Way cleared for abuse survivor to seek compensation from redress board

The way has been cleared for a woman who suffered institutional abuse to make a late claim for redress following the Supreme Court’s finding in favour of her challenge.

She had applied for compensation to the Residential Institutions Redress Board but was refused because her application was too late.

Ms Justice Susan Denham delivered judgment in the case which was heard during the historic first sitting of the Supreme Court in Cork. She said the board erred in the exercise of its discretion and that its decision to refuse was irrational.

The woman’s identity cannot be published because of the allegation of sexual abuse.

Ms Justice Denham said that the act of 2002 under which the board was established was remedial in nature and that their allowance for exceptional cases to be allowed to make claims even when late had to be interpreted according to that remedial nature.

“In this case the appellant submitted that at the time when she might have been expected to make an application she was suffering from mental health issues,” Ms Justice Denham said.

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“Applying the criteria for ‘exceptional circumstances’ given by the board itself [to the psychiatrist’s findings] it is clear they meet the test of exceptional circumstances.

“The appellant’s personal family situation, her isolation, her psychological distress suffered as a consequence of her childhood in institutions, her active suppression of memories of her lifetime in institutions for many years, the fact that she could not cope with the memories until she received counselling, that she could not apply to the board until she had received counselling, and her health difficulties were all prevailing factors at the relevant time.”

The appellant’s senior counsel, Niamh Hyland, said the 33-year-old applied to the board for compensation but her application was refused because she was too late.

Frank Callanan, senior counsel for the board, said they had allowed over 80% of late applications and had discretion in the matter.

He said the redress scheme had been heavily promoted and advertised through the media and that the woman was effectively saying she had absolutely no recollection of ever having heard anything about it and that this was why the application was late.

Summing up, Ms Hyland said: “Because of the nature of the function of the board, the idea that they keep people out because they came late to the knowledge of the scheme is not in keeping with the statue.”

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