By any yardstick the 2002 compensation deal for victims of clerical abuse agreed by education minister Michael Woods was disastrous — unless of course, your loyalties lie with the congregations who have dodged their responsibilities in what was to have been a 50/50 burden-sharing agreement.
The Woods deal was, amazingly, finalised without any input from attorney general Michael McDowell.
His cabinet colleague finance minister Charlie McCreevy refused to sign it. Time has vindicated McDowell and McCreevy and shown Woods as at best naive or at worst a willing dupe.
The Woods deal capped Church liability at €127m but the bill has passed €1.2bn. Naturally, the taxpayer has made up the difference.
In March, the Comptroller and Auditor General reported that €21m is outstanding from the 2002 agreement. The C&AG noted it was “astonishing and inexcusable that six years after the ... Ryan report, only €85m of the €226m (post-report) offer has been received by the State”.
Some of the assets transferred had only a virtual value. Schools or playing fields transferred to the State have a theoretical value but can never be sold.
This social obligation has not impressed itself on religious orders who have, especially around Dublin, sold playing fields thereby passing the burden of redress to school communities.
Some properties were transferred to religious-order trusts. The ownership of schools worth over €400m has been transferred by five orders of nuns to Ceist, the agency for Catholic education, putting them beyond the redress programme.
It is sad, and hypocritical, that the culture of hide-and-evade uncovered by the Paradise Papers is so alive in the Catholic Church. If the Cayman Islands can be described as
a tax haven then the institution of Irish Catholicism might be described as a haven for the sharpest practice.
And it continues. Today we report that six properties pledged to the State in 2002 are not in full public ownership. A further 13 properties “handed over” in 2009 are beyond State control.
These details and anti-democratic stonewalling on school patronage confirm that Irish Catholicism’s leaders seem to imagine the authority of the Dáíl is something to be ignored or indulged as suits.
Sadly, it is almost too easy to be critical of Irish Catholicism but these latest details point to a far bigger social malady. Why are we so utterly unassertive? Why are we, through our government, such a soft touch?
The tracker mortgage scam is the latest abuse by our banks but we sit politely at the wait-and-see stage. No-one will be sacked much less charged.
We have a police force that squandered its credibility but there are no consequences.
We avoid climate change responsibilities because powerful lobbies prevail. Water charges were cast aside because of an angry but mistaken campaign.
The Woods failure may have been a victory for pre-Vatican II Ireland but the deference that underpinned it is all too obvious and even if we are genetically programmed to avoid complaining surely we can demand higher standards of probity, transparency and performance? We either we do that or continue to look the other way more or less every day.
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