Woods defends reputation on abuse deal

 

Former Government minister Michael Woods tonight accused Labour leader Eamon Gilmore of making scurrilous allegations against him in the Dáil about how he handled a 2002 abuse compensation deal with religious orders.

The row was sparked as Taoiseach Brian Cowen called on other religious orders to follow the example of the Christian Brothers in seeking to pay more compensation to victims of abuse in their institutions.

“I hope that the statement by the Christian Brothers today is a prelude to a similar disposition amongst all of the congregations to now meet their responsibilities to the appalling litany of abuse,” said Mr Cowen.

Earlier, Mr Gilmore claimed that Mr Woods excluded the Attorney General Michael McDowell and his officials from the discussions on the 2002 indemnity deal because they had ‘fallen out’ with the religious chiefs.

Mr Woods has been criticised for leaving the state liable for 90 per cent of the estimated €1.2 billion claims from people who were abused as children in religious institutions.

Mr Gilmore quoted from a 2003 newspaper interview in which he claimed Mr Woods has said the Attorney General Michael McDowell and his officials had "fallen out" with the religious orders and that meetings on the indemnity agreement were a ‘no-go area’.

But Mr Woods stood up to defend his reputation in the Dail during Leaders’ Questions when only the Taoiseach and the leaders of Fine Gael and Labour are allowed to speak.

“I want to ask Deputy Gilmore to withdraw the scandalous and scurrilous statement he made in relation to me,” said Mr Woods.

Appealing to the Ceann Comhairle John O’Donoghue, he said: “Let me speak please.”

However Mr O’Donoghue ruled him out of order but said he could return to the issue after Leaders’ Questions.

Earlier Mr Gilmore attacked what he claimed was an unhealthy, deferential relationship between the state and its institutions and the Catholic Church and its religious orders.

“Until we as a country, as a government and as a parliament honestly face up to that, and face it down and determine that it is never going to happen again, we will again be failing the victims of these awful crimes,” he said.

“The reason that the blind eye was turned or that people wouldn’t listen was because of the danger of the belt of the crozier or the denunciation or the accusation of being anti-clerical.

Calling for a review of the indemnity deal, he said: “It’s about ensuring that we have moved on from those horrific times when children could be abused behind closed doors and closed walls because they were afraid to do anything about it.”

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny also called for an all-party motion on the issue to send out a united signal from the national parliament.

The Cabinet tonight held a special meeting on the abuse report’s findings.

PA