Joint action will seek damages for victims of sex abuse in schools

A group of solicitors from around the country are coming together to win damages against the State, for people sexually abused in Irish primary schools.

Joint action will seek damages for victims of sex abuse in schools

They will represent a group of 75 survivors who were abused as children in Irish primary schools.

This action comes on foot of a High Court ruling in May, when five victims were refused the right to sue the Department of Education and the State for failing to protect them as children.

“We are going to appeal this and we are also in discussion with many lawyers throughout the country, with a view for all people affected by this judgement, to appeal it.

“We are not criticising the judge but it’s the vindication of our clients’ rights that we have in mind,” David Coleman of Coleman Legal Partners told the Irish Examiner yesterday.

This case could see a repeat of the landmark European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling in 2014 in favour of Cork woman Louise O’Keeffe.

Ms O’Keeffe was abused by school principal Leo Hickey while she was an eight-year-old pupil at Dunderrow NS in Kinsale in 1973.

Ms O’Keeffe went as far as the ECHR to seek justice, arguing that the State was liable, as the Department of Education had failed to put in place appropriate protection measures.

The ECHR found that the State was in breach of its obligation to protect schoolchildren from sexual abuse and to be in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.

“If necessary we will find ourselves in Europe, so be it, but it is wrong to put these people through this ringer when there’s a simple solution that can be had,” said Mr Coleman.

One of his clients, Cork man John Allen, 53, was in the High Court yesterday to hear whether the State was going to pursue him for costs in relation to the May ruling. Lawyers for the State said they were not seeking costs.

European Court of Human Rights (ECHR)
European Court of Human Rights (ECHR)

When Ms O’Keeffe lost her case in the Irish Supreme Court in 2008, the State Claims Agency wrote to all similar victims asking them to cease litigation or else face being pursued for hundreds of thousands of euro in legal fees. Mr Allen was one of these victims who signed a ‘notice of discontinuance’ to cease litigation.

However, when Ms O’Keeffe won in Europe, Mr Allen and four other victims tried to have their notices of discontinuance set aside. They failed in this attempt in May.

“There are other areas that people can deal with this in a satisfactory manner and I would ask that the State engage with the finite number of people, who are old in years,” said Mr Coleman. “They’ve been at this case for years, seeking to vindicate their rights.”

Speaking to the Irish Examiner yesterday, Ms O’Keeffe praised the survivors and solicitors for their joint action.

“I commend them,” she said. “I believe they shouldn’t have to do it because the judgment from Europe is there.

“The State did not have a system in place [to protect children in primary schools] and that’s why we were abused. In the Ryan Report [The Report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, published in May 2009], it says the State were aware that abuse was happening in our primary schools from the 1940s.”

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