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IRISH TIMES REPORTERS
The religious congregations have today agreed to make further substantial contributions and to an independent audit of their assets following a meeting with the Taoiseach this morning to discuss their response to the Ryan report into institutional child abuse.
Following his meeting, Brian Cowen said such contributions were required from the congregations and called for a “comprehensive, specific response” from them as quickly as possible.
The orders have agreed to an independent audit of their assets and will report back to Government within two weeks. They have also agreed to submit a substantial contribution to a trust and to conduct the process in an open and transparent manner.
Minister for Education Batt O’Keeffe said the congregations had apologised and said they wanted to “co-operate fully” with the Government and would report back in two weeks, “when we’re hoping to have made substantial progress in relation to the substantive additional funding that they are going to put in place”.
Mr O’Keeffe said he was pleased the congregations had agreed with the three principles set out by the Government – a further substantial contribution, the creation of a trust, and an open and transparent assessment of the congregations’ assets.
In a statement issued after the meeting, the congregations indicated a willingness “to make financial and other contributions towards a broad range of measures”.
They said a process had begun to examine setting up a trust for victims and that each congregation “is fully committed to identifying its resources, both financial and other, within a transparent process, with a view to delivering upon commitments made today”.
Speaking after the meeting, Fr Joe O’Reilly of the Rosminians expressed shame and regret over what had occurred during decades of abuse of children’s at religious-run institutions.
“We had a very good meeting with the Taoiseach, a meeting that is extremely helpful and had as its focus the needs of the victims,” he told reporters outside Government Buildings later.
In a statement released after he met the congregations this morning, Mr Cowen said: “I must express the dismay and abhorrence which, with the whole of the population, we have experienced on reading the [Ryan] report and the catalogue of suffering, deprivation and abuse which was the lot of so many children committed to institutions under the care of religious communities.
“The systemic nature of the findings, and the sheer scale of the suffering endured by children and the grievous abuse of many of them while in the care of organisations represented here mean that there is a moral responsibility to be faced.”
Mr Cowen said although he noted the congregations were faced with failings of those in earlier generations, “some of the severest conclusions of the commission regarding religious congregations relate to recent attitudes and behaviour”.
“I want to convey to you directly the view of the Government that further substantial contributions are required by way of reparation. Furthermore, the contributions need to be capable of being assessed by the public for their significance by reference to the full resources available to the congregations and in a context of the costs of well over a billion euro being incurred by the State.”
Mr Cowen said the congregations’ response may have “profound implications” for the well-being of survivors of abuse and could influence how people, “who have been so loyally supportive of your congregations over many years”, would judge the congregations’ adherence to their “foundational values”.
There has been widespread criticism of the deal stuck between the Government and 18 orders in 2002 which capped the orders’ contribution at €127 million.
The Taoiseach and four Government Ministers yesterday met some eight groups representing victims of child abuse for almost three hours at Government Buildings to discuss the outcome of the Ryan report.
The Minister for Education, Minister for Health Mary Harney, Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern, and Minister for Children Barry Andrews were all present at the meeting. As they emerged from last night’s discussions, representatives said that good and positive progress had been made during the meeting, though some fundamental issues required clarification.
No firm indication was given to the groups as to the contribution the Government will seek from religious congregations and if it will be in the region of 50 per cent of the overall costs. Leading church and political figures, including Government Chief Whip Pat Carey, have suggested the orders should contribute half of the costs.
A Government statement released last night said that Mr Cowen had stressed that those who perpetrated child sex abuse crimes, no matter how long ago, must be made amenable to the law so that they can be held to account for such crimes.
The Ryan report, which was published last month, includes evidence of abuse from over 1,000 survivors of the orphanages, industrial schools and reformatory schools, some 500 of which related to sexual abuse by members of religious orders, teachers and other lay workers.
The Government publications office was yesterday awaiting delivery of hundreds more copies of the child abuse report after it ran out of stock due to “exceptional” demand.
Huge public interest has also put the Ryan commission’s website under severe strain, with additional servers and bandwidth being added to cope with unexpectedly high visitor numbers.
Some 90,000 separate downloads of the report were logged in the first 24 hours after the publication of the report two weeks ago, and 183,000 files have been downloaded in all.
The commission, which continues to receive new requests for the document every day, expects delivery of the second batch of its 2,500-copy print run in the coming days.
Applicant witnesses, survivors’ groups and Government departments are provided with copies free of charge, while the publications office charges €20 for a hard copy set or €10 for the disk. It already has a waiting list of between 400 and 500 names for hard copies of the five-volume set.