the applicants as much as possible from confrontational distress”. Another aim was to avoid the awards’ being used “as a ground for imputing responsibility for abusive acts to any person or institution”.

The Oblates add that the deal was necessary from the congregations’ point of view, as “without it the religious would still be open to being sued by any past residents who chose not to accept an award”

The Oblates say that, at the time, and “unlike the Government, the religious were concerned about the number of applicants. Whether it realised it or not, the Government was opening the door to practically any past resident of an institution to make an application and obtain an award: so wide was the definition of abuse, so easy was it to apply. Surely no religious order could be an equal partner with the Government in such a fund! No religious order had a bottomless purse. At that time, the Government did seem to think it had a bottomless purse.”

The Oblates quote from the report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, under Mr Justice Seán Ryan, which says that the €128 million “indemnity agreement of 5th June 2002 was not based on any apportionment of responsibility for abuse”. The Oblates add that the deal was necessary from the congregations’ point of view, as “without it the religious would still be open to being sued by any past residents who chose not to accept an award” and, therefore, “the religious would have had to keep all their financial reserves intact”.

The indemnity has been invoked 33 time so far, costing the State €4.4million plus legal costs of € 5.7million.

The Oblates managed St Conleth’s Reformatory School for Boys, in Daingean, Co Offaly, which the commission severely criticised. After it published its report, in 2009, congregations offered additional cash and property of €353 million. In September 2015 this figure was revised downwards, to €226 million, when, according to the Department of Education, the Christian Brothers withdrew an offer of school playing fields and associated lands valued at €127 million.

In the six years to December 2015, according to the Comptroller and Auditor General, the State had received €85 million, or 38 per cent of the additional €226 million.