Saturday July 23 2011
ONE of the largest religious orders criticised in the Ryan report boycotted a meeting with Education Minister Ruairi Quinn yesterday, saying it has been “misrepresented and demonised”.
The Sisters of Mercy said it had twice sought a private meeting with Mr Quinn and was not prepared to take part in a joint meeting with the other religious congregations.
In a statement released yesterday, the sisters delivered a ultimatum to Mr Quinn, saying that if he did not accept a portfolio of properties offered by it as a contribution to the €1.3bn compensation bill, then they would dispose of them elsewhere.
They said five of the properties would be offered to various local authorities, while two others would be sold and the proceeds given to the new national children’s hospital.
However, Mr Quinn last night rejected the offer and said the properties were considered by his department and the Office of Public Works and were found to not to be of use to the state.
The order said the properties were valued at just under €81m in December 2009. They are expected to be worth considerably less now.
Sister Coirle McCarthy, congregational leader, said that in the past 10 years it had donated cash and property worth more than €1bn without seeking public recognition.
She cited the example of the congregation’s transfer of 66 secondary schools to an independent Catholic trust.
“However, the sisters believe that they have been misrepresented and demonised in recent years and that their congregation has been portrayed in a way that seeks to undermine their voluntary service to this country and beyond,” she added.
Three other orders — the Rosminians, the Daughters of the Heart of Mary and the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity — were not present at the meeting at the Department of Education in Dublin yesterday. however, their non-attendance was due to time-tabling problems. Some of the orders are comparatively small and their leaders were out of the country.
As they left the department, several of the orders described the meeting as “constructive” and “positive” and said they had agreed to enter into further discussions.
Addressing the orders, Mr Quinn was blunt in his criticism, saying their offers of additional contributions were “both individually and collectively disappointing”.
He gave the example of a congregation that proposed to transfer an old primary school into state ownership while another offered €1m and to refund some or all of its legal costs.
“I believe that there is a moral responsibility on your congregations to significantly augment your contributions. This issue will not go away,” he told them.
Speaking to reporters afterwards, Mr Quinn said he was willing to meet all the congregations, including the Sisters of Mercy, individually.
“The orders were at pains to indicate there was more than just themselves involved in the administration of the institutions and I accept that and I will now be looking at just what the implications of that are.”
However, he added: “I think the body of public opinion clearly is of the view that there should be a fair and reasonable settlement, that 50:50 is fair.”
Mr Quinn also met a number of survivors of institutional abuse earlier in the day.
Abuse victim Paddy Doyle, author of ‘The God Squad’, described it as a “business-like meeting” and said Mr Quinn had “his hand firmly on the pulse”.
“I reckon he is genuinely listening and he is adamant he will take on the church and the religious and get as much as he can out of them.”
– Breda Heffernan