Settlements for survivors of sex abuse in day schools

Settlements for survivors of sex abuse in day schools

A number of survivors of sex abuse in day schools have accepted settlements offered to them by the Department of Education after an independent review directed the Government to do so.

At the beginning of August, payments of €84,000 were offered to 13 survivors of sexual abuse who were rejected from an ex gratia (out of court) scheme set up in in 2015.

It followed an independent review of 19 rejected applications carried out by retired High Court judge Iarfhlaith O’Neill, who found the State was imposing an “illogical” and “unfair” requirement on victims seeking access to the scheme.

Settlements have now been accepted by a number of these applicants, said a spokesman for the Department of Education.

While he declined to confirm how many of the 13 applicants have now accepted a settlement, the Irish Examiner understands it is at least two people.

The ex gratia scheme for victims of sex abuse in day schools prior to 1992 was set up in 2015 following a European Court of Human Rights ruling in Cork woman Louise O’Keeffe’s case, where the State was found to have failed to have protected her from sexual abuse in the 1970s.

In order to apply for the scheme, victims needed to have dropped their case against the State and to provide evidence that a complaint had been made against their abuser prior to their own abuse.

The ‘prior complaint’ stipulation applied even if their abuser has been convicted.

This requirement was widely condemned by legal experts and human rights groups, who believed its inclusion was a deliberate misinterpretation of the O’Keeffe ruling, and impossible to fulfil given the reporting mechanisms for abuse at the time. 

In April it emerged that each of the 50 people who had applied to the scheme had not received compensation.

Following a review of failed applications, Justice O’Neill found it is “inherently illogical” for the State to demand evidence of a ‘prior complaint’, ruling that this is “incompatible” with the ruling in the O’Keeffe judgment.

The inclusion of these criteria, he ruled, effectively excludes any possibility of a “holistic and flexible approach” to the settlement of historic child sexual abuse claims.

When making its offer of a settlement to the 13 applicants, the Department of Education did not offer to reimburse the significant court costs incurred by victims who were required to have brought court proceedings against the State.

“In relation to legal costs, a process has been put in place for solicitors to contact the State Claims Agency in relation to their costs,” said the department spokesman.

It is expected that a further report will be filed with the Council of Europe at the end of September, he added.

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