Education Minister Richard Bruton is preparing to enter a deal with the Christian Brothers that will only reduce what the order owes towards abuse costs if school playing fields are sold.
The plan could bring an end to almost a decade of dispute over how the order would honour its voluntary offer to meet the cost of redress claims now expected to top €1.2bn.
In 2009, the Christian Brothers was one of 15 religious congregations that volunteered to provide €348.5m in further cash and property contributions to the cost of abuse redress, above the €127m previously agreed with the Department of Education in 2002.
The Government rejected the order’s original offer to transfer school playing fields at 49 locations, valued at the time by the order at €127m, into a joint trust between the State and the lay trust which now owns the brothers’ schools.
The Christian Brothers and the Edmund Rice Schools Trust (ERST) did not accept a counter-proposal to have full ownership given to the State with guaranteed access to the playing fields as long as schools need them.
A revised 2013 proposal by then-education minister Ruairi Quinn would have seen the fields transfer to ERST for the schools’ use, with a condition that the State would have to approve any future sale and get at least half the proceeds.
It took the order two years to respond, rejecting the plan and saying it was going to transfer the fields to ERST alone.
The Christian Brothers then wrote to Mr Bruton last May with a new proposal, similar to the 2013 proposal from his predecessor. This plan was discussed by his officials and the order at the end of November, and the department afterwards wrote to say it wishes to progress the offer and conclude the matter.
The deal would see the playing fields transfer to ERST and the future sale of any of the lands would be notified in advance to the education minister of the day. According to details provided to the Dáil Public Accounts Committee, the proceeds of any such sale would then be divided equally between ERST and the State.
The order also indicated last May that the proposed sale of land currently used by ERST-owned Clonkeen College in Blackrock, Co Dublin, would enable it to pay the remaining €8.8m cash it owes the Department of Education as part of its 2009 voluntary offer.
Department of Education secretary general Seán Ó Foghlú’s briefing document to the PAC said that €8.8m is expected to be received this year, along with an outstanding €2m cash contribution from the Daughters of Charity.
These are the only remaining cash contributions to be made to meet the €110m promised by Government to fund educational and other supports for institutional abuse victims through Caranua.
However, the proposed €18m sale of the Clonkeen College playing fields is the subject of a legal challenge by a number of people associated with the school and its board of management.
They claim the sale would breach a 2006 commitment that the fields would remain part of the school as long as it exists.
The deal with a developer who wants to build houses on the fields emerged around the same time as the Christian Brothers revised proposal last May, but the case is now listed for hearing in the High Court in March.
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