State accused of reneging on payment to abuse victims

Abuse survivor Louise O’Keeffe has accused the State of trying to renege on its responsibilities to people who were sexually abused as children in schools after it emerged that a Government compensation scheme set up four years ago has paid nothing to survivors.

State accused of reneging on payment to abuse victims

Abuse survivor Louise O’Keeffe has accused the State of trying to renege on its responsibilities to people who were sexually abused as children in schools after it emerged that a Government compensation scheme set up four years ago has paid nothing to survivors.

Ms O’Keeffe, whose landmark European court ruling against the State led to the setting up of the redress fund, said those who have applied to the fund and been rejected — it is understood 44 of 50 applications have been rejected — are being denied an acknowledgement by the State that it left them down.

“The State should not be reneging on its responsibility here, particularly where there has already been a conviction of an abuser,” she said.

“I could call on the Minister for Education, Joe McHugh, to have the balls his predecessors didn’t, to acknowledge the State’s responsibility here, and to do right by these people who were abused in our national schools.”

Ms O’Keeffe spoke out after RTÉ’s This Week radio programme revealed how the compensation scheme has paid nothing to survivors since its establishment in 2015.

And the State Claims Agency has told one victim, John Allen from Cork City, a former pupil of the North Monastery Christian Brothers NS where two brothers were convicted of charges of child sexual abuse, that the Department of Education failed to provide it with documents it sought from officials some 18 months earlier to allow him process his claim.

“It appears as if the State wants you to just go away and shut up. This stuff in our dark history, keep the slime under the rock and do not lift the rock,” Mr Allen told the programme.

The department has said that it will not comment on individual cases.

In 2014, following a 15-year legal battle with the State, Ms O’Keeffe won a landmark ruling at the European Court of Human Rights that the State was vicariously liable for the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her former national school principal, Leo Hickey, at Dunderrow NS in Cork.

In 2015, the Government set up an out-of-court compensation scheme for those in the same category as Ms O’Keeffe and who had discontinued their legal cases against the State.

However, claimants were told they had to prove they were abused by a school employee against whom a prior complaint of sexual abuse had been made.

This condition has been sharply criticised by survivors and legal experts who say it is a misinterpretation of the European court ruling.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin described the condition as “grotesque and immoral” and accused the Government of deliberately misinterpreting the O’Keeffe judgement to limit the compensation implications.

“The Government approach has been dishonest, cynical, and shows a cruel disregard for the victims of child sexual abuse in primary schools,” he said.

It emerged in March that retired High Court judge, Mr Justice Iarfhlaith O’Neill, the independent assessor of the redress scheme, is investigating whether the department is correctly implementing the court decision.

Mr Martin said it is time for the Government to do the right thing.

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