Saturday 10 December 2016

Minister defends department decision to write to school abuse victims

Published 25/07/2016 | 10:37

Education Minister Richard Bruton Photo: Tom Burke
Education Minister Richard Bruton Photo: Tom Burke

Education Minister Richard Bruton has defended a decision for the department to write to victims who were abused in schools as children and warn them of the high costs of filing legal action.

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The State wrote to survivors warning them to withdraw their legal actions or be pursued for costs should they lose.

The Department has been accused of intimidating victims from filing claims against the State.

Education Minister Richard Bruton told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland that the State wasn’t putting their interests ahead of the victims.

“I’m conscious that people suffered terrible abuse at the hands of individuals and in some cases at the responsibility of the state but we’re trying to help those people," the minister said.

"The Department has spent over a billion under the redress provisions and we’ve made ex-gratia payments in other cases. We’re trying to make sure that people are treated in a humane way and of course respecting the law and obligations of courts.

“We’ve introduced very significant payments for people who have been victims of abuse and have fully respected the European Court of Human Rights finding, we’ve paid without admission of liability,” he said.

He said the letters didn’t come "directly" from his department and that they were sent out from the State Claims Agency but ensured that he will review them to insure “individuals are treated in a humane way and at the same time respecting the role of courts”.

The minister also announced today a new disciplinary panel for teachers to monitor and regulate the teaching profession.

“This is part of a wider move to help parents and students to be better informed and have more opportunity to be heard and if necessary take their complaints to the final point which would be a teacher being struck off for improper conduct or failure to observe codes of conduct,” the minister said.

“It’s to preserve professional standards that we expect and the teaching council expects its teachers who are on the teaching council to observe and they have set out their own codes and these will have the final arbitration of someone being disciplined or even struck off the register and barred from teaching in the future.”

He said that an investigation committee into complaints will be made up of three or five people- a majority of whom will be teachers.

“This is the first time a teacher will be struck off the registrar because only the teaching council can remove a person’s right to teach. An individual school can dismiss a teacher and I’m sure that has happened on more than one occasion but this points to the nest step and says that an individual’s right to teach in any school will be removed.

"It’s part of a very serious sanction but it’s part of a much wider range of changes,” said Bruton.

He said he’s “very keen to push ahead” because a professional body like teaching needs to be regulated to maintain high standards.

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