The Irish Times – Tuesday, July 12, 2011
THE FIVE-VOLUME Ryan report into child abuse in residential institutions run by 18 religious congregations in the State, which took ten years to complete, has produced some deeply disappointing responses since its publication in 2009.
To date no one has faced prosecution arising out of the contents of the report. The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has ruled out prosecution in eight of the 11 abuse case files that he has received, while decisions are still awaited in the remainder. Just as disappointing, and much less explicable, has been the tardy response of the religious congregations to paying their share of compensation costs and reparation payments to victims of clerical sexual abuse who once were in their care.
The Ryan report recommended that the congregations concerned should pay half the total redress costs for the abuse victims – or some €680 million – with the taxpayer contributing the remainder. But so far the payment offered by the congregations has fallen well short of the required amount. Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn last weekend again put the shortfall at “several hundred million” euro, insisting it was not his intention to bankrupt the orders, only that they should contribute their fair share. But despite the State’s call on the congregations to increase their offers, the Minister has said “only two out of the 18 congregations have replied positively”. None of the rest, it seems, have done so.
Mr Quinn has now sought a meeting with the congregations while the Government has indicated it will adopt a much tougher negotiating stance, and will press the congregations to transfer ownership of schools to the State to make up the shortfall in their 50 per cent contribution to the €1.36 billion overall cost of the redress bill.
However, a decision by some religious congregations to move ownership of their schools into trusts in recent years may well have complicated matters. Three years ago, ownership of Christian Brothers and Presentation schools was transferred to the Edmund Rice Trust. Mr Quinn has said that he is “not confident” the State will manage to recoup the full amount now owing by the religious congregations. However, the congregations in accepting the Ryan report also accepted one of its key recommendations: that they should pay half the cost of the redress bill for victims of abuse. They cannot now repudiate an undertaking given two years ago. Certainly they cannot do so with either honour or credibility when the State, while struggling to avoid insolvency, meets its obligations in this regard.
Without doubt, for the victims of abuse in these institutions, the lack of prosecutions arising from the Ryan report has been a major disappointment. The explanation may well be a combination of factors: the passage of time since the offences took place, the lack of evidence and of witnesses. Most probably these are the main reasons why the DPP has been reluctant to prosecute, and for which he is not obliged to offer a public explanation. Unlike the religious congregations, for whom failure to keep their word, and meet their financial obligations, will only serve to compound their original sin.