Abuse survivors excluded from redress to take case to Europe

State has failed to implement O’Keeffe judgment, primary litigant John Allen alleges

A group of survivors of sexual abuse in primary schools who are not eligible for the State redress scheme has sent their case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

In 2014, the State set up an ex-gratia redress scheme for survivors of abuse after Louise O’Keeffe, who was abused in primary school in Cork, won her ECHR case.

The redress scheme applied only to cases where someone had made a prior complaint about the abuser.

As a result victims of first-time abusers or victims who stayed silent when their abuse initially started are excluded from the scheme.

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Last month, the Government lost a motion to extend the scheme to certain victims. Fianna Fáil social protection spokesman Willie O’Dea, who moved the motion, said an extension would cost a maximum of €15 million.

The Government is likely to use procedural mechanisms to avoid implementing the result of the vote.

Representatives of three survivors’ groups yesterday gathered in Dublin to submit a case to the ECHR that the State is refusing to abide by the O’Keeffe judgment.

The primary litigant, John Allen, who was abused at the age of nine in North Monastery primary school in Cork, said he was hopeful of success as the prior complaint criteria was "so specious and so bizarre in its construction that the European court will see through it".

Mr Allen, who heads up the Victims of Child Abuse in Day Schools group, argued the State had been made aware sexual abuse was rife in schools and that this constituted prior complaint.

"I feel I shouldn't have to be doing this. I would prefer to be doing other things. But when the court system has failed me in Ireland I have no other choice. This issue was addressed in 2014 [in the O'Keeffe judgment]. Ireland has not stood up and addressed that liability. So I have to go back and haul Ireland over the coals."

Mr Allen’s solicitor, who filed the appeal to the ECHR, said the notion of prior complaint was “a slap in the face to all victims who are effectively being punished for not reporting the abuse when they were vulnerable children”. Filing an appeal is only the first step. About 90 per cent of cases received by the ECHR are rejected without a hearing. If accepted, litigation can take years.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime Correspondent of The Irish Times