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We’re paying our share, say orders in billion euro compensation row

By Cian Molloy - 11 March, 2017

Artane Industrial School, Dublin

A report by the Comptroller and Auditor General finding that 18 religious orders paid only 13 per cent of the cost arising from the Commission to Enquire into Child Abuse is based on out-of-date data, says the Provincial of the Christian Brothers in Ireland Brother Edmond Garvey.

The Comptroller & Auditor General found that the total legal costs incurred by the Commission of Enquiry, commonly known as the Ryan Commission, plus the total cost of compensation paid to victims of abuse and neglect, was €1.5bn, and that the religious orders had only paid €192m of this.

The Comptroller & Auditor General said the State expected that costs would be shared 50/50 between it and the religious orders, so that therefore the orders were expected to pay €760m.

However, Bro Garvey said: “Despite a dramatic reduction in asset values throughout the recession, the Congregation is on course to honour in full the voluntary pledges it made to redress and to education and welfare in 2009.

“The C & AG Report pre-dates significant payments by the Congregation. Of the €34 million cash pledge, €24 million has been honoured with the final €10 million being paid on a phased basis in 2017 linked to property sales.”

When the religious orders were originally given indemnity from prosecution in relation to charges of abuse and neglect in residential children’s homes, as part of an agreement brokered by the then education minister Michael Woods in the dying days of a Fianna Fáil government, it was agreed that the 18 orders involved would between them pay €128m. This was based on an estimate that the Commission of Enquiry would cost €2.5m and that the compensation paid to victims would total €250m.

In the event these estimates were far too optimistic. The Commission cost €82m to run. The Redress Board paid compensation worth €970m in total to 15,578 claimants (an average of €62,250 to each claimant, with the highest award being €300,000), and it paid legal fees of €192.9m in total to 991 legal firms (an average of €194,651 to each legal firm, with seven firms netting between €5m and €19m each).

When the Ryan Commission’s report was published in 2009, it was obvious then that costs would be much higher than originally estimated in 2002. In response to government pressure, the religious orders agreed to increase their contribution to a total of €353m, but this was revised subsequently to €226m.

This revision results from a dispute over playing fields, currently owned by the Christian Brothers, which were valued at €127m. The order wanted the playing fields to pass into joint ownership between the Edmund Rice Schools Trust (ERST) and the State, but this was unacceptable to the government.

Bro Garvey said: “Plans are also at an advanced stage for the transfer of playing fields worth well over €100m to ERST, for the benefit of its 37,000 students and ultimately the State of which they are part. It had been hoped to make this transfer to a joint Trust between the State and ERST, but this proposal was not accepted.

“These measures, together with prior transfers by the Christian Brothers, will bring total contributions to redress, welfare and education to over €600m.”

Separately, the Sisters of Mercy say they have honoured all of their commitments. In 2009 the congregation agreed to make a payment valued at just under €128m towards the cost of the commission and the compensation paid to victims. A proportion of this was made in the form of property transfers that were worth €81m at the time, but which have since decreased in value.

The sisters said the order “always made clear that the value of the contribution was subject to the fluctuations in value attaching to individual properties”.

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