A review of a redress scheme set up for victims of child sexual abuse following a landmark 2014 judgement has found that the State imposed an illogical and unfair requirement on victims seeking compensation.
Retired High Court Judge Justice Iarfhlaith O’Neill was appointed in 2017 to assess applications to an ex gratia scheme [out of court] for victims of sexual abuse that had been declined by the State Claims Agency (SCA).
The scheme was established following the landmark judgement in Cork woman Louise O’Keeffe’s case, where the European Court of Human Rights found the State had failed to protect her from sexual abuse in the 1970s.
Set up in 2015 for victims who had dropped cases against the State, applicants to the ex gratia scheme are required to provide evidence that a complaint was made against their abuser, prior to their own abuse. The ‘prior complaint’ stipulation applies even if their abuser has been convicted.
This requirement has been widely condemned by legal experts and human rights groups, who believed its inclusion is a deliberate misinterpretation of the O’Keeffe ruling, and impossible to fulfil given the reporting mechanisms for abuse at the time. In April, it emerged that none of the 50 applicants to the ex gratia scheme had been successful.
In his determination, seen by the Irish Examiner, Justice O’Neill found that it is “inherently illogical” for the State to demand evidence of a ‘prior complaint’, ruling that this is “incompatible” with the judgement in the O’Keeffe judgement. The inclusion of these criteria, he ruled, effectively exclude any possibility of a “holistic and flexible approach” to the settlement of historic child sexual abuse claims.
He found that 13 applicants to the scheme who were rejected because they did not have evidence of a prior complaint are entitled to payment. He also found that six applicants to the scheme who were turned down because they did not take cases against the State may be dealt with more appropriately by the SCA under a new heading: 'new litigation in relation to historic abuse claims'.
Director of the Child Law Clinic at University College Cork (UCC) Dr Conor O’Mahony, who has worked with survivors of school abuse for 10 years including Louise O’Keeffe, welcomed Mr Justice O’Neill’s ruling.
Dr O'Mahony said: “Abuse survivors have suffered enough for long enough, and it is long past time that the State met its obligations towards them under international human rights law.”
Education Minister Joe McHugh said he hopes Mr Justice O'Neill's decision may help to bring a measure of closure to some of the survivors.
The State Claims Agency has been asked to prioritise payments to the 19 applicants mentioned by Mr Justice O'Neill, he added.
Minister McHugh expressed sympathy to those who have suffered child sexual abuse and acknowledged the trauma they suffer.