By Daniel McConnell (Political Editor - Irish Examiner
08/11/2017 - Six properties promised to the State by the Catholic Church in 2002 still remain outside full public ownership 15 years later, the Irish Examiner can reveal.
Documents obtained reveal a further 13 properties “handed over” in 2009, including the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dublin, also continue to remain outside of the State’s control.
The Department of Education has been sharply criticised by the chairman and members of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) for the “unacceptable delays” in transferring the properties over to the State.
The PAC is to bring the secretary general of the Department of Education, Seán Ó Foghlú, next week to seek answers from him over the failure to transfer the lands.
PAC chairman Sean Fleming, speaking to the Irish Examiner, said there has been a total “malaise” within the department.
“Clearly there has been an insufficient determination to wrap this matter up,” he said. “It is completely unacceptable to have these matters outstanding 15 years after agreements were reached.
“We will now hear evidence from Mr Ó Foghlú on this matter next week and the lack of progress will be top of the agenda.”
PAC member Catherine Murphy echoed Mr Fleming’s concerns, saying the delays are “astonishing”.
“The public deserves better than vague updates and an inability from the department to fully disclose their engagements with the congregations,” she said.
In the documents, Mr Ó Foghlú sought to defend the delays, saying each is a “separate transaction which has to be completed in accordance with conveyancing law and standard practice”.
“The completion of these transfers has proved to be a time-consuming and resource intensive process,” he said in correspondence.
He also said many of the properties are already in use for education, childcare, or healthcare purposes despite the ownership issue remaining outstanding.
According to the documents, several of the properties have only “minor” title issues outstanding, while others are still waiting for contracts to be signed.
It has emerged that one of the six outstanding properties agreed upon in 2002 has been rejected for use by the State.
The property — Moate National School in Aghanargit, Co Westmeath — which is in the charge of the Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy Western Province, was deemed unsuitable.
As a result, “alternative suitable property or cash in lieu [is being] sought”, according to the documents.
On the other five 2002 properties, Mr Ó Foghlú said minor issues remain to be resolved prior to final transfer.
“These include the resolution of boundary or planning issues and or the appointment of new trustees etc,” he said.
Mr Ó Foghlú said that, because the matters are still subject to legal discussions, it would not be appropriate to provide more specific details as to the delays.
On the 13 properties agreed upon in 2009, Mr Ó Foghlú said that, following a Government decision to accept the lands, “further detailed technical work was required on each individual property”.
On the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dun Laoghaire, Mr Ó Foghlú has said the transfer has “proven to be particularly complex as it involves a new ownership structure for the hospital itself”.
“Progress is, however, being made on this transfer,” he said.
According to Education Minister Richard Bruton, a cash contribution of €54.42m under the agreement with the religious congregations have been received.
“It was agreed a total of 64 properties would be accepted under the agreement,” he said. “A total of 50 properties have been fully transferred and there are no outstanding issues.”
Former education minister Michael Woods signed the deal with the Church in 2002, which capped its liability for child abuse compensation at €127m. However, the final bill for the State will exceed €1.2bn.