Ireland eyes Catholic religious orders’ properties to meet abuse damages costs
The Irish government asked religious orders on Tuesday to consider transferring buildings and land to the state to cover a 200 million euros shortfall in their contribution to a compensation fund for victims of abuse. The congregations agreed in 2009 to provide more compensation to victims of rape, beatings and slave labour in now defunct industrial schools they ran after the publication of a report into the abuse shocked the once devout Catholic country.
The government wants the congregations, including the Christian Brothers and the Sisters of Mercy, to contribute half of an estimated final compensation bill of 1.36 billion euros ($1.9 billion). The government has paid out around 1.3 billion euros in compensation so far.
“The congregations’ total offers fall well short, by several hundred million, of the 680 million contribution they should bear towards the cost of institutional residential child abuse,” Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn said in a statement.
To make up the gap, Quinn said he would seek the congregations’ agreement to a legal deal that would transfer ownership of school buildings and properties to the state currently owned by them. “I recognise that there are complex legal issues to be addressed to realise the transfer of school infrastructure,” he said. “Nevertheless I believe that this approach affords the congregations involved the opportunity to shoulder their share of the costs of responding to the horrendous wrongs suffered by children in their care, while at the same time, recognising the legitimate legacy of their contribution to Irish education.”
A spokeswoman for the Conference of Religious of Ireland, the umbrella group which represents the congregations, declined to comment.
Quinn said only two out of the 18 congregations had previously offered to help make up the shortfall.
During Ireland’s property boom, some religious orders sold tracts of land to developers for large sums. Quinn said religious orders had made about 600 million euros from property deals during the boom. “They realised values of the order of 600 million but we don’t know what is there now,” he told Irish state broadcaster RTE.
– by Carmel Crimmins in Dublin