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[Compensation Tribunal] Decision Welcomed by Abuse Survivors

Irish Times, 5 October 2000 by Patsy McGarry

Mr John Kelly, chairman of Survivors of Child Abuse (SOCA), has described as "positive" and "a significant development" the Government announcement establishing a compensation tribunal for abuse victims.

He also called on the Catholic Church to accept its responsibilities in the area. Then it should sit down with victims so that all could see how the issue could be left behind.

He recalled meetings with Dr Woods this year when members of SOCA expressed concern at the low levels of compensation offered abuse victims by similar tribunals in Australia and Canada. Dr Woods responded: "That need not happen here."

They were also told that "the safety net" of pursuing actions through the courts would be available to those victims not satisfied with the compensation tribunal.

He felt that, where relevant, the Catholic Church should pay "at least 50 per cent" of awards. It (the Catholic Church) "should come out of denial and the Dark Ages and live up to its responsibilities."

Mr Kelly called on the church to accept its responsibility publicly and collectively. "Then we could sit down, the Government, the church and victims, and work out the structures" for compensation etc. This would "certainly not be confrontational. Then we can all put this into our past, once and for all.

"We need them (the church) to come out now. Then we can begin to forgive."

An admission "from the heart" of past wrongs by the church might also allow SOCA to go before the commission of inquiry. "We want to move on. We all have a desire to move this on," he said.

He estimated that there were about 3,000 abuse victims, many now in Britain.

Ms Christine Buckley, of the Aislinn drop-in centre for victims of institutional abuse, said the announcement of a compensatory tribunal was a major step forward.

"The issue here is addressing the healing process of victims and that victims are believed. That was always our intention. The compensation was always a sidebar."

Ms Buckley's experiences at the Goldenbridge Orphanage inspired the 1996 documentary, Dear Daughter.

She said that religious groups responsible for the abuse should fund 75 per cent of the costs of the tribunal, instead of it coming from the taxpayer. She hoped that the commission could now get on with its vital therapeutic work.

Sister Elizabeth Maxwell, secretary general of the Conference of Religious of Ireland (CORI), welcomed the announcement. Early in 1998 the Christian Brothers had approached the Government about setting up just such a compensation body but was told it was not possible, she said.

The Catholic Bishops' spokesman, Father Martin Clarke, also welcomed the Government announcement. He referred to a statement by the Archbishop of Armagh, Dr Sean Brady, that the church would meet its responsibilities when it came to compensating victims.