‘Human cost’ must be factored into school sexual abuse redress scheme, group says

Call for religious orders to be involved in compensation payments to survivors

Policymakers should take into account the “human cost” of childhood sexual abuse in schools when designing a redress scheme, as well as the financial cost, an organisation representing affected adults has said.

On Monday, The Irish Times reported details of unpublished Government documents that say broadening the State’s redress scheme for people abused in school will expose the exchequer to “unquantifiable and potentially enormous costs”.

The briefing note outlines that the State’s existing redress scheme has a “limiting factor” – namely that only those who issued proceedings against the Minister before July 2021 can apply for it.

“Any such scheme which is open more broadly to anyone who suffered abuse in a day school will arise in unquantifiable and potentially enormous costs to the exchequer,” the briefing note states.


Deirdre Kenny, advocacy director and deputy chief executive of One in Four, a charity that supports adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse, said compensation could be important for survivors to come to terms with what happened to them.

“Compensation is something that comes to the fore, mostly when people are trying to come to terms with harm, and they reflect on their lives and realise there are actually consequences for what happened,” she said.

“Financial compensation is actually rarely about the money. It’s often an acknowledgment of the harm; that they were not at fault.”

Ms Kenny said it would “make sense” for the existing scheme to be extended to include all those affected by historical sexual abuse in schools.

“If it’s not opened up, it will make life a lot more difficult for survivors going forward. But in terms of whether the Government is fully responsible for compensation, I think the religious orders should also be brought into the fold. I think responsibility is held by both,” she added.

“There is a redress scheme there already that has worked well for people who come within the remit and surely it would make more economic sense to open that up. The human cost must be to the forefront of decision-makers’ minds, sometimes that isn’t always taken into account.”

Prof Conor O’Mahony, the State’s former special rapporteur on child protection, said while there had been recent revelations of historical sexual abuse in certain schools, it was not a new issue and had been “ventilated” for the past 20 years.

“A lot of the people who are affected by this have already come forward and so, while it is unquantifiable, I think that’s fair to say, I don’t think we’re looking at an endless floodgate situation either. I think the numbers are likely to be in the hundreds rather than the thousands at this stage,” he told RTÉ Radio 1’s Today with Claire Byrne.

Prof O’Mahony said irrespective of the level of costs, the State had an obligation to provide a remedy to people affected, following a decision by the European Court of Human Rights.

“It is no defence to that legal obligation to say that something could be very expensive. The obligation applies irrespective of the level of costs,” he added.

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is a reporter for The Irish Times