Taoiseach admits scheme for child abuse victims not working

Claimants, abused in State schools, must show abuser was the subject of a previous complaint

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said there was ‘no worse crime than one against a child and no worse form of crime or a crime that is more unspeakable than child abuse’. File photograph: Michelle Devane/PA Wire

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said there was ‘no worse crime than one against a child and no worse form of crime or a crime that is more unspeakable than child abuse’. File photograph: Michelle Devane/PA Wire

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has admitted that the ex-gratia scheme established for victims of child sexual abuse while they were pupils in State schools is not working.

He told the Dáil “a scheme in which all applicants are rejected is one which is not working”.

It was established in 2015 when shortly after a 15-year legal campaign, Louise O’Keeffe received a judgment at the European Court of Human Rights that the State was vicariously liable for the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her former national school principal, Leo Hickey, in the 1970s.

The State’s interpretation of the judgment required claimants for the ex-gratia scheme, who were abused while in State schools, to show that their abuser was the subject of a previous complaint.

No application for redress under the scheme has yet been accepted and Mr Justice Iarflaith O’Neill is assessing 20 appeals where those applications were rejected and looking at whether the State’s interpretation of the judgment was too narrow.

“Fundamentally what is behind this is whether the State could have acted in some way and did not do so. I do not have the term which is used to hand but it is on the basis of a failure to act when it could have done so,” Mr Varadkar said.

‘Cruelly treated’

He was responding to Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin who said those who were abused had been “shamefully, cynically and cruelly treated by the Government”.

Mr Martin said “the ultimate cruelty is to announce a redress scheme knowing that in effect the victims will never pass the test of prior complaint. That is the cruellest thing to do to any victim of sexual abuse and someone who has been through that trauma.”

He asked when the judge’s report would be published and “when will the issue of prior complaint be removed once and for all”.

He said it was “an appalling insult to suggest that the only way a person is worthy of inclusion in a redress scheme is for someone who had been abused previously to have reported it to the authorities”.

Mr Varadkar said there was “no worse crime than one against a child and no worse form of crime or a crime that is more unspeakable than child abuse”.

He said he did not have a date for receipt of Mr Justice O’Neill’s report but he had requested one. “I understand there may be a separate judicial review which may hold up Mr Justice O’Neill’s work.”

Minister for Education Joe McHugh also acknowledged that the scheme was “not working in that of the 50 applications only five are due for assessment, with the remaining 45 now having been refused. As I said, there is something wrong with this scheme and we need to consider how we can put things right.”

Barred

Later Sinn Féin TD Maurice Quinlivan said the Government had “steadfastly stood in the way of justice” for such victims of abuse. He said he worked closely with Vocads (Victims of Child Abuse in Day Schools) and those abused in Creagh Lane national school in Limerick. These men were “barred from accessing compensation for their abuse”.

Mr Quinlivan pointed to a Dáil motion in July last year when the Government was defeated by 84 votes to 40 on a motion to allow victims of primary school sexual abuse to seek redress on the same basis as victims of residential institutional abuse but he said the Government ignored it. He said that including victims of abuse in primary schools would cost about €15 million.