Substantial assets, but no more cash for redress

Four orders that ran Magdalene laundries made €296m from property deals, write Claire O’Sullivan and Conor Ryan

DURING ongoing negotiations with the Department of Education on additional redress for child abuse victims, the religious orders have continually stressed the need to retain financial and property assets for the benefit of ageing members.

This has been repeated in various meetings between the orders involved and the department.

It has meant substantial assets held by the orders have not been touched to respond to the Government’s request for a larger contribution to the redress scheme.

This overshadows the spectre of a similar claim for redress from the survivors of the Magdalene Laundries.

However, in this case, the claim is partly based on a perceived right to a pension which the women feel they earned through their unrewarded labour in the laundry system.

If this claim is successful, the women will have to again review the assets of orders such as the Sisters of Mercy, the Sisters of Charity, the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity, and the Good Shepherd Sisters.

Reports provided to the department have shown considerable assets are still held by these orders, even if the congregations do not believe the State or the victims of abuse are entitled to any greater claim to them.

These reports have already shown that a parcel of land surrounding a mass Magdalene grave in Dublin made the nuns who ran the laundry €61.8m during the property boom. The sale of the Magdalene laundry site at High Park, Drumcondra, by the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity, was the second most lucrative property sale made by any of the 18 religious orders.

The four religious orders who established and ran the for-profit laundries have substantial assets and it’s for this reason that the Justice For Magdalenes group (JFM) are arguing that the €296m made in property deals during the boom by these four orders must form part of a redress package. Many of the sites the orders haven’t sold and hold on their balance sheets continue to raise revenue by selling services to the State.

Three of the four orders that ran the laundries have earned €86m from the HSE from services provided on these sites in the past six years up to last year.

*THE SISTERS OF OUR LADY OF CHARITY

When the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity first sold a £1.5m tract from High Park campus in the early 1990s, construction workers found a grave where 133 women were buried. In 2009, the order told the Department of the Taoiseach it had sold two more parcels of land on the same High Park site.

The larger sale was made in 2006 when Barina Construction paid €55m for a 2.7-hectare green area inside the compound.

Six years earlier, a site that housed the laundry’s Martana House was transferred for €6.68m.

When it supplied the sales data to the Department of the Taoiseach, the order asked that the information would not be circulated beyond the committee charged with examining the assets of religious congregations.

The order also informed the department it had agreed to swap its second, and smaller, Magdalene laundry at Seán MacDermott St with Dublin City Council. As part of the exchange, the council supplied it with a free 20-year lease for a purpose-built hostel and a new convent.

*SISTERS OF CHARITY

The Sisters of Charity made €63m in sell-offs during the boom of which €45m came from the 2001 deal for land around its former laundry in Donnybrook, Dublin.

Last year, the Religious Sisters of Charity, who amassed a €233m property portfolio, said they could not afford to release €3m it promised to put into a trust fund for the victims of institutional child abuse.

The order blamed the decision to reduce its cash offer by 60% on the poor property market.

In 2009, when they supplied details of their assets to the Government, it had financial interests of €33m and sold €63m of property in 10 years. The order said it needed to set aside €38.6m to care for its 264 sisters.

*SISTERS OF MERCY

Documents released to the Irish Examiner last year show that the Sisters of Mercy are by far the most powerful religious order in terms of assets

The Mercy Hospital in Cork, the Mater Hospital Group, and Mary Immaculate College Limerick, are amongst its assets and worth over €490m.

Of the orders, it made the most amount of money during the boom and diversified widely. It had the assets to offload at the peak of the bubble and utilised these shrewdly.

In terms of value, 44% of its deals, worth €72m, were done in 2006 and 2007.

The Sisters of Mercy sold a car park next to its former laundry at Crofton Rd, Dún Laoghaire, for €18m in 2007. They secured another €32m for 16 acres in Killarney.

Last year, this newspaper reported the Sisters of Mercy, still has a portfolio of assets worth €1.8bn

The inventory, supplied to the Irish Examiner under the Freedom of Information Act, revealed it has sold €165m worth of property between 1999 and 2009.

It also revealed that it still held more than 600 properties under its control in 2009, despite transfers to the state as part of its earlier redress contribution. And its fixed assets were supplemented with €182m in financial investments.

*THE GOOD SHEPHERD SISTERS

The Good Shepherd Sisters ran laundries in Limerick, Cork, Waterford, and New Ross.

It made €3.4m by selling some of its sites and houses between 1999 and 2009. Two of these were near its old laundry in Limerick city.

In May 2009, it still had €13.2m in land, of which €10.7m was in use for its sheltered accommodation and social housing work. The 127 member order also had €16.8m worth of financial assets.

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