‘Urgent’ need to change redress scheme

The State’s “failed” system to provide payments to victims of child sexual abuse in schools needs to be reformed “without delay” as many survivors are elderly, the State’s human rights watchdog has said.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission said the payment system likely amounts to an ongoing breach of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

The commission makes a number of strong criticisms of the State in a submission to a judicial review of the ex gratia (out of court) payment system that was established in 2015 after a landmark ruling by the European Court of Human Rights.

That decision, following a 15-year legal battle by Louise O’Keeffe, found that the State had vicarious liability for the sexual abuse the Cork woman suffered when in national school.

It emerged this month that not one of the 50 applicants to the payment scheme has yet been offered redress.

The State’s interpretation of the Court’s ruling stated that claimants must be able to prove that they previously made a complaint.

Mr Justice Iarflaith O’Neill has been tasked, as independent assessor, to conduct a review of how the State Claims Agency has handled claims by individuals for ex gratia payments.

In what is its third submission to the O’Neill review, the commission noted that since October 2015, it has described the State’s payment system as “unduly restrictive and narrow”.

It said a system where “not a single offer of redress has been made” could not be described as being an effective remedy, which is a legal obligation under the ECHR.

“The need to address this matter without further delay is heightened by the fact, that many survivors of abuse, are advancing in age and have been seeking not only compensation but also an acknowledgement of the wrong done to them since their childhood,” said the commission.

It said that when the scheme was announced, survivors were “given to believe that there would finally be an acknowledgement by the State, within a reasonable timeframe, of the wrong done to them”.

It said: “In the commission’s view, the successful conclusion of the ex gratia scheme process for a survivor of abuse is about so much more than just the monetary compensation, it is also an opportunity for the State, through its actions, to finally acknowledge the wrong done to that person during their childhood.

“Instead the reality of the scheme appears to be something quite different — no form of redress has been extended to any applicant nearly four years after the establishment of this scheme.”

It concluded: “For the State to establish a scheme of this kind, and then fail to operate in any meaningful manner, likely amounts to an ongoing failure to provide an effective remedy under Article 13 of the ECHR, as well as a failure to vindicate the constitutional rights and ECHR rights (specifically article 3 and 8 of the ECHR) of those people who are survivors of abuse.

“The commission respectfully urges the independent assessor to ensure, through his determination of the appeals pending before him, that applicants’ cases are considered without further delay in accordance with the European Court of Human Rights decision in O’Keeffe, but equally importantly in light of the State’s obligations under the Constitution and the ECHR.”

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