The Government has been accused of doing “everything in its power” to deny justice to hundreds of children who suffered sexual abuse in State schools.
Sinn Féin education spokeswoman Carol Nolan made the claim as she accused the Government of effectively locking many survivors out of the ex gratia scheme established in the wake of the judgment by the European Court of Human Rights in favour of Louise O'Keeffe who had been abused in her primary school in west Cork in the 1970s.
Ms Nolan said that just six out of 350 cases had been settled since the scheme was established in 2015.
She added that after Ms O’Keeffe’s unsuccessful Supreme Court case the State wrote to abuse survivors and told them they would face thousands of euro in costs if they did not drop their cases. Some 210 plaintiffs dropped their case.
The Offaly TD claimed the Government was “causing untold distress to survivors of school child sexual abuse”.
She called on Minister for Education Richard Bruton to widen the terms of the scheme to ensure those who dropped their cases because of threatening letters from the State could access the scheme.
She pointed to a group of survivors, the Creagh Lane group in Limerick, "whose lives have been destroyed. We need action here. We must defend those people and make sure they get justice."
Ms Nolan said it was "blindingly obvious" that the scheme was not fit for purpose and she highlighted the comments by Mr Justice Barrett in a judgment last year that the Government was "foot-dragging" on the issue.
She said following that judgment the State Claims Agency wrote again to 107 plaintiffs to tell them that they faced huge legal bills if they did not drop their cases and seven discontinued their litigation.
But Mr Bruton said “it has been a major project of recent governments to deal compassionately, humanely and fairly with the victims and survivors of abuse”.
He insisted that the Government had put in place a process to provide compensation for all victims of sexual abuse who came within the terms of the judgment.
The State agreed out of court settlements whose cases were within its terms and not statute barred.
In 2015 the Government then approved proposals on the same basis to offer ex gratia payments of up to a maximum of €84,000 to those who initiated legal proceedings but who subsequently discontinued their claims.
Mr Bruton said the European Court stated that the fault lay with the State where prior abuse was established and the State failed to act.
The Minister said the State had a wider obligation to report on the protections it had put in place to ensure children were now fully protected in school.
Considerable effort had been put into those procedures.
“The law is constantly evolving to ensure we protect children in these circumstances,” Mr Bruton added.