Who Should Pay and How Much?

Irish Emigrant [Ireland]
Downloaded October 7, 2003

Throughout the week opposition politicians focused on what was described as a failure of the last Government to ensure that the religious orders made a sufficiently large contribution towards the compensation to be paid to those abused in residential institutions over the past 50 years. The media went along with the assumption that a very bad deal had been agreed and all that remained was to find as many people as possible to blame.

It was in the spring of 2002, in the dying days of the last Government, that Minister for Education Dr Michael Woods and the Conference of Religious in Ireland signed an agreement under which religious orders would pay a total of 128m in compensation and the taxpayer would be responsible for the balance. The deal was controversial at the time and I think it was the resignation of Justice Mary Laffoy that resulted in the rights and wrongs of the issue being resurrected in recent times. It really came to a head, however, when the Comptroller and Auditor General forecast that the taxpayer was now left with a bill for up to $900m.

In the resulting argument, much of it played out in the D?il, attempts were made to prove that something untoward took place during the negotiating process. The involvement of the then Attorney General, now Minister for Justice Michael McDowell, seemed as though it might yield most. Initially we had the Taoiseach saying Mr McDowell was kept fully informed, while the former AG said he was seldom involved. An attempt was made to reconcile this by explaining that, as Attorney General, Mr McDowell was there to give legal advice and not to get involved in negotiations of this nature.

It was Thursday before the Government hit back at its critics. Minister for Finance Charlie McCreevy insisted that the 128m agreed with CORI was a good deal. It was, he said, the State which had to accept responsibility for those who were abused as it was the State which placed children in the institutions and was aware that abuse was taking place. T?naiste Mary Harney was next to strenuously defend the deal but refused to comment on what Mr McDowell had said a day earlier. The issue was also discussed at length at the D?il Public Accounts Committee. Despite all the apparent passion we were left with the distinct impression that the primary purpose was to gain political advantage over opponents and to appear in the media as often as possible.

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