Taoiseach re-affirms commitment to survivors of sex abuse in day school

He made a commitment in opposition to set up an ex-gratia payment system

Taoiseach Micheal Martin says that he is well aware of the issues raised in an email he received at the weekend from children rights campaigner Louise O’Keeffe on foot of her successful action against the Irish state in the European Court of Human Rights in 2014. File photograph: Collins

Taoiseach Micheal Martin says that he is well aware of the issues raised in an email he received at the weekend from children rights campaigner Louise O’Keeffe on foot of her successful action against the Irish state in the European Court of Human Rights in 2014. File photograph: Collins

 

Taoiseach Micheal Martin has re-affirmed a commitment he made in opposition to set up an ex-gratia payment system for people who were sexually abused while attending Irish schools as day pupils in line with a judgement of the European Court of Human Rights.

Mr Martin said that he was well aware of the issues raised in an email he received at the weekend from children rights campaigner Louise O’Keeffe on foot of her successful action against the Irish state in the European Court of Human Rights in 2014.

“I know the issues and am very committed to trying to get a resolution to that for those who are in particular difficulty as a result of what happened and who have financially received nothing at all and were not in a position to avail of the outgoing ex-gratia scheme,” he said.

Ms O’Keeffe emailed both Mr Martin and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar on Friday reminding them of commitments made in Dáil Éireann on July 9th 2019 that they would re-open an ex-gratia payment scheme for those sexually abused in Irish day schools pre 1992.

“Both Micheál Martin and Leo Varadkar must honour commitments they made in Dáil Éireann a year ago that they would ensure the victims of child sex abuse in Irish schools were no longer wronged,” Ms O’Keeffe told The Irish Times.

Ms O’Keeffe was sexually abused by primary school principal, Leo Hickey in Dunderrow National School in West Cork in the early 1970s and he was later convicted of abusing her but the state had denied any civil liability.

Ms O’Keeffe had brought a case for damages through the Irish courts system but they ruled that the Dept of Education was not liable because the school was under church management even though they paid Hickey’s salary.

It was only when Ms O’Keeffe took her case to the European Court of Human Rights that she was vindicated when the ECHR ruled in January 2014 that Ireland had failed to protect her as a five year old from Hickey when at school.

But the Irish government interpreted the ECHR ruling that it was only liable for damages in cases where there had been a prior complaint against an abuser and it was not liable for damages if there had not been a prior complaint.

Last year, Mr Justice Iarfhlaith O’Neill reviewed the ECHR judgement and deemed that the State was wrong in its interpretation of the judgement which led it to close off an ex-gratia payment scheme for child sex abuse survivors.

But today, speaking on The Opinion Line on Cork’s 96FM, Mr Martin disputed Ms O’Keeffe’s assertion that nothing has happened since Mr Justice O’Neill issued his review finding and said that progress had been made with a view to re-opening the ex-gratia payment scheme.

Mr Martin said he was familiar with the issue as he had met with one sex abuse survivor in Cork, John Allen who had highlighted the anomaly as well as some sex abuse survivors in Limerick who had also campaigned for a change to the ex-gratia payment scheme.

He said that he hoped to speak to both the Minister for Education, Norma Foley and officials in the Dept of Education within the coming weeks to progress the matter so that those who were excluded from the original scheme were catered for in a revised re-opened scheme.

Dr Conor O’Mahony, Director of the Child Law Clinic at UCC, who assisted Ms O’Keeffe in preparing her case for Europe, said the simple solution on foot of Mr Justice O’Neill’s ruling was to drop the requirement that there had to be a prior complaint.

Dr O’Mahony said that re-opening the ex-gratia payments scheme would not prove prohibitively expensive as he estimated that there were approximately 360 possible claimants with payments likely to average €84,000 per person.

“My calculations is €84,000 per head and based on a the number of cases we are aware of, 360 people, gives a total figure of €25-30 million which on one level is a substantial sum but is small compared to some other payments,” he said

“If you compare it, €25-30 million to the €1.2 billion paid out in the Residential Institutions redress - it’s only about two per cent - and to further put in it context, to avoid paying that out, the State has now spent over €2 million in legal fees.”

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