State has failed to honour commitment to victims of sexual abuse in primary schools, says Louise O'Keeffe

Almost one year after Leo Varadkar apologised on behalf of the State to victims of sexual abuse in day schools, survivor and campaigner Louise O'Keeffe has said that the government has failed to take action.
State has failed to honour commitment to victims of sexual abuse in primary schools, says Louise O'Keeffe
Child sexual abuse survivor Louise O'Keeffe has said that the government has failed to take action. Picture: Dan Linehan

Almost one year after Leo Varadkar apologised on behalf of the State to victims of sexual abuse in day schools, survivor and campaigner Louise O'Keeffe has said that the government has failed to take action.

Ms O'Keeffe has today written to Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Minister for Education Norma Foley urging the government to provide redress to survivors of sexual abuse in day schools prior to 1992 and end "the continued suffering of those sexually abused".

Over six years ago, Cork woman Ms O'Keeffe won her landmark case at the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) where the court found that the State failed to protect her from sexual abuse in the 1970s.

The State was ordered to pay Ms O'Keeffe damages as well as costs and expenses.

Following this ruling, the ex gratia (out of court) redress scheme was introduced in 2015.

In a letter today, Ms O'Keeffe said: "Almost six and a half years after the ECtHR judgement the State continues to fail its children by not fully accepting the responsibility that is and always was theirs to protect children from sexual abuse in our day schools.

"In continuing to do so the State is adding more hardship and suffering upon those who were sexually abused in the day schools by putting obstacles in their way of rightful acknowledgement of the wrong done by way of compensation and by constantly using delay tactics."

In order to apply for the redress scheme, victims are required to have dropped their case against the State, not be statute barred and to provide evidence that a prior complaint had been made against their abuser, even if their abuser was convicted.

On 9 July 2019, then-Taoiseach Leo Varadkar delivered an apology on behalf of the State in the Dáil and said that action would be taken to include those who were sexually abused in day schools before 1992 in the redress scheme.

Addressing the Dáil, Mr Varadkar said: "The State failed them at the time, failed them again a second time when it did not own up to its responsibility and we won’t fail them a third time."

Ms O'Keeffe said that the continued inaction by the government over the past year means that they have indeed been failed a third time.

"Can you please ensure that they are not failed a fourth time? Taoiseach, on the same day in the Dáil, as leader of the Opposition, you stressed the need that the ex gratia scheme “will be” rather than “may be” reopened," wrote Ms O'Keeffe.

It is time for action and closure regarding the State’s responsibility for lack of protection of children in day schools resulting in them being sexually abused.

Last July, a review of the redress scheme found that the State imposed an "illogical and unfair" requirement on victims seeking compensation.

The review, carried out by retired High Court Judge Justice Iarfhlaith 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 case.

The inclusion of these criteria, Justice O'Neill ruled, effectively exclude any possibility of a “holistic and flexible approach” to the settlement of historic child sexual abuse claims.

An updated action plan on the State’s progress in implementing the ECtHR ruling was initially due to have been submitted on 30 September 2019.

It was then delayed until mid-October.

In November 2019, then-Minister for Education Joe McHugh told the Dáil that draft proposals on a review of the redress scheme were expected in a matter of weeks.

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