Inadequate legal system adding to pain of abuse victims

‘I’ve lost my business, my marriage, and now my home would be in jeopardy’

Ireland’s legal system continues to frustrate people in search of justice for abuse they suffered as children. Photograph: Reuters

Ireland’s legal system continues to frustrate people in search of justice for abuse they suffered as children. Photograph: Reuters


Despite many years of breast-beating by this State over its role in aiding and abetting the abuse of women and children in residential institutions, Ireland’s legal system continues to frustrate such people in their pursuit of justice.

An example was reported in this newspaper last Wednesday. Seven women in Dublin have failed in their strenuous attempts to bring to court a man who allegedly sexually abused them, and others, as children in the 1970s.

The weight of evidence alone, as presented in corraborated statements to gardaí, inspired confidence that their alleged abuser would face charges. The DPP decided otherwise. Of course, no explanation was forthcoming.

Two of the women then considered taking a civil action, but found the cost implications terrifying. As one said: “I’ve lost my business, my marriage, and now my home would be in jeopardy.” She felt “devastated” letting go of the case.

A person with similar experience of such compound injustice is “James”. In January 2012, at Dublin’s High Court, his senior counsel told him that his adversaries, the Christian Brothers, intended fighting his allegations of abuse against two deceased members, “tooth and nail”, on legal and technical grounds.

James’s counsel advised that, if he lost, costs could be €80,000 - €100,000 and that it was possible the Brothers could win on legal/technical grounds. James decided “to walk away”. He estimated that to date the case had cost him more than €100,000.

Contacted by this newspaper, a spokesperson for the Brothers said it was not their policy “to comment on individual cases and particularly so in this case, which has been dealt with and concluded within the courts system”.

Middle-aged now, James alleged his physical and sexual abuse took place at a Christian Brothers’ school in Dublin when he was aged between 11 and 14. Three psychiatrists prepared four reports on him for the High Court case that did not happen.

In December 2008, psychiatrist Dr Michael Corry of Clane General Hospital said James suffered from “an unresolved post traumatic stress disorder complicated by an overwhelming sense of grief from what he has lost out on... [His] experiences of the abuse are deeply imprinted into his intellectual, emotional and behavioural world…”

That July the late Dr Louis O’Carroll, retired consultant psychiatrist at St Ita’s in Portrane, prepared a report. James “suffered profound and pervasive psycho-emotional distress throughout the course of his life, arising from his experiences of severe sexual and physical abuse in childhood”. In a January 2012 report, Dr O’Carroll said the “clinical impression was of a very credible individual who is continuing to suffer severe psycho-emotional distress and impairment of his quality of life…”

A third psychiatrist differed. Dr John Sheehan of the department of adult psychiatry at Dublin’s Mater hospital was employed by solicitors for the Christian Brothers. His report, dated September 2011, said James showed “no evidence of a current mental disorder. His career progression is not consistent with him suffering from a mental disorder such as a post traumatic stress disorder. I think it likely that he will conclude his counselling once the litigation has finished.”

Following that failed High Court visit last year, James contacted his local TD who wrote to Minister for Justice Alan Shatter. Mr Shatter replied on November 11th last, noting that recent amendments surrounding statute of limitations legislation were “specifically intended to improve access to redress for victims of child sexual abuse wishing to make a personal injuries claim”.

It remains the case, however, that as things stand in these cases, our legal system is simply adding misery to misery.

Patsy McGarry is Religious Affairs Correspondent.

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