Education Minister Richard Bruton’s officials will meet the Christian Brothers order next week to discuss a disputed land deal to help meet their liability for child abuse redress costs.
The Department of Education has declined the order’s previous offer of a shared ownership of playing fields. However, department secretary general Seán Ó Foghlú told the Dáil Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that, since last discussing the issue with TDs in April, an amended offer has been received.
The matter arose after he provided an update on the status of 18 properties offered to the department in 2009, only five of which have so far been completely transferred to State ownership. Of €110m also offered eight years ago by a number of orders, the majority of which has been received. The outstanding €10m is due to be received next year from the Daughters of Charity and the Christian Brothers.
While there was no other monies outstanding, he said, there remains the issue of the Christian Brothers’ offer of a share in playing fields. The department has previously told the order it would not accepted the offer of part-ownership of the 49 school playing fields, which they wanted to transfer as part of their contribution after the Ryan Report’s publication in 2009.
“When they initially offered, we engaged with them and indicated to them the terms under which we would want to have that transferred,” Mr Ó Foghlú told the PAC on Thursday. “They indicated that they did not wish to advance along those lines.
“However, they made further contact with us since the last meeting of the PAC to consider that, and they said that they had reconsidered the offer, whereby the state would be entitled to receive 50% of the proceeds, should any of those lands be sold.”
TDs heard that a meeting is scheduled for next Friday to discuss this revised proposal to the department. However, Mr Ó Foghlú did not outline how the offer would be viewed or if it is likely to be accepted.
Earlier this year, the Christian Brothers sold playing fields associated with its Clonkeen College campus in Blackrock, Co Dublin, for a reported €18m, despite opposition from the school which claimed there was a legal agreement the land would not be sold as long as the school is operating.
Of 13 properties offered by orders in 2009 but which have not yet transferred, contracts have been signed for three in Clare, Tipperary, and Dublin. Galway Independent TD Catherine Connolly said she deplored that it has taken so long, referring to a building offered in Galway city by the Sisters of Mercy that she said has been vacant for several years.
Mr Ó Foghlú said it is the only one of the 18 buildings offered by congregations in 2009 where the State intends to keep it for public use and that is entirely vacant. It is intended to go to Galway City Council for use as young people’s creative and cultural hub.
There are still six religious-owned properties offered in 2002, as part of the orders’ contribution toward indemnity from institutional child abuse redress costs, that have yet to be fully transferred. Mr Ó Foghlú said the outstanding property is valued at €4.9m but the five which are still being pursued are in full use by the State, with legal matters holding up finalisation of some transfers, such as qualifications on property title due to boundaries or planning.
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