Written Answers. - Compensation Payments.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

18 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Education and Science the total estimated exposure of the taxpayer as a result of the agreement announced on 5 June 2002 by the State to indemnify certain religious congregations against claims for compensation by victims of abuse; the basis on which the indemnity was agreed; the estimated proportion of the final cost of the compensation scheme which will be borne by the religious congregations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21743/02]

The Residential Institutions Redress Act, 2002, provides a means of compensating people who, as vulnerable children, were committed into institutional care and who suffered abuse there and consequent lifelong injury notwithstanding the duty of the State to regulate the institutions. The Taoiseach apologised on 11 May to the victims of such abuse.

The decision to set up a scheme of redress was taken without regard to whether the religious congregations, who owned and managed the institutions concerned, would make any contribution to the cost of the scheme. However, shortly after the Government's decision, the religious congregations concerned approached the Government indicating that they wished to make a meaningful contribution to the compensation scheme.

The Government welcomed this approach because, apart from the financial contribution, the Government felt that some closure to the issue of childhood abuse could best be achieved if both the religious congregations and the State participated.

Following negotiations between representatives of the religious congregations and the State, my predecessor reached agreement in principle in January 2002 on the size and nature of their contribution. Further negotiations followed which culminated in a detailed agreement to which the Deputy refers. The total value of the contribution is €128 million payable in cash, property and services to victims.

In return for this contribution the previous Government agreed to grant an indemnity to the congregations. This indemnity applies only to those cases which are eligible to be dealt with under the Residential Institutions Redress Act, 2002, but which are not resolved within this scheme and in respect of which litigation is commenced within six years of the date of the agreement.

It is hoped that all, or certainly the majority of cases, will be dealt with through the redress scheme rather than in the courts. Therefore, it is expected that the indemnity will apply to relatively few cases. However, as there is no way to predict at this time how many claimants will prefer to go through the courts rather than the redress scheme, I am not in a position to estimate the likely cost to the taxpayer of the indemnity.

As Deputies are probably aware, before the redress scheme was introduced there were over 1,000 cases in which legal proceedings had been commenced in the High Court against the State and various congregations. These cases will now have the alternative of being processed through the redress scheme where awards are as recommended by the report of the independent advisory committee. It is also likely that other claimants will come forward.

The provisional establishment date for the Residential Institutions Redress Board is 2 December 2002. As it is not known how many applications for compensation will be made to the redress board it is not possible to estimate the cost of the awards and thus the proportion represented by the contribution of the religious orders.