Woods defends his deal with church on redress for abuse

 

FORMER MINISTER for education Dr Michael Woods has defended his role in negotiating an institutional abuse compensation deal with Catholic Church congregations, saying there was no alternative to the arrangement.

Dr Woods said the 2002 indemnity agreement, under which 18 congregations contributed some €127 million towards the cost of the redress scheme for abuse survivors, was “the best deal that could have been done at the time”.

He said nobody wanted to let the orders avoid shouldering their share of responsibility but that the majority of cases did not directly relate to “the church per se”.

“What the government decided was they wanted historically to put that situation right,” he told RTÉ radio. “Those people had been abused by the State under State control. Their cases were held in Canada and elsewhere where it has shown the vast majority was a State responsibility.

“What happened there was the government decided to do it anyway and that was the right decision for the people of Ireland . . . There were people dying who were quite elderly and they had had a very bad time.”

The agreement capped the church’s liability for institutional child abuse at less than one-10th of its likely €1.3 billion total.

The institutions provided cash contributions totalling €52 million, services to the value of €10 million and 63 properties, 29 of which were identified for transfer prior to agreement on the deal. Dr Woods, who has announced that he will not contest the next general election, said subsequent examination of the deal had “shown clearly that what I did was the right thing”.

He said the religious orders were unwilling to pay out beyond a certain level and that, as legislation on the redress scheme neared completion, he told them: “You’re either in or you’re out and I’m not going to delay.”

He added that nobody knew what the cost of the compensation scheme would be because the number of people affected and the extent of their injuries was not apparent when it was negotiated nine years ago.

“It was the best thing for the people concerned and it was the only thing we could do. I was not prepared to put it off,” he said.

“There was no time for looking further . . . The State decided to do it and said to the religious orders: ‘We would like you to make a contribution’.”

Dr Woods said that “from the point of view of the people of Ireland, it was one of the great things they did during that period when money was available”.