A further delay with the State’s scheme to provide redress to survivors of abuse in primary schools illustrates the Government’s inadequate response to its legal obligations, the special rapporteur on child protection has warned.
An updated action plan on the State’s progress in implementing a landmark ruling on redress for survivors of sexual abuse in primary schools prior to 1992, due to have been submitted on September 30, has been delayed until at least mid-October.
This follows an extension sought from the Council of Europe in July by the Irish authorities after an independent review of 19 failed applications to the scheme was carried out by retired High Court judge Justice Iarfhlaith O’Neill.
“A delay of three months in responding to that ruling, and the absence of any indication as to when the matter will be resolved, is an inadequate response by the Government to its legal obligations to abuse survivors,” the Government’s special rapporteur on child protection Conor O’Mahony told the Irish Examiner.
The ex gratia (out of court) redress scheme was introduced in 2015 following the landmark judgment 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.
According to Mr O’Mahony, in the O’Keeffe case, there are between 300 and 400 known victims who were abused in schools where child protection procedures were found to be defective.
“The ruling by Mr Justice O’Neill in July made it clear that the State remains in breach of its obligations under the Louise O’Keeffe decision as long as redress is withheld from survivors of abuse in primary schools,” he said.
“I would like to call on the Government to conclude its review of the scheme and provide compensation to abuse survivors without further delay.”
A State apology was extended to survivors following the determination by Justice O’Neill in July, who found that the State was imposing “illogical” requirements on those seeking compensation.
Both Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Education Minister Joe McHugh committed to reviewing the scheme following this determination. In order to qualify, a survivor must have discontinued legal action against the State and provide evidence that a prior complaint was made against their abuser, even if their abuser was convicted. Cases also must not be statute-barred.
However, the Department of Education is treating its review of the overall redress scheme separately to the update it is expected to file to the Council of Europe later this month.
Offers of payments have also now been made to 16 survivors who initially were denied a payment from the State. Seven of these payments have been accepted.
A Department of Education spokesman said its action plan will be submitted after it is approved by the Government. The updated plan is expected to provide further information on monitoring child safeguarding issues as well as an update on Justice O’Neill’s assessment, the spokesman added.: “The review of the ex gratia scheme is ongoing.”