Five months after agreeing his sweetheart deal with the religious orders, which stands to cost the exchequer more than €1bn, Michael Woods attended a private dinner hosted by the Christian Brothers.
The occasion was the order's bicentenary, a celebration for which the brothers had chosen the €5m construction of a new school at Mount Sion in Waterford as its flagship project, funded by the Department of Education. The dinner that November night in 2002 is remembered as "sumptuous". Woods, no longer the minister for education by then, and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, who had apologised in 1999 to survivors of child abuse in industrial schools, were honoured guests.
The venue was the Marino Institute of Education, the brothers' generalate and teacher training college where, four years later, Ahern would officially open a €40m development comprising 302 student residences, an assembly hall, seminar rooms, lecture theatres, dining room, sports hall and a new cloister area.
You have to wonder if the country's political leader paused during his ribbon-cutting duties to contemplate the disproportion between the €40m spent on the college extension and the €128m to be contributed by 18 religious orders in return for immunity to civil legal claims by abuse victims in their residential institutions. One thing is clear now: Ahern's government did not attempt to establish the orders' financial means by conducting an audit of their assets before agreeing a final figure. Such trust would be unthinkable in negotiations with anyone else, where hundreds of millions in taxpayers' money was at stake.
A quick examination of Richmond Newstreet, an international education trust set up by the Christian Brothers and registered in Dublin, reveals that no accounts have been filed since 2004.
Among the senior churchmen hosting the bicentennial celebration in 2002 was Brother David Gibson, who soon afterwards gave evidence to the child abuse commission, assisted by a wealth of documents detailing child abuse complaints going back to the 1930s, which were uncovered by an archivist in Rome in 2003. To tell the story of one brother at St Joseph's industrial school, Letterfrack, Gibson relied on a contemporaneous account from a senior brother in the congregation.
"It is alleged that this [abusive brother's] relations with the boys are immoral," he read into the record, "and if the statement that I got from the boys, and which I now submit to the Brother Provincial, are true, he has been living a most depraved, unclean and gravely immoral life for years. So bad are the charges that I could not conscientiously allow him to remain with the boys any longer. Availed of the fact that he got a fit on the day that I arrived to send him to the O'Brien institute for a rest."
What, enquired the senior counsel acting for the child abuse commission, was the O'Brien institute?
It was an orphanage, Gibson replied, run by the Christian Brothers in Marino.
So culturally embedded are the state and the church that the demarcation lines are often invisible. The bicentennial dinner in Marino that night in 2002 graphically illustrated the cosiness of the relationship. In the very same place where a "depraved" and known perpetrator of crimes against children was sheltered from the authorities under cover of an orphanage, his congregation sat down to dine with the two key members of government who rubber-stamped their get-out-of-jail pact.
The fifth of June 2002 was the last day of Bertie Ahern's first government, the day Michael Woods signed off on the indemnity deal. Every one of the 15 ministers who walked away from the cabinet room after the final meeting of that government had been educated in a Catholic-run school. The three ministers who were pivotal to the immunity deal – Bertie Ahern, Michael Woods and finance minister Charlie McCreevy – all received a Christian Brothers education, as did four more of their colleagues – in other words, half the cabinet.
One of Woods' first overseas trips as education minister was with his wife, Margo, accompanying President McAleese on a visit to the pope in February 1999. He has denied rumours that he is a member of either Opus Dei or the Knights of Columbanus.
During the lifetime of Ahern's second government, he was bestowed with a papal knighthood by the Sacred Military Constantinian Order of St George for his contribution to peace in Northern Ireland and for his "efforts to ensure that the new European Constitution includes references to the continent's Christian foundation and heritage".
President McAleese was also knighted in 2004 for her part in the peace process and for her "commitment to inter-church and inter-faith dialogue". The lord mayor of Dublin at the time, Royston Brady, was the third recipient for the work done by Dublin City Council for homeless people.
The most senior Irish official of the order, the oldest in the world, is former Fianna Fáil senator Don Lydon. Among the charges for which Frank Dunlop was jailed last week was the corrupt payment of IR£3,000 to Lydon on 4 May 1992 as an inducement to vote in favour of rezoning land in Carrickmines.
While Pope John Paul II was dying, it was reported that the taoiseach, along with Woods' successor as education minister, Mary Hanafin (who accompanied President McAleese on a Vatican visit and attended the inauguration of Pope Benedict), were among crowds praying for the pontiff in Dublin's Pro-Cathedral.
Following the publication of the Ferns report in 2005, Liz O'Donnell, then a government TD, criticised the "deference" shown to the church by the state, arguing that the church should not be trusted to tell the truth and accusing the state of being "close to All Hallows".
Bertie Ahern furiously retorted: "I am very proud of All Hallows. Yes, I do ring All Hallows. I will ring All Hallows. My father has worked in All Hallows for half a century. My house is called All Hallows. It is on the land of All Hallows. So I'm going to make apologies to nobody, I include Liz O'Donnell, for being in touch for All Hallows."
In January 2006, on a trip to India, Ahern visited a Christian Brothers school in New Delhi. A month later, he opened the Edmund Rice Centre in Dublin. In November of the same year, he opened the extension in Marino, following allegations of bullying at the institute. A report commissioned by the college, which it refused to publish, was reported to have "vindicated" the authorities.
The previous year, Bertie Ahern had once again been the guest of honour at the institute, this time to celebrate 100 years since it opened. He commended the brothers for instilling in young people "the need to strive for a more just and equitable world".
Bertie Ahern, Taoiseach, St Aidan's Christian Brothers school, Whitehall
Mary Harney, Tánaiste & Minister for Enterprise, Convent of Mercy, Inchicore, and Presentation Convent, Clondalkin
Charlie McCreevy, Minister for Finance, Naas Christian Brothers School and Gormanston College (Franciscan)
Brian Cowen, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Roscrea College (Cistercians)
John O'Donoghue, Minister for Justice, Cahirciveen Christian Brothers school
Joe Walsh, Minister for Agriculture, St Finbarr's College, Farranferris (diocesan school and seminary)
Michael Smith, Minister for Defence, Templemore Christian Brothers school
Michael Woods, Minister for Education, Christian Brothers school, Synge Street
Micheál Martin, Minister for Health, Coláiste Chríost Rí (Presentation Brothers)
Mary O'Rourke, Minister for Public Enterprise, Loreto Convent, Wicklow
Dermot Ahern, Minister for Social, Community & Family Affairs, Marist College, Dundalk
Noel Dempsey, Minister for the Environment, St Michael's CBS, Trim
Frank Fahey, Minister for the Marine, St Mary's College, Galway (diocesan school and seminary)
Jim McDaid, Minister for Tourism, Sport & Recreation, St Eunan's College, Letterkenny (diocesan school and seminary)
Síle de Valera, Minister for Heritage, Gaeltacht & The Islands, Loreto Convent, Foxrock