Dept to conclude 'complex' review into victims of sexual abuse in schools in coming months

Dept to conclude 'complex' review into victims of sexual abuse in schools in coming months
The review was set up after the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the State failed to protect Louise O'Keeffe (pictured) who was the victim of sexual abuse in school in the 1970s. Picture: Dan Linehan

An official review into a compensation scheme for victims of sexual abuse in schools, the failings of which previously prompted a State apology, is expected to conclude in the coming months.

More than one year since then-Taoiseach Leo Varadkar apologised to those who were abused as children in schools before 1992, an ex gratia scheme for victims set up in the wake of a landmark legal case remains closed.

The scheme was set up in 2014 after the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the State failed to protect Cork woman Louise O’Keeffe, who was abused at her primary school in the 1970s.

The ex gratia scheme was closed pending a review last year after an independent determination found the State was imposing “illogical” restrictions on applicants seeking redress.

Last month, Ms O’Keeffe called on Taoiseach Michael Martin, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, and newly appointed Minister for Education Norma Foley to honour the commitments to compensate those who were sexually abused as children.

“I would urge you to reopen the ex gratia scheme expeditiously and end the continued suffering of those sexually abused in day schools,” she said. 

Micheál Martin, who last year accused the previous Government of deliberately misinterpreting the judgment to limit the compensation implications, said the review would be expedited.

However, while the Department of Education remains committed to this review, the work involved is “complex”, according to the new education minister, who confirmed the department’s position in a series of parliamentary questions.

The finished review is expected to be concluded in the coming months, and the department is working with the attorney-general, she added. No decisions are being made as to the eligibility or otherwise of individuals, she said.

The issues involved in the review of the scheme are “highly sensitive and complex” and require “very careful deliberation” before proposals can be finalised, according to Ms Foley. 

“It is important to have a more complete awareness of the extent of the problem, the number of people who could potentially be involved in the legal implications of any course of action, and an accurate estimate of likely costs before introducing any modifications to the scheme.” 

The Department of Education has been criticised for not taking into account these matters when establishing the residential institutional redress scheme, she added. 

“For example, the original estimates for the residential institutions were based on estimates drawn from known cases of litigations," Ms Foley said.

“The estimated figure of some 2,000 cases ended up with in excess of 16,000 cases.”

Separately, officials sought an extension from the Council of Europe in March, saying it had not been possible to progress the review as a Government had not yet been formed, and due to the pandemic. 

Ms Foley's response is contained in replies to questions posed by Fianna Fáil TD Willie O’Dea, Green Party TD Neasa Hourigan and Rise TD Paul Murphy.

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