18th July 2011
PATSY McGARRY, Religious Affairs Correspondent
Representatives of some of the 18 religious congregations that managed residential institutions for children investigated by the Ryan commission may not attend a meeting with the Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn next Friday in protest.
They have been invited to the meeting to discuss a €200 million shortfall in an expected 50:50 contribution by them to costs incurred by the State in compensating former residents of the institutions.
The Government is asking congregations named in the Ryan report to transfer ownership of schools to the State to help make up the shortfall.
Last week Mr Quinn said: “I’m asking them for a 50:50 contribution. The taxpayer has already paid out the bulk of it. Their share should be about €680 million and they are half shy of that . . . they need to do far more.”
The Irish Times has learned that the congregations never agreed to make a 50:50 contributions to such State costs, nor was this a recommendation of the report. It is also their intention to ensure that any additional contributions they make will go to survivors and not to the State.
Three of the larger congregations concerned, the Christian Brothers, the Sisters of Mercy and the Oblate Fathers, have ringfenced monies they intend to contribute to a proposed statutory fund for survivors.
Comments by Mr Quinn indicated that “the focus has gone off the survivors”, a well-placed congregations’ source said. “He is following a different agenda” and has “adopted an ideological position. We [the 18 congregations] are not a collective and we are not going to be treated as a collective. There isn’t even an agenda for the [Friday] meeting. We’re not going to be called in like that, to be lectured like that.”
Those who did attend would “go in, listen and say nothing. We certainly won’t be negotiating. The 2002 deal was negotiated. This one is not. We agreed a voluntary contribution and were told to do the best we can, and then in April 2010 we were told it wasn’t enough. Ruairí is no fool. He was minister for finance. He knows we’re not capable of contributing 50:50”.
The first the congregations heard about a 50:50 contribution was on April 15th, 2010, when they met then taoiseach Brian Cowen and ministers, the source said.
A press release afterwards said: “The Government view is that an ultimate outcome that reflects the conclusions in the Ryan report regarding the responsibility of the State and the religious congregations, and so resulted in the overall costs in responding to residential institutional abuse being shared on a 50:50 basis between the taxpayer and those responsible for the residential institutions, would be appropriate.” It continued that “the final cost of the response to residential institutional abuse is estimated to reach €1.36 billion. While the main element of that cost is the redress scheme, other costs include the cost of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse and the Education Finance Board.”
As the congregations’ source told The Irish Times that “at no point did the people present [at that April 15th, 2010, meeting] promise or commit themselves to paying 50/50”.
At that meeting “the overall cost of €1.36 billion was presented as covering the costs of the redress scheme and the Ryan commission and the Education Finance Board, a new body, details of which the congregations “do not possess”.
The source continued: “Congregations are, understandably, unclear as to why they should be held responsible for the costs of the Ryan commission, etc. They would appreciate being given the overall costs of the redress board itself as an entity.”
It was pointed out that at a Dáil public accounts committee meeting in July 2004, representatives of the congregations were told “the number of claims escalated from an anticipated 2,000 to 14,000”.
This was “despite warnings from the congregations and lawyers ([during negotiations for the 2002 deal)] that the nature of the scheme would inevitably attract many more. Yet, we, the religious are being held responsible for this miscalculation.”
It was also Government bodies that “decided that a contribution of £100 million punts (or €128 million euro) would be acceptable.”