The Irish State has developed a “culture of denial and obstruction” when it comes to facing its responsibility for the historical violations of children’s rights, leading to significant trauma for victims.
That’s according to Dr Conor O'Mahony, the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, whose first annual report has been published today.
It comes as an ex gratia [without obligation] scheme for victims of abuse in schools remains closed, almost 18 months since survivors received a State apology.
Dr O’Mahony condemned the State for its failure to re-open the scheme for survivors since it closed pending review last year.
This culture of “denial and obstruction” is forcing victims to fight the State for many years to receive an acknowledgment of liability and redress to which they are entitled by human rights law.
This compounds the original violations of their rights for which the State bears partial responsibility, he added.
“The State’s strategy in this respect often involves huge expenditure on legal fees defending actions, which undermines the extent of any financial savings which might be made.
"This money would be better spent on meeting the needs of survivors,” he added.
The ex gratia scheme was set up in the wake of a landmark legal battle won by Cork woman Louise O'Keeffe in 2014.
However, the failure of the scheme, which is meant to provide redress for victims of abuse in schools prior to 1992, prompted a State apology in 2019.
This followed a review by an independent assessor of 19 failed applications which found that the State was imposing “illogical” conditions on victims seeking to apply.
Victims were required to provide evidence that a complaint was made against their abuser, prior to their own abuse. This ‘prior complaint’ stipulation applied even if their abuser has been convicted.
The scheme was closed temporarily following this ruling, pending a review.
However, it remains closed to this day while that review remains ongoing.
Dr O’Mahony said: “[The Minister for Education] made statements in the Dáil [last year] in which they committed to dispensing with the prior complaint criterion and re-opening the scheme.
“A notice was published on the Department of Education website stating that the process of reviewing the scheme would ‘take a number of weeks to complete’.”
However, the scheme still remains closed to this day.
The failure to re-open the scheme places Ireland in continuing violation of Article 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights, O'Mahony added.
It also causes significant trauma to those already affected, who have already been denied their rightful entitlement for more than six years, he added.
“Moreover, many of the survivors are of advanced age and do not have the luxury of time.
"There is no justification for further delays in vindicating the right of survivors of abuse in schools to an effective remedy.”
The Irish State is due to file regular updates to the Council of Europe on its progress in implementing the O'Keeffe ruling.
In August, it sought a fourth delay until December 8 as the review had not progressed due to the pandemic, and due to the formation of the Government.
In its latest update filed to the Council of Europe last week, the Irish authorities said the ongoing review of the ex gratia scheme is taking into account that the prior complaint requirement is an “excessive burden” for those applying for redress.