Hand over the money, Irish government tells religious orders

The Irish government is to ask religious orders to hand over title to property worth up to €200 million, the Department of Education has confirmed.

The €200 million is the shortfall the State considers it is owed by the 18 religious orders which agreed to share the cost of the €1.36 billion bill for survivors of institutional abuse.

Last year the 18 congregations named in the Ryan report on clerical sexual abuse agreed to pay €476 million towards the cost of compensation. As this is €200 million short of an even split of the bill with the State, proposals for the remaining payment are being sought.

It is understood the religious orders paid €128 million in 2002. Some €110 million was promised in cash and €235 million was promised in property. Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn has pointed out this amount leaves the €200 million shortfall, and he is now seeking the transfer to the State of the legal ownership of religious-owned schools to meet this deficit.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Education last night confirmed Mr Quinn was seeking transfer of ownership of the some of the schools to the State, but even these are likely to become multi-denominational rather than secular schools.

Mr Quinn has indicated he did not want to bankrupt the religious orders and was not intending to change the structure by which the religious orders were able to continue to be in charge of the schools. The Church is still talking of a 'minimum non-negotiable requirement' with any schools transferred, insisting on no change on confessional religious instruction.

The Minister’s concern is said to be in relation to the amount of the total compensation bill which will have to be paid by the taxpayer, as well he might, given his Government’s parlous financial position. The current overwhelming dominance in the publicly funded sector of Catholic schools insisting on confessional religious instruction as part of the school day is believed by the Irish Human Rights Commission to breach the European Convention on Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

The Executive Director of the National Secular Society, Keith Porteous Wood, observed: “The Irish state is in unprecedented need of hard cash and the promised transfer of assets by the Church to the State achieves virtually nothing unless those assets are ones that can be realised, which cannot be true of the schools. The citizens of Ireland are in danger of being duped and abused yet again by their church and their Government.”