State accused of limiting payouts to child abuse victims

The Government are deliberately trying to limit compensation to those who were abused as children in primary schools, the Dáil has heard.

Fianna Fáil’s Micheál Martin has accused the Government of applying a “bogus interpretation and application” of the Louise O’Keeffe judgement to other victims of abuse in a bid to avoid payouts.

In 2014, Ms O’Keeffe won a landmark case when the European Court of Human Rights ruled the Irish State had been negligent in failing to protect her from abuse in primary school. This left the State liable to pay compensation to Ms O’Keeffe, and looked like it set a precedent for other victims.

However, yesterday the Dáil heard the Government is behaving in an “appalling manner” by forcing other victims to take the costly route through the European Court of Human Rights to get a proper application of the judgement.

Mr Martin said: “This is not complex, it is quite simple. What happened after the Louise O’Keeffe judgement, it seems to me, is the Government asked how the hell would it limit this and how would it prevent genuine people who have been abused, and whose abusers have been convicted and limit the numbers. This is what is going on and it is scandalous.”

Taoiseach Enda Kenny admitted the State had “been cautious, to put it mildly, about this”.

However, he was then accused of being “disingenuous” when he went on interpret Mr Martin’s question as relating to all abuse cases in primary schools which could stretch back to before the foundation of the State.

“What Deputy Martin is talking about now in the language he uses here is not just those who have come forward and were sexually abused in primary schools, but about looking at all the generations who went through primary schools, some of whom might not have understood the nature of sexual abuse or whatever.”

Mr Martin said this was disingenuous of the Taoiseach: “He knows full well what I am saying. It is the application by the Government of an interpretation of the Louise O’Keeffe judgment.”

He raised the case of John Allen, who was sexually abused by a Christian Brother, who he said has been seeking justice for 17 years.

“He is in very difficult financial circumstances and suffering from a chronic disease. He has had huge anxiety and trauma as a result of this. He has been dragged through the courts. There are many other victims as well,” Mr Martin said, referring 15 other similar cases.

He said the State was now using a “bogus” interpretation of the O’Keeffe case though the invocation of the prior complaint mechanism.

This prior complaint qualification means the abuse must have taken place after a complaint was made to the school and where the school failed to act on such a complaint.

“Only seven out of 360 cases have been settled via this mechanism,” Mr Martin said. “I am speaking about people where convictions have taken place and the abusers are now in jail. In John Allen’s case this is exactly what has happened, but he has been pursuing justice for 17 years.”

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