Order told State to scrap vow on abuse redress

The Government was told to scrap its pledge on the cost of the child abuse redress scheme before the most powerful religious order in education would discuss school patronage.

The demand was revealed in newly released records of a three-year stand-off between the State and congregations covered by the indemnity deal.

The Government’s original plan had been to pursue the transfer of school properties from religious orders to bridge a perceived €500m shortfall in contributions to the redress scheme. The Sisters of Mercy said no.

The 2011 Programme for Government said the transfers would be used to get the orders to cover 50% of the €1.5bn redress bill.

In July, Education Minister Ruairi Quinn got Cabinet approval for a more conciliatory tack that would allow congregations to remain in control of schools but relinquish title to the land.

According to a policy proposal put to Mr Quinn in February, the new strategy was designed to move the schools’ property debate away from the battle to get congregations to accept the 50:50 redress bill principle.

The softer stance came after more than three years of fractious negotiations which commenced following the publication of the Ryan Report.

The correspondence between Mr Quinn, his department, and the 18 orders covered under the indemnity deal has now been deemed eligible for release under the Freedom of Information Act. These revealed the frosty exchanges between the sides.

The most significant struggle involved the Sisters of Mercy, which owns 96 schools worth €281m and which transferred a further 66, worth €412m, to the Ceist religious trust.

It made an additional offer of €20m towards the new statutory fund, and property it valued at €107m. This offer was dismissed as inadequate and overvalued.

Following meetings with the department, the order wrote a letter making it clear its voluntary contribution in response to the Ryan Report “was not a matter for negotiation”.

It said it would not participate in any attempt by the State to revalue its post-2009 offer and it wanted the Programme for Government changed.

“We are not willing to enter negotiations with Government towards its fulfilment of school infrastructure which it made in its Programme for Government for the transfer of school infrastructure,” the order wrote.

In a memo to Mr Quinn, department officials said the compromised proposal, to transfer school sites without changing control, had been put to the 18 orders. Fifteen did not respond and the three that did express an interest only owned 16 schools between them.

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