by Bruce Arnold in The Irish Independent
A SECRET deal struck between the Government and the Catholic Church over child sex abuse now seems likely to cost the taxpayer at least €500m and possibly as much as €1bn in compensation to victims.
Under the terms of the as yet unpublished agreement, which has been seen by the Irish Independent, the State will pay vastly more than the Church.
The agreement titled the Michael Woods-CORI Agreement of June 5, 2002 is seen by some sources as running contrary to the interests of the abuse victims.
It makes clear that the State will defend itself against claims by people who have been abused. The Church commits itself to "assist the State" in the defence of claims.
The agreement does not cover abuse cases that occur after the introduction of the scheme. Despite the activities since the autumn of the Redress Board, the legal introduction of the scheme dates only from December 16, 2002.
The deal is in the form of a covenant between the Minister for Education (then Michael Woods) and Minister for Finance, on the one hand, and twelve representatives of different religious orders involved in residential care.
It contains clauses that are seen by some of those involved as prejudicial to the abuse victims.
The covenant gives details of the Church's modest financial contribution to the State.
Its cash contribution will be just €41.14m. The balance of the Church's contribution is in land and the ownership and rights of some of this land is disputed.
The agreement qualifies the terms of the Redress Act and seems, in some respects, to run contrary to the public interpretation of the Act's purposes as set out by Mr Woods, who steered the legislation through the Oireachtas.
He was principally responsible for negotiating the deal with the Church, and with what are called "the Contributing Congregations" drawn from the Congregation of the Religious of Ireland (CORI).
In the agreement the State "covenants and agrees to fully and completely indemnify each of the Contributing Congregations" on redress awards and court awards that are related to redress appeals. This includes current court proceedings which might become applications for redress. The blanket indemnity covers threats of litigation and requests for records or information.
In all these circumstances the State takes over responsibility for the legal defence of the Contributing Congregations. There appears to be a conflict of interest between this legal undertaking to the Church and the whole purpose and intent of the Residential Institutions Redress Act.
Publicly, the State, through the Former Minister for Education and the stated purpose of the Act, undertakes to care for those who have been abused.
Privately, through this covenant, the State undertakes to throw all its resources behind the Church and defend its position against claims.
The indemnity covers all of the 128 institutions that are listed in the schedule to the Act. These are the institutions of "care" that are likely to be indicted by the abuse victims in their evidence to the Redress Board. Also included are institutions and places that may yet be added to the list by ministerial order.
The indemnity extends to "each and every member, and former or deceased member, of any religious body or congregation of the Contributing Congregations".
Though the covenant was made by two ministers, the administrative control is with the Department of Education.
Posted by Colm at January 10, 2003 11:33 AM
The Church signatories include the Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, responsible for the Magdalen Laundries, the Rosminians, who ran the Drumcondra Homes for Blind and Deaf children, the Congregation of Oblates of Mary Immaculate, responsible for the Daingean reformatory.