Spiritans told to retain records and assets in anticipation of abuse inquiry

Minister for Education writes to order as discussions continue about potential inquiry into handling of historical abuse

The Government has requested that the Spiritan order retain all its assets and maintain all records related to sex abuse allegations in its schools, which have been at the centre of recent allegations of abuse by former pupils.

The move is thought to be in anticipation of an inquiry into the handling of historical abuse allegations in several high-profile schools run by the order, formerly known as the Holy Ghost Fathers, and a potential compensation scheme for victims.

Minister for Education Norma Foley has written to the leaders of the Spiritans, reminding the order of its obligation to retain all records in relation to abuse allegations and also requesting that all its assets in Ireland should be retained, given the potential future need to support survivors, according to people familiar with the matter.

The Spiritan order recently said it had congressional assets worth more than €57 million.

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Ms Foley is expected to brief ministerial colleagues at this morning’s Cabinet meeting, as discussions continue within Government about a possible inquiry, and what form it might take.

It is understood that preliminary discussions have taken place in the Department of Education about who might be approached to lead any proposed inquiry.

Senior sources have warned, however, that the criticism levelled at the members of the Mother and Baby Homes inquiry after it published its report could act as a deterrent for anyone who might be asked to conduct such an inquiry.

Officials are examining whether the inquiry should be limited to past child abuse in schools that were run by the Spiritan congregation, or extended wider to cover other religious orders who ran schools.

Sources familiar with the discussions have suggested that containing an inquiry to a small number of schools could be very difficult, as further allegations of past abuse elsewhere continue to surface.

Discussions have also focused on what form an inquiry might take and whether it would be a full statutory inquiry, such as a commission of investigation, or if it could be carried out on a non-statutory basis.

Recent non-statutory investigations have included Dr Gabriel Scally’s scoping inquiry into the CervicalCheck controversy, as well as Dr Geoffrey Shannon’s recent independent investigation into historical child sex abuse in St John Ambulance. The review into past abuse in the voluntary paramedic organisation took more than a year and a half, with a final report sent to the board of St John Ambulance on Monday.

Some sources have suggested that an interim “scoping inquiry”, to determine the nature and extent of a future inquiry could be an option, though it is understood that no decisions have yet been made.

The Spiritan order, which runs some of the country’s most prestigious and high-profile schools including Blackrock College, St Michael’s College and Rockwell College, have been plunged into controversy following a RTE radio documentary in which victims of abuse told their story.

The Spiritans apologised to all victims in the wake of the recent Blackrock revelations and have set up a “restorative justice” programme comprised of independent experts to engage with survivors of historical abuse at schools and institutions run by the congregation.

However, some victims have demanded an inquiry into abuse at the order’s schools, while others have said the order should pay compensation to its victims. The Blackrock College Union, representing past pupils at the south Dublin school, called for a “full inquiry” into sexual abuse that took place at both the senior college and its junior school Willow Park. The order has pledged to co-operate with any inquiry.

About 70 people have come forward to make complaints since an RTÉ documentary was broadcast on the abuse of two Dublin brothers in the 1970s by priests at Blackrock College, Dublin. The new complaints brought the total number of allegations about abuse in the order’s schools in recent decades to 300.

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is a reporter with The Irish Times