Abuse report vindicates Labour stand on supine deal with religious orders
21 May 2009
The Report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse establishes the truth of the exchanges between myself and the then Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, in 2003 and 2004 about the Indemnity Deal concluded in secret by Dr. Michael Woods on behalf of the Ahern government in his final day as Minister for Education in 2002. At the time the Labour Party was alone in trying to raise the alarm bells about the supine surrender by Ahern's government to the Religious Congregations.
Nine times alone during 2003, I raised the matter on Leaders Questions with the then Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern. We got little support from any other side of the House at the time, but the extent of the compensation paid and the full details now revealed in the Ryan Report vindicate the concerns we raised.
The scale of the physical, emotional and sexual abuse meted out to thousands of young children revealed in the Ryan report has shocked Irish society to its core. We had all in the past heard vivid accounts of the experience of individual victims, but the cumulative impact of five volumes of such stories is shocking beyond belief.
Many of the victims have now received financial awards from the Redress Board, but in truth no amount of money could adequately compensate the children who were raped, abused, brutalised, neglected and exploited in these institutions.
However, the publication of the report has once again focussed attention on the extraordinary deal concluded by the then Minister for Education, Dr. Michael Woods, on his final day in office in 2002. The deal was agreed without a memo being brought to government and with limited involvement of the Office of the Attorney General. While the original recommendation of the Department of Finance was that the liability for financial compensation for the damage done to these children should be shared 50:50 between the state and the Religious Congregations. However, the deal agreed by Dr. Michael Woods capped the Congregations' liability to €127m, which we know now represents only around 10% of the actual cost.
There is now an unanswerable case for re-opening the Indemnity Deal. We now need to find an appropriate mechanism to allow the deal to be reopened and recast to reflect the appropriate share of liability between Church and State. We also need an independent investigation into all of the circumstances of the deal agreed by Dr. Woods on behalf of the government in 2002.