Child abuse report - Row mustn’t undermine priorities

DETAILS revealed today about the secretive 2002 deal agreed by the then Minister for Education and Science Dr Michael Woods with Catholic religious orders implicated in child abuse suggest that it is even more inequitable than was first imagined.

The deal fell far short of the Government’s minimum requirement and was bolstered by including property transferred prior to 2002.

Documentation secured under the Freedom of Information Act confirms that the deal, agreed in the dying hours of Bertie Ahern’s administration, included a dramatic climb-down, and was barely any improvement on proposals rejected as totally inadequate by the then Finance Minister Charlie McCreevy.

Over the weekend Dr Woods reiterated his belief that the deal was the best available. Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern also commented, suggesting calls for a new deal were based on anti-church sentiment.

“This simplistic thing that there’s loads of lands and money – that’s just anti-church,” he said.

During the negotiations Mr McCreevy told Michael Woods that the deal proposed was “far short” of “a meaningful contribution”, was “quite inadequate”, and would leave “the State to bear virtually the full cost of the Redress Scheme”.

Time has proven Mr McCreevy right and the State faces a bill already well above €1.3 billion, more than ten times the liability the religious orders accepted under the Woods deal.

Less than two years after this conflict Mr McCreevy was removed from Irish politics when he was unexpectedly named as Ireland’s EU Commissioner.

Mr McCreevy’s position has been echoed by the Minister for the Environment and Green Party leader John Gormley. He said there was a case for the religious orders to make a greater contribution.

In the context of the horrors revealed in Mr Justice Seán Kelly’s report this is a shabby but revealing squabble. Anyone, anti-church or otherwise, can easily see that the deal is grossly inequitable and that the religious orders must pay more. Anyone, anti-Fianna Fáil or otherwise, can see that this was a buddy-buddy deal, straight out of the dig-outs and strokes handbook.

The solution is simple enough. The religious orders can do what we all know they must, or they can batten down the hatch and wait for the storm to pass.

Already at least two senior figures in Irish Catholicism have acknowledged this. Special adviser to Cardinal Seán Brady, Fr Tim Bartlett, said yesterday that his view was that the orders should pay more than the Woods’ deal’s €128 million. Bishop of Down and Connor Dr Noel Treanor echoed his comments.

Speaking on RTÉ, he said Fr Bartlett’s view was a comment “of integrity of personal honesty inspired by a concern for natural justice for the pursuit of a morally integral resolution of this issue”.

If the religious orders, the ones whose members raped and tortured children whose only crime was to be poor, choose not to pay more then they will have squandered whatever shred of credibility they have left.

There is a danger too that this row will overshadow the recommendations made in the report and their implementation. It is hugely important, not least for the Catholic church, that the deal be revisited.

However, the primary objective must be the implementation of the 21 child protection recommendations in the report. Everything else is secondary.

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