Irish Examiner view: State has dismal record on historical abuse

Best way for the Government to illustrate its sincerity is to take the kind of action that makes it easy for victims to claim compensation
Irish Examiner view: State has dismal record on historical abuse

Louise O'Keeffe who was the victim of sexual abuse pictured outside Dunderrow National School, Kinsale, Co Cork in 2014. The Government on Wednesday approved a revised redress scheme for victims of sexual abuse in schools. File picture: Dan Linehan

While approval on Wednesday of a revised redress scheme for victims of sexual abuse in schools is welcome, its late and partial nature highlights — yet again — the State’s dismal record in acknowledging and compensating for historical abuses.

Campaigner Louise O’Keeffe said the reopening of a revised ex gratia scheme was a step forward, but the Government had to be “dragged to this point, kicking and screaming”. This revision was forced on the Government after a retired High Court judge found the initial scheme, first opened in July 2015, to be unfair. That scheme had been forced on the Government after Ms O’Keeffe took a successful case to the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled, in 2014, that the State had an obligation to protect her from the sexual abuse she suffered in primary school.

Without her, there would be no redress scheme at all.

Education Minister Norma Foley did at least acknowledge the limitations of the latest scheme, although she said she was confident it would offer a “fairer, broader, and more sensitive option to applicants”.

It is already clear that is not the case.

Yesterday, Conor O’Mahony, the special rapporteur on child protection, said the revised scheme continued the Department of Education’s pattern of placing obstacles in the path of people deserving of compensation. 

To be eligible, an applicant has to have taken court proceedings, a condition that has no basis on the O’Keeffe decision. It served no purpose other than to make it more difficult for victims to claim compensation, said Prof O’Mahony.

This is neither surprising nor new, as the State has a poor record when it comes to addressing historical breaches of human rights. We have seen that time and time again, from the experiences of the victims of abuse in residential institutions to the survivors of Magdalene laundries and, most recently, those who passed through mother and baby institutions.

While Ms Foley’s apology was undoubtedly heartfelt, the best way to illustrate its sincerity is to take the kind of action that makes it easy for victims to claim compensation and to do so in a way that does not retraumatise them.

The revised scheme does not appear to do either, which doesn’t augur well for survivors of mother and baby institutions who will be able to apply for redress under a scheme due to open next year. It is still unclear how much that scheme will rely on the recommendations in the final report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes.

The controversy over its findings has obscured the disturbing fact that the report reflects the experiences of just a tiny fraction of the estimated 100,000 women who gave birth in those institutions in Ireland in the 20th century, many of whom would be entitled to redress.

British prime minister Boris Johnson is being criticised for attempting to dismiss the pain of the past and deny access to justice in Northern Ireland. The same could be said of our own Government when it comes to addressing historical human rights abuses here.

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