Standing up for abuse victims

Religious congregations must meet 50% of the cost of the State’s response to residential abuse, writes Ruairi Quinn

IT IS over three years since the Ryan Report shocked our nation. The litany and scale of child abuse in institutional settings and the anguished voices of the victims and survivors amplified through that report caused us all, as a people, to hang our heads in shame.

It was only right that the State apologised to those whose childhoods were stolen and who, in many instances, could not live full lives as adults and citizens.

Those who managed the institutions failed those children and the State, through it’s agents, failed in its duty to protect its most vulnerable citizens.

The victims have been able to seek redress and receive compensation from the Residential Institutions Redress Board since 2002. This will not give them back their childhoods, but it is an acknowledgement of the pain and abuse they suffered. It is expected some 15,000 former residents will have received awards when the board completes its work.

The total cost of the State’s response to residential abuse is now estimated to be €1.47bn. This Government, like its predecessor, believes the cost of responding to abuse should be shared on a 50:50 basis with the religious congregations. There may be no strict legal obligation on the congregations to do so. But I believe there is a moral obligation. However, there has been no general acceptance by the congregations that they should meet a 50% share. Instead, the taxpayer continues to shoulder the brunt of these enormous costs. The gap between what the congregations have offered through properties and the earlier contribution under the 2002 Indemnity Agreement remains at least €200m. I believe that the transfer of school and possibly healthcare infrastructure owned by the congregations at no cost to the State affords a fair and equitable resolution to this pressing issue. The schools would continue to operate as schools under the existing ethos and patrons until such time as they choose to make any changes.

I have engaged, and continue to engage, with the religious congregations in this regard and I will be reporting to my Cabinet colleagues on this engagement in the coming weeks. I have made clear in all of my discussions with congregations that I fully recognise the very positive contribution they have made to the development of Irish life and society. I have also made clear that I have no wish to bankrupt them.

However, as we acknowledge their contribution, we should not forget the tens of thousands of victims and survivors of institutional abuse.

In July, together with Minister Brian Hayes, I announced the award of the commission for the memorial to victims of child abuse, as recommended in the Ryan Report. I believe this memorial will serve both as a testimony to one of the darkest chapters in our nation’s history and as a constant reminder that we, as a nation, must never let such horrendous crimes happen again. While never forgetting what happened, the need for closure for all concerned is well recognised. In this context, I urge the congregations to engage positively and generously to facilitate such closure.

I am well aware that many of the survivors continue to face difficulties in their lives and, in order to assist them, the Government is establishing the Residential Institutions Statutory Fund, which will be funded from cash contributions of €110m offered by the religious congregations. The fund will focus on meeting identified needs of survivors by funding the provision of a range of services. They will include counselling, health and personal social services, educational services, and housing support services.

Following the enactment of the legislation in the summer, I have recently invited expressions of interest from people interested in serving as members of the Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Board. I am particularly interested in applications from former residents, who will fill four of the nine positions, as I believe that their input will be critically important.

It is expected the statutory fund will have some €66m immediately available to it, made up of €22m already received from the congregations and €44m due on its establishment. I urge those congregations involved to commit the €110m balance quickly so we can continue to support survivors. It is the right thing to do.

* Ruairi Quinn is Minister for Education and Skills.

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