Wednesday, 6 December 2017
Ceisteanna - Questions (Resumed)
37. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the efforts he has made to ensure that the playing pitches at a school (details supplied) will be available for the children of that school into the future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52012/17]
To continue on the question of Clonkeen College, I find the Minister's hands-off approach on this matter somewhat difficult to understand. I remind him that the Christian Brothers is selling Clonkeen's lands in order to pay redress for child abuse. I ask the Minister if he thinks that it is acceptable that the Christian Brothers discharges its debt for historic child abuse by taking pitches from current and future generations of children, compounding the crimes against young people. If the Minister believes it is wrong, is he seriously suggesting that there is nothing he can do?
The position is, as I said in the previous reply, that a decision has been taken by the Congregation of Christian Brothers to dispose of land. That is a matter for the Christian Brothers. It has entered into an agreement to sell that land and that is a legally binding contract. I am not in a position to alter that. Separately the Christian Brothers has indicated that the proceeds of that sale will supplement the €21.2 million it has already paid to Caranua to date by the tune of some €8.8 million. Caranua, as Deputy Connolly said, is providing for a very vulnerable group of people. This means that we will have the full €110 million that was committed.
However, that is an entirely separate process from the decision of the Christian Brothers to do what they have done in this case. As Deputy Boyd Barrett knows, they have made an arrangement with the Edmund Rice Schools Trust, ERST, which will continue to run the school, and they have made a decision to dispose of lands to which the school previously had access. That is the position, there is a legal challenge to that position and I, like the Deputy, will await the outcome of that legal challenge.
The first point is that it is not about waiting, but doing. The Christian Brothers claim the contract is legally binding; the school disputes that. Second, whether it is legally binding or not, there are things the Minister could do. Has he told the Christian Brothers that what they are doing is wrong? Of course they should pay their debts, but this sale will raise €18 million, while their debt is only €8 million. How is that fair? They will make money out of the sale. Has the Minister told them it is wrong to steal the pitches of a school and the 500 pupils in that school? Furthermore, the Minister has not answered the question. Why can he not put a compulsory purchase order on the land or tell the Christian Brothers to bestow the land in lieu of the money and tell the Christian Brothers the sale is not acceptable? One could only get this in Ireland: the Minister for Education and Skills says the fate of a school and its pitches is nothing to do with him and that it is up to the Christian Brothers. That is bizarre. That this could be the case just shows what a dysfunctional education system we have. For the Minister to just stand by and say there is nothing he can do about the matter, that the Christian Brothers own the land and are going to sell it, is really shocking.
We have developed our schools, as the Deputy knows, according to a patronage model whereby patrons provide the land and the Department builds the school, often with some support from the patron, often without. The Department has a lien on the property in which we invest and the patron has an obligation to ensure that the school continues to operate and to meet needs. However, the owner of the land, in this case the Christian Brothers, has a right under the Constitution to dispose of the land. The Christian Brothers have done so and have entered a binding contract-----
-----and that has been conveyed to us. The question the Deputy raises, whether this issue can be challenged in the courts, will be adjudicated on in the courts. In meeting their responsibilities to Caranua, the position is that the Christian Brothers have an obligation and they are meeting that obligation. That is a separate responsibility. We expect more from the Christian Brothers, as from other religious institutions. The State has said repeatedly that we believe a fair share of the €1.5 billion paid to date would be 50:50. We are a long way short of that and the State continues to pursue that but we do not have a legal lever over the Christian Brothers or any other congregation. As the Deputy knows, when the Ryan report was published, the Christian Brothers entered a voluntary agreement to pay sums, not all of which has yet been fulfilled. Unfortunately, in 2002 an agreement was made that indemnified the religious orders and limited the amount they were to pay. That is the legal position and we are working within its parameters. However, like I think most Members of the House, I believe the religious congregations should be paying more in this situation to meet the legacy issues that are so real for so many people.
God almighty, if ever there were an argument for separation of church and State, we really have it here. That the Christian Brothers can do this to school students to pay a debt for the crimes they committed against previous generations of school students and the Minister says there is nothing he can do is pathetic. The Minister has not answered the question why he could not put a compulsory purchase order on the land. He should request the local authority to do so in order to secure the land. As I said to the Minister, of course the Christian Brothers should pay their debts for historic child abuse, and the school understands that, but they do not need to sell €18 million worth of land in order to pay an €8 million debt they owe in their "voluntary pledge" over historic child abuse. They have vast amounts of land and assets all over the country, so why is it acceptable for them to flog off this land for €18 million to a private developer and rob this school of all its pitches and why do we just stand by while they do so and say there is nothing we can do? They do not need to sell that much land to pay their debt to the redress scheme.
The position is that the Christian Brothers have the same constitutional rights and are protected in the same way as any other group. They have a right to dispose of their land in the way in which they have done so and there is not an opportunity to alter that. The route of compulsory purchase order, CPO, as the Deputy knows, can only be taken in certain circumstances and still involves 100% compensation of those involved for any loss they would incur, so that is not a case of "with one leap our hero is free". The reality is that the Christian Brothers have made a decision to dispose of this land for the enormous sum the Deputy mentioned and it is their legal right to do so. They have a binding legal contract and that is being challenged in the courts and we await the outcome of that challenge.