Submissions made to Strasbourg by the Child Law Clinic and the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission question the Government’s narrow interpretation of the landmark European judgment which found the State was negligent in failing to protect Louise O’Keeffe from abuse in national school.
The liability of the Department of Education in day-school abuse cases was at the core of a High Court case last month where three men in their 50s and 60s, claiming sexual abuse during the 1960s, were told they cannot sue the State for damages.
The court ruled that the men couldn’t take a case as they had previously signed an agreement to discontinue legal proceedings in return for the State agreeing to waive costs.
Dr Conor O’Mahony, deputy director of the Child Law Clinic, believes they should be entitled to compensation through the day school redress scheme: “The High Court did not, unfortunately, have any wriggle room in last month’s case because of precedent.”
The Child Law Clinic, which provided support to Ms O’Keeffe’s legal team in her action before the European Court of Human Rights, and the IHREC sent individual submissions to the committee of ministers of the Council of Europe expressing concerns about the action plan put in place by the Government following the judgment.
According to Dr O’Mahony, a violation was found in the O’Keeffe case because of the complete absence of any measures, namely a child protection framework, to protect children against the risk of sexual abuse. Yet the State’s interpretation of the European Court of Human Rights Grand Chamber judgment is that the violation of Article 3 only arises in cases when it can be proved by the victim that a prior complaint of abuse was made to the school and not acted upon.
It is only in these more limited circumstances that the State Claims Agency is willing to make out-of-court settlements of around €80,000 to adults who suffered sexual abuse at school.
Approximately 100 people had been pursuing legal actions against the Department of Education for abuse at day schools.
Only seven or eight of them have so far been able to prove the existence of a prior complaint.