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Added to on February 9, 2007

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The following articles/letter indicate how the Sunday Independent claimed that the Government Minister responsible for negotiating the agreement between the State and 18 religious congregations was influenced by his Catholic faith. Journalist Eoghan Williams claims that former Education Minister Michael Woods confirmed this in an interview in October 2003. The Independent also reports the claim by "Survivors of Child Abuse" (SOCA Ireland I think), that Michael Woods is a member of Opus Dei.

Michael Woods says that he never brought up his religion in his discussion with Eoghan Williams and he certainly never suggested that it influenced him in his conduct of the negotiations. It should be very easy to confirm who is telling the truth here. Surely Mr. Williams recorded the interview or took notes at least?

Regarding Opus Dei, it is clear that journalists have learned nothing from the exposure of the lies that brought about the fall of the Reynolds government in 1994. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that they HAVE learned something i.e. that lies based on religious hatred can be highly effective!

An article in the Sunday Independent on 28 September 2003 indicates the effects of this type of reporting. A senior civil servant at the Department of Education, Tom Boland was assaulted by one of a delegation representing victims of child abuse! Mr. Boland had drafted the agreement with the religious congregations.

Vicious and irresponsible journalists are generating false allegations of child abuse AND physical assaults. Moreover Catholic priests and religious are not the only targets. The attack on Michael Woods - and the physical assault on Tom Boland - show how anti-clerical with-hunters are spreading their wings and searching for new victims. Everybody in this country is now a potential target.

Rory Connor
8 February 2006

(1) The Church/State Deal on Abuse (Letter from Minister Michael Woods)
Sunday Independent, 19 October 2003

Sir - Re: Your article published in last week's Sunday Independent concerning the agreement between the state and the 18 religious congregations. In discussion with your journalist I never brought up my faith, nor my religion, nor did I suggest that they influenced me in any way in the manner in which I conducted the negotiations.

Throughout the long negotiations involving many meetings from November 2000 until May 2002, all the officials, ministers and the Attorney General, acted with probity and in a fair and objective way. They did this in the full knowledge that the government, on behalf of the nation, wanted at long last to make amends to those who had suffered injury in residential institutions, and to allow the orders to make a meaningful contribution to that process.

At all times I acted as an experienced Minister and not on the basis of my religion as your article implies. Whether I was a Protestant, Catholic or dissenter it would have been my duty to do the same.

Dr Michael Woods, Dail Eireann, Dublin 2

(2) My Faith Helped to Save Church Abuse Deal, Says Woods
Sunday Independent, 12 October 2003 by Eoghan Williams

THE former Education Minister, Michael Woods, has said that his strong Catholic faith made him the most suitable person to negotiate the controversial compensation deal for abuse victims with religious institutions.

Defending the exclusion of then Attorney-General, Michael McDowell, and his officials from two meetings, Dr Woods said: "The legal people simply couldn't have attended - it was a no-go area for them - they had fallen out with the religious."

As the row over the exclusion of the Attorney-General's office from the negotiations continues to divide the Government, Mr Woods yesterday told the Sunday Independent: "My religion was an asset."

While Dr Woods said his Catholicism had helped to break the deadlock in the negotiations, he denied he was a member of Opus Dei. He also said he was not a member of the Order of the Knights of St Columbanus or any other lay Catholic organisation.

When Dr Woods and the Department of Education Secretary General, John Dennehy, eventually struck a deal with religious institutions, the Church's liability was capped at ?128m, a settlement which has been strongly criticised by the Comptroller & Auditor General.

Asked yesterday if Michael Woods was a member of Opus Dei, the organisation's spokesman in Ireland, Paul Harmon, said: "It is not the role of the Opus Dei information office to say whether a person is or is not a member because it is a personal matter to do with their spiritual lives."

He also said the organisation was forbidden by Church law from getting involved in the professional or political lives of its members.

Dr Woods, who has also held ministerial portfolios at the departments of health and social welfare, said he had always brought a "straight and honourable" Catholic decency to his work.

He denied ground was conceded by the Government during the negotiations. But he said his strong Catholic faith, as well as his status as the minister, had "kick-started" the talks and led to a larger financial commitment coming from the religious orders.

"My religion was an asset. They knew me and they knew my work. I can't say someone else wouldn't have been able to do the same. That said, they would have known me well," Dr Woods said.

He said that he entered politics after working with several Catholic community groups. "I am a Christian first, then a Catholic," he said.

Dr Woods said he kept in mind the "helpfulness and generosity" of the Church, which he had experienced as a minister, during the negotiations. The Church had not only given guidance, but also property, he said.

Survivors of Child Abuse, a group representing clerical abuse victims, has accused the former Education Minister of being a member of Opus Dei, a group labelled "the holy mafia" by its detractors.

The issue of the Church's influence in matters of State resurfaced last week when a former civil servant said Opus Dei actively sought members with influential jobs.

"I was personally invited, in my capacity as a civil servant, to join Opus Dei in early 1984," Nigel Cooke, who now lives in England, said.

He claimed a number of Catholic lay organisations seek to infiltrate government departments in an attempt to "interfere in the making and execution of public policy".

Michael McDowell, the Justice Minister, who at the time was Attorney-General, sparked a major controversy last week when he contradicted Dr Woods's assertion that he had been involved in talks at all appropriate times.

This month the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) was told by John Purcell, the Comptroller and Auditor General, that "greater diligence" by the State "would have added extra rigour" to its negotiating strategy.

Responding to Mr McDowell's comments, Mr Woods said he resented anyone "playing politics" or undermining the rights of victims.

He said talks with the Church had broken down following leaks about the negotiating position of the orders. "I am not going to say where those leaks came from but they did not come from my Department and they did not come from the orders. The only others involved were Finance and the A-G's office," Dr Woods said.

Given Finance Minister Charlie McCreevy's recent public backing of the deal, many will see the comments as a thinly veiled allegation that Michael McDowell was undermining Dr Woods during the talks in autumn 2001.

The former Education Minister says the State's position was strengthened following his intervention.

The PAC heard this month that the Department of Education, in a letter sent to the religious orders the day before the controversial meeting, performed a significant U-turn, agreeing to consider counting the value of property given by religious orders to the State in the past towards the value of the total religious orders' contribution.

Up to that point, the State team, including officials from Michael McDowell's office and the Department of Finance, held out against this, the PAC was told.

(3) Angry Response to Abuse Proposals
Sunday Independent, 28 September 2003 by Jimmy Guerin

A SPOKESPERSON for the Department of Education would neither confirm or deny that a senior civil servant at the department, Tom Boland BL, was attacked with a crutch by one of the delegation representing the victims of sexual abuse. The Sunday Independent learned of the incident, which happened two weeks ago when the department met the victim groups and advised them of theGovernment's proposalsfollowing Justice Laffoy'sresignation.

At this meeting the victim groups were advised that the Government intended to introduce sampling as opposed to hearing all the complaints made to the commission. Mr Boland has been involved in the discussions with the groups since the Government apology was issued to victims and has been dealing with the Laffoy Commission on the department's behalf.

A spokesperson for the department confirmed that it was Mr Boland who drafted the controversial agreement with the religious congregations and said that along with advisors from the Attorney General's office presided over the final agreement that former Minister Michael Woods signed just prior to the end of the last Government's term. The agreement is seen as a poor deal for the Government and is expected to be highly criticised by John Purcell, the Comptroller and Auditor General. In his annual report, he has indicated the cost of compensation to the victims of abuse may run to Eur1bn yet the congregations have only to contribute Eur 128m of this.