Taoiseach meets abuse victims

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HARRY McGEE, Political Staff

Groups representing survivors who were abused as children in institutions run by religious orders said tonight they had made good progress during their first meeting with Taoiseach Brian Cowen on the outcome of the Ryan report .

Speaking during a break in the meeting, shortly before 9pm, victims’ spokesman John Kelly said the the Government was “half way there” in relation to its response to the demands and priorities of the victims’ groups.

Mr Kelly also said Mr Cowen had said the Government would be seeking a “substantial contribution” from religious orders.

Asked if Mr Cowen had given any guarantee in relation to the 50 per cent contribution from orders that many political and church leaders have called for, Mr Kelly said that no specific figure had been mentioned.

He also said the question of whether the increased contribution should go to victims or to the Exchequer was still to be discussed.

Mr Kelly said key issues included the decriminalisation of survivors; an apology, prosecution of abusers, as well as the contribution from the religious orders.

Mr Cowen, and six other ministers, including Minister for Health Mary Harney, Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern and Minister for Children Barry Andrews represented the Government at the meeting.

Earlier Mr Cowen said that it was the beginning of a process of engagement with victims, who were represented by eight groups today.

The meeting in Government Buildings began at 7pm and was scheduled to last for two hours. Mr Cowen is also expected to hold meetings with representatives of the 18 congregations who ran institutions on behalf of the State, where widespread sexual and physical occurred.

The Ryan report document 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.

Speaking ahead of this evening’s meeting Mr Cowen emphasised the importance of beginning a process of engagement with survivors.

“We will use this evening as a listening exercise to hear their views now that we have the Ryan report published.

“The survivors have told and have graphically outlined in many respects their [experiences] in the report.

I think it’s important to engage with the congregations and engage with them as well,” he told RTE.

He said that he would also lead talks with the congregations in relation to what he said were additional voluntary contributions that may be made to them.

In a controversial agreement between the 18 congregations and the Government in 2002, the orders agreed to pay a total of €127 million in compensation. However, this has amounted to only about a tenth of the estimated €1.3 billion overall costs and not the 50 per cent share that was originally envisaged.

Last weekend, Government Chief Whip Pat Carey said the ratio should be closer to 50:50. However, the Government said Mr Carey was speaking in a personal capacity when commenting on the matter.

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