210 cases of sexual abuse in schools eligible for compensation

Limited scope of scheme criticised by abuse survivor Louise O’Keeffe

Louise  O’Keeffe and other abuse survivors have strongly criticised the scope of the compensation scheme, accusing the state of failing to accept its legal responsibility. Photograph: Garrett White/Collins

Louise O’Keeffe and other abuse survivors have strongly criticised the scope of the compensation scheme, accusing the state of failing to accept its legal responsibility. Photograph: Garrett White/Collins

 

The State Claims Agency has identified 210 cases of alleged child sexual abuse in schools, which are eligible for compensation under a Department of Education recompense scheme.

Each individual can apply for a maximum ex-gratia payment of €84,000, leaving the State with a liability of up to €17.6 million.

The scheme was set-up after Louise O’Keeffe won her case in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in January 2014 after a 20-year legal struggle.

It ruled that the state was liable for abuse carried out by her teacher Leo Hickey at Dunderrow National School in west Cork in the 1970s.

Ms O’Keeffe and other abuse survivors have strongly criticised the scope of the compensation scheme, accusing the state of failing to accept its legal responsibility.

Survivors of abuse can qualify only where it is shown that the school authorities failed to take action in response to a complaint of abuse.

The scheme will also only apply to abuse that took place prior to 1991, when child protection measures were introduced, subject to the statute of limitations.

Some 45 cases against the State were outstanding in 2014, while a further 90 were withdrawn after the department threatened to pursue them for legal costs.

Last December, applicants were asked to come forward again, producing the updated total of 210 cases.

The department indicated that this would be the upper limit, saying “it is expected that there will be cases that will not satisfy the criteria”.

The maximum settlement payment is based on Ms O’Keeffe’s award of €30,000 from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), combined with the €54,000 she received from Criminal Inquiries Compensation Tribunal.

A “specified amount” for legal costs will also be paid.

Ms O’Keeffe has criticised the scale of the offer, saying the €30,000 award from the ECHR “wasn’t compensation for sexual abuse; it was compensation for the lack of protection for me as a child in a national school”.

While the payment figure was agreed last December, Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan said the Government had now formally approved the package and the relevant conditions.

An updated action plan has also been lodged with the ECHR to comply with its judgement.

Ms O’Sullivan said: “While there is no legal obligation on the State to address the situation of these survivors, I believe that the approach adopted is fair and balanced in addressing the position of these survivors.”

The Minister added that in making these ex-gratia offers the state was not covering the liability of the perpetrators, school patrons or other co-defendants. She pointed out that in the O’Keeffe case, no claim was made against the school manager or patron.

The Minister re-iterated her apology “to all those who were sexually abused as school children for the horrific abuse which was inflicted upon them, and for our collective failure to protect them”.