The former Fianna Fáil education minister was the central figure who negotiated the abuse redress scheme, which Church authorities are now failing to repay, and has repeatedly defended its terms, which were criticised for favouring the religious groups involved.
In 2002, Dr Woods signed off on a highly controversial indemnity agreement under which 18 religious orders were due to pay hundreds of millions towards a State redress scheme for clerical abuse survivors. The deal limited religious orders’ compensation liability to €128m, despite the eventual cost to the State exceeding €1.35bn.
The agreement was signed weeks before the 2002 general election and was not put before cabinet, before staying unpublished for several months after the new government had been formed.
In 2003 Dr Woods said his Catholic faith meant he was the most suitable person to negotiate. Despite saying at the time it was “the best deal that could have been done”, he has since been criticised over the fact the terms were not passed by cabinet first.
In addition, clerical child abuse survivor groups have hit out at the fact the deal limited orders’ liability, meant the State has paid over 50% of the costs and that even the limited amount of money owed by orders is now failing to be fully paid.
The 2002 deal also had a knock-on effect on the 2009 Ryan Report, after which religious orders offered €352m in compensation before later reducing this to €192m and to date paying just €96m, citing the initial agreement.
While survivor groups have this week called for the deal to be re-negotiated, Education Minister Richard Bruton yesterday downplayed such a prospect. While insisting he will “continue to press” for further funds, he said “unfortunately it is moral pressure, because the agreement made with Fianna Fáil back in 2002 closed off the legal route”.