School abuse victims ‘stonewalled’ by State compensation scheme

Survivors’ group says claims are being fought ‘tooth and nail’ by Department of Education

John Allen (third from left) and other members of campaign group for victims of  school child abuse, outside Leinster House. They are joined by  Sinn Féin TD Maurice Quinlivan (second from right).

John Allen (third from left) and other members of campaign group for victims of school child abuse, outside Leinster House. They are joined by Sinn Féin TD Maurice Quinlivan (second from right).

 

Campaigners who say they were sexually abused in schools have accused the Department of Education of “stonewalling” their attempts to seek justice and compensation.

Just six cases of alleged sexual abuse in schools have been settled by the State under a State compensation scheme.

The was set up after Louise O’Keeffe won a case in 2014 in the European Court of Human Rights. It found that the State was liable for abuse carried out by Ms O’Keeffe’s teacher at a national school in west Cork in the 1970s, when she was eight years old.

A group of campaigners gathered outside Leinster House to protest at what they said were obstacles being placed in the way of their applications and delays by education authorities in providing crucial information.

They also said a very “narrow” interpretation of the ruling in the O’Keeffe case was denying many abuse survivors access to the compensation

John Allen, a survivor of child abuse in the 1960s in North Monastery primary school in Cork, said many felt they were being fought “tooth and nail” in their attempts to seek justice.

“We were all children, we were abused in schools. We’ve highlighted what happened. You would expect the State to say to you that you’ve done some service. But, instead, we’re just being stymied every step of the way,” he said.

Mr Allen was joined at the protest by abuse survivors who attended Creagh Lane school in Limerick, along with others who maintain they were abused in schools while living in residential institutions.

The State’s compensation scheme applies to abuse that took place before 1991, when child-protection measures were introduced.

However, it includes a condition that survivors of abuse can qualify only where it is shown that school authorities failed to take action in response to a prior complaint of abuse.

Correspondence shows the independent assessor of the compensation scheme, Mr Justice Iarlaith O’Neill, last month queried the legal basis for this condition and sought a submission on the matter from Minister for Education Richard Bruton.

In a statement, a spokeswoman for the department said the requirement for evidence of a prior complaint in respect of eligibility for the ex-gratia scheme was grounded in its implementation of the judgement in the Louise O’Keeffe case.

This had been set out in the action plans accepted by the European Council’s committee of ministers, which reviews the implementation of European Court of Human Rights’ judgments.

She said Mr Bruton had sent a submission to Mr Justice O’Neill on April 27th last, in response to his request. The judge would need time to consider it, she said.

Mr Allen said he has also been waiting for up to 18 months to obtain information from the department which will be crucial in assessing his application to the ex-gratia compensation scheme.

A department spokeswoman said the information was being sought from the department by the State Claims Agency, which is administering the scheme.

She added that material being sought was historical in nature and related to a period which predated electronic records.

“As a result, there has been difficulty to date in establishing the existence of and identifying the records which are being sought. However, efforts are continuing in this regard,” she said.