Tuesday 20 August 2019

Abuse survivors face new setback with freezing of redress scheme

State receives 100 new claims of child abuse in day schools

APOLOGY: Leo Varadkar said cases would be re-examined. Picture: Damien Eagers
APOLOGY: Leo Varadkar said cases would be re-examined. Picture: Damien Eagers
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

The Government has closed a redress scheme for survivors of child abuse in State-run national schools to new applicants after a report by a retired High Court judge found it was too restrictive.

Thirteen survivors of abuse whom the judge found were wrongly excluded from the scheme will be paid immediately, according to Government sources.

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The Department of Education has closed the scheme to new applicants and has paused the assessment of any existing claims, until the Attorney General has examined the implications of the report. Survivors of abuse who were rejected by the scheme or deterred from applying are expected to make new claims but will be told that the scheme is frozen pending a review.

The decision to freeze the scheme came days after the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, apologised to survivors for the abuse, and for the State's delay in acknowledging it had the responsibility to protect day school children from abuse.

His apology was prompted by a report by Mr Justice Iarfhlaith O'Neill that an ex-gratia scheme set up to compensate victims of sexual abuse in day schools had been misinterpreted, with the effect of excluding many applicants.

The Taoiseach said last week survivors who had abandoned their cases or who didn't apply in the first place, would have to be re-examined, which could involve re-opening the scheme.

However, Government sources say senior officials have raised concerns at the numbers of people who might now be covered by a revised ex-gratia scheme. The State Claims Agency has received 100 new cases from people claiming they were abused in day schools, according to sources. More are expected.

The Department of Education confirmed that arrangements to pay the 13 applicants have been set in train and that "pending a review of the scheme, applications are no longer being accepted".

Mr Justice O'Neill's review of the scheme found the State imposed an "illogical" requirement on victims to prove they had made a prior complaint about their abuser. Not a single application was compensated through the scheme since it was set up in 2015.

The judge found the 'prior complaint' criteria was a misinterpretation of and "inconsistent" with the European Court of Human Rights ruling in the landmark Louise O'Keeffe case.

The decision to freeze the scheme while the implications of the report are studied by the Attorney General is a further delay to survivors of abuse who have waited decades for acknowledgment of the wrong done to them, according to survivors of abuse

Two men told the Sunday Independent they were sexually and physically abused by the notorious paedophile, Donal Dunne, now deceased, in a national school in Ballyfermot in the early 1960s. The men, who asked not to be identified, remained silent about the abuse for many years but in recent years tried to seek redress and counselling for the abuse they suffered at hands of their teacher when they were seven and eight years old. Dunne was convicted of abusing other children in 1999, but admitted sexually abusing boys at schools in Dublin, Longford and Westmeath.

The abuse affected both men deeply, but they never spoke about it until they were adults. "We didn't have the language to tell anyone that this was going on," said one of the men. "The question is always what would you have been like if it hadn't happened," he said. "It affected my confidence, and I became very nervous. It gnaws away at you for years."

Both men sought redress but were rebuffed. One man approached the redress scheme for abuse in residential institutions, which examined Dunne, but as a day school pupil, he was not eligible. The other man approached a solicitor after reading about the Louise O'Keeffe case. "I was told that it was a waste of time," he said.

Sunday Independent

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