Sunday 21 July 2019

Survivors of school sex abuse in line for payouts

Pioneer: Louise O’Keeffe’s case opened the door to the others. Photo: Collins
Pioneer: Louise O’Keeffe’s case opened the door to the others. Photo: Collins
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Thirteen survivors of child sex abuse in day schools are in line for compensation of up to €84,000 after a judge ruled the State Claims Agency was wrong to deny them payouts.

Former High Court judge Iarfhlaith O'Neill, sitting as an Independent Assessor, found in favour of 13 out of 19 survivors whose claims had previously been refused.

The Department of Education said yesterday that the SCA has been asked to make the payments an immediate priority. Now it remains to be seen how many more similar claims may be made, and succeed. It is understood it could run into hundreds.

Judge O'Neill's ruling arises from the victory for Louise O'Keeffe in 2014, when the European Court of Human Rights found the Irish State had been negligent in failing to protect her from abuse in national school.

That judgment opened the doors for similar cases and, in 2015, an ex gratia scheme was set up to deal with claims.

The scheme was open to those who had discontinued proceedings in the wake of judgments in the Irish courts, but before the European court ruling in the O'Keeffe case.

The State insisted that claimants produce evidence that they were abused by a school employee against whom prior complaint of sexual abuse had been made.

Judge O'Neill, who was appointed in 2017 as an Independent Assessor for claims that had been declined under the scheme, found that the 'prior complaint' condition was incompatible with the European court's judgment.

He said that it risked a "continuing breach" of rights and "effectively excludes any possibility of a holistic and flexible approach to the settlement of historic child sexual abuse claims".

Judge O'Neill said the other six cases did not fulfil an additional ground for eligibility - they did not have litigation against the State that they had discontinued - and were not entitled to a payment from the scheme.

Only 19 of 50 applicants to the scheme sought an Independent Assessment, while it has been estimated that more than 300 people could have cases.

A Department of Education spokesman said it was not possible to put an estimate on numbers that could be similar to the 13 cases that the judge had ruled were "entitled to payments".

Education Minister Joe McHugh said he hoped that the work of Judge O'Neill would "bring some measure of closure to some people who were affected by abuse in school and went on to challenge the State".

He said the ruling was a complex one which would "require in-depth analysis before decisions are taken on how to respond to the issues raised".

Irish Independent

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