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 Header Item Government-Church Dialogue (Continued)
 Header Item Constitutional Convention Recommendations

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 944 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar] The total value of those offers was €237 million. The Christian Brothers offered their 49 school playing fields at a value of €127 million to be transferred to a new joint trust between the State and the Edmund Rice Schools Trust, to which the congregation's primary and secondary schools were transferred. The then Minister, Deputy Quinn, had a counter-proposal that the playing fields would instead be transferred to the State, with guaranteed access for the schools currently using them under licence for as long as they were required. That counter-proposal was not accepted by the Christian Brothers. The Edmund Rice Schools Trust was also opposed to it.

In July 2013, the Government agreed to a revised proposal by the then Minister, Deputy Quinn, under which the congregation would be asked to transfer the playing fields to the trust for the continued beneficial use of the schools subject to the legal requirement that the prior approval of the Minister be obtained for a disposal of any part of them and that, in the event of any proposed transfer, the State be entitled to receive at least 50% of the proceeds. Under that proposal, in terms of reckoning that contribution towards the cost of redress, it was proposed that the fields and associated lands be valued on an open market value basis at the date of the transfer to the trust. A sum of 50% of that valuation would be reckoned as a contribution towards the cost of the response. The revised proposal was put to the congregation by the then Minister, Deputy Quinn, in a letter on 15 October 2013.

In the context of a High Court award, the congregation then undertook a comprehensive review of its capacity to meet all of its obligations, including its outstanding redress contributions. A final response to the Minister's proposal, therefore, was not received until 9 September 2015. In a letter of that date, the congregation stated that as the initial proposal of joint ownership was not accepted by the Minister and as his counter-proposal was not acceptable to either it or to the Edmund Rice Schools Trust, it was proceeding with the formal transfer of the sports fields to the Edmund Rice Schools Trust. The letter stated that the transfer was to complement the transfer of school properties to the trust in 2008 at an independent valuation as of the transfer date of €430 million. The letter also stated that the congregation wished to honour its pledge of investment in education and welfare for present and future generations of children in Ireland. There has been no further communication from the Christian Brothers since.

Deputy Ruth Coppinger: Information on Ruth Coppinger Zoom on Ruth Coppinger Why were they awarded the Castleknock secondary school then?

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus Ó Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus Ó Snodaigh If I owed the State money and then made a deal with the State and welched on it, the sheriff, the Criminal Assets Bureau or An Garda Síochána would be knocking on my door looking for payment. At this stage, the Taoiseach said that there is no further contact with the orders. Is the Taoiseach intending to contact them? Is he intending to have the meetings that I suggested earlier? Is he intending to put it to them that if they do not transfer to the State assets to pay their contribution to the redress scheme, which was very limited, the State will seize the assets that are due to it?

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton I understand that Pope Francis's visit to Ireland is in the context of families. Obviously, the children and adults who were in various institutions and were the subject of the redress that we are speaking about are all parts of families. For a long period, many of those families were not recognised. There are broadly recognised now. While I understand that the Taoiseach cannot, nor should he try to, dictate the Pope's itinerary in Ireland, given that he will no doubt have a chance to meet him and talk to him either one to one or with other members of the Government and senior members of the hierarchy, he might discuss the most outstanding feature of the recent history of churches in Ireland, which is what happened in the institutions that they ran and governed. I put it to the Taoiseach that he would be seriously lacking in his responsibilities as leader of people in Ireland by not advising the Pope about what happened in this country, the efforts the Government has made to advance redress and the lack of support that has been received for almost a decade from various religious congregations-----

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher Thank you, Deputy.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton -----to meet the moral and other obligations they entered into-----

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher The Deputy is eating into the time of other Members.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton -----that they would finance 50% of the redress, which comes to a figure of about €750 million.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar All of the outstanding committed contributions are being pursued. In particular, officials in the Department of Education, the Chief State Solicitor's office and the HSE are following through on the completion of the remaining property transfers under the indemnity agreement. I understand they are near the completion of 11 of them. Progress is also being made on the completion of the 2009 voluntary offers of €96 million, being contributed in cash and property. The 2002 indemnity agreement is binding on the parties to it, including the State and the 18 contributing congregations. It is not possible to open that agreement unilaterally or try to force the party to do something that is not provided for in the agreement. Regrettably, the 2002 agreement means that the present Government does not have legal mechanisms open to it to compel the religious congregations to meet the 50-50 target or to deliver more rapidly on the voluntary offers made back in 2009.

Would the State consider taking educational property off the religious? It would be appreciated that the strong constitutional protection afforded to private property in the Constitution makes it virtually impossible to confiscate congregational property, as has been suggested by some. Obviously, I believe that a better approach is for the congregation to enhance significantly its cash contributions and to enter into discussions with appropriate Ministers regarding the voluntary transfer of key properties in the education sector and the health sector to the State.

Pope Francis is a very different kind of Pope, as Deputy Burton is aware.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton That is why I made the suggestion.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar He has been dealing with the poor and deprived in Buenos Aires in Argentina for many years. He is showing evidence of that in Rome. I am quite sure that Pope Francis is very well aware of the issues surrounding the church, the difficulties created over the years in Ireland and the situation of the Catholic Church in particular involving not only the residential institutions, but also mother and baby homes. The Vatican is well informed, I am quite sure, of the issues of the day in that regard. As Deputy Burton is well aware, it is a matter for the Pope himself in terms of the World Meeting of Families. People in mother and baby homes were parts of families and people in residential institutions were parts of families. It is the Pope's decision.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher We have 24 minutes left for the next two batches of questions. The Taoiseach's reply to the next grouping is a long one, so he might tailor it.

Constitutional Convention Recommendations

 4. Deputy Gerry Adams Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny if he will report on outstanding recommendations arising from the Constitutional Convention. [13986/17]

 5. Deputy Brendan Howlin Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny his plans to hold referendums that arise from the outstanding recommendations of the Constitutional Convention. [15196/17]

 6. Deputy Ruth Coppinger Information on Ruth Coppinger Zoom on Ruth Coppinger asked the Taoiseach Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny his plans for referendums on constitutional amendments; and the issues that may be dealt with. [15211/17]

 7. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny if he will report on recommendations arising from the Constitutional Convention that have not yet been implemented or that are still awaiting a plan for implementation. [15226/17]

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I propose to take Questions Nos. 4 to 7, inclusive, together.

  The previous Government responded in the Dáil to all nine reports of the Convention on the Constitution. I will summarise the convention's main recommendations for referenda and the response to them as follows. In its first report, the convention recommended that the age threshold for candidacy in presidential elections be reduced from 35 years. A referendum was defeated on this on 22 May 2015. A recommendation to reduce the voting age to 16 was accepted but a referendum was not held on this matter. Deputies will be aware that a Private Member's Bill to reduce the voting age to 16 in local and European elections will be before the Seanad tomorrow night.

  In the convention's second report, the reference in Article 41.2 of the Constitution to "a woman's life within the home" was considered. The Programme for a Partnership Government commits the Government to holding a referendum on this issue.

  In its third report, the Convention recommended an amendment to the Constitution to provide for same-sex marriage. A referendum on marriage equality was held on 22 May 2015 and was passed by a majority of 62.1%.

  The convention's fourth report made recommendations on the electoral system. A recommendation for a referendum to permit the appointment of people other than Oireachtas Members as Ministers was not accepted, as the Constitution already allows the Taoiseach to nominate as Ministers two persons who have not been elected to the Oireachtas but who have been nominated to the Seanad. The recommendation that Ministers be required to resign their Dáil seats on appointment to office was not accepted. The convention did not put forward proposals on how the resultant Dáil vacancies might be filled.

  In respect of the fifth report, on amending the Constitution to give citizens resident outside the State the right to vote in presidential elections, Deputies will be aware that I recently announced that the Government has decided to hold a referendum to amend the Constitution to allow Irish citizens resident outside the State, including those in Northern Ireland, to vote in Irish presidential elections. Extending the franchise in presidential elections to Irish citizens resident outside the State gives rise to a range of legal, policy and practical issues. To have an informed public debate on this, the Government published a detailed options paper last week to set out the range of options available to give effect to the recommendation of the Convention on the Constitution.

  As regards the sixth report, on the offence of blasphemy, the Programme for a Partnership Government says that a referendum will be held on removing the offence from the Constitution.


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