Everyone knew the 2002 deal was bogus
RIGHT FROM the outset, both the Government and the religious orders knew that the €127 million contribution to the indemnity deal was bogus, and that it represented only a fraction of the then projected cost of the redress scheme to compensate victims of the criminal physical, sexual and emotional abuse on children in the care of religious orders, writes VINCENT BROWNE
That deal involved the State indemnifying the religious orders for all claims of compensation by the victims of the abuse, plus any legal costs arising from such claims. This was in return for an agreement on the part of the religious orders to make a cash payment to the redress scheme of just €28.44 million, at a time when the projected cost of the scheme was up to €500 million – this represents just over 5 per cent.
In addition, it was claimed that property valued at €76.86 million was to be transferred to the State as part of the deal. This was a misrepresentation of the actual position. As much as €50.8 million of such property transfer had nothing at all to do with the deal and was inserted into the agreement to confuse the issue. A further €26.06 million of property transfer was also added, although it must have been known then that such property transfers could not be done legally, for much of the property was held in trust.
Also, there was a provision of €12.7 million for an educational trust for the benefit of the residents where the criminal abuse had been inflicted. And a provision of €10 million for counselling. But neither the monies for the educational trust nor the provision for counselling went towards the redress scheme.
In October 2000 the government had announced it was to institute a compensation deal for victims of clerical abuse and it invited the religious orders to join in the scheme. The religious orders agreed and the first meeting between the State and the religious orders about how compensation for the victims should be shared took place in early November 2000 (I am relying here on documents obtained under a Freedom of Information application by Colin Murphy, while we worked together in Villagemagazine.)
At that first meeting were Sr Elizabeth Maxwell and Sr Helena O’Donoghue, both Sisters of Mercy, and Br Kevin Mullan of the Christian Brothers, all representing the Conference of Religious of Ireland (Cori), the umbrella body for the religious orders.
Representing the State were the secretary general of the Department of Education, John Dehenny, and Tom Boland, head of legal services and legal adviser to the department (he has been chief executive of the Higher Education Authority since January 2004). There were three people present from the attorney general’s office: the director general, Finola Flanagan, Liam O’Daly and Sinéad McSweeney. McSweeney was personal adviser to the then attorney general, Michael McDowell, and is now head of the Garda press office.
A memorandum on a possible compensation scheme circulated among the civil servants in April 2001, projecting “a possible 2,000 claims costing c.IR£100,000 each, ie, a possible bill of IR£200 million [€254 million] . . . Overall, it seems reasonable to think in terms of a maximum potential cost of up to IR£300m” – ie, €381 million.
The memorandum stated it was considered (by the civil servants) that the scheme would be funded on a 50:50 basis by the State and the religious orders. They thought they should make an opening claim on the religious orders of £150 million and settle for about £100 million. At a meeting on April 30th, 2001, Cori rejected both the proposed 50:50 share-out and the amount proposed.
By the end of June 2001 the civil servants had increased their projected cost of the redress scheme to up to £400 million and at a meeting with Cori shortly afterwards the religious orders made their “final offer”: just £20 million in cash; £10 million in property transfer; a £10 million trust fund for the further education of former residents of institutions; and £5 million for counselling services (much of which had already been spent). Cori also referred to the transfer of property previously to the State, valued at £40 million.
The then minister for finance, Charlie McCreevy, wrote to then minister for education Michael Woods, having been informed of the congregations’ offer. He said he found it “quite disappointing and far short of what I feel would amount to a meaningful contribution”. He concluded: “the package offered is quite inadequate and effectively leaves the State to bear virtually the full cost of the Redress Scheme”.
In a note dated November 6th, 2001, Tom Boland wrote that the proposed inclusion of property transfers from the congregations to the State over the previous 10 years was “a problem”. He continued: “It is difficult to see how such transfers can be included in the final package of measures, given that they occurred without any reference to a redress scheme.”
Michael Woods then intervened and the deal was finally concluded on June 5th, 2002.