Taoiseach apologises to victims of child sexual abuse in schools

Payments to be made to 13 appellants and ex-gratia scheme will be re-opened

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has apologised in the Dáil chamber, on behalf of the State, to people who were sexually abused in day schools for the delay afterwards in acknowledging its responsibility to protect them. Video: Oireachtas TV

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has apologised on behalf of the State to people who were sexually abused in day schools and for the delay afterwards in acknowledging its responsibility to protect them.

He said the State would now make payment to the 13 people directly affected, whose appeals had been successful. He expected the scheme to be re-opened and it would look at other cases where people did not appeal or did not apply in the first place.

Mr Varadkar was speaking in the Dáil after the ruling by Mr Justice Iarfhlaith O’Neill that the State misinterpreted a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights in the case taken by Cork woman Louise O’Keeffe . The State’s interpretation denied applicants access to a redress scheme to which they were entitled, the Judge ruled.

Up to 350 people, who were victims of historic child abuse in schools, could be affected by the decision.

In 2017, then minister for education Richard Bruton appointed Mr Justice O’Neill to review cases that were deemed ineligible for redress by the State Claims Agency.

Mr Varadkar said: “On behalf of the State I want to apologise on behalf of the State to people who were sexually abused when they were children in our day schools before 1992 and for the State’s delay thereafter in acknowledgning it had responsibility to protect them.”

He said that procedures should have been in place before 1992 to record and act on allegations of sexual abuse by teachers and staff.

The Taoiseach said that “since then successive governments including this one have not put right this historic wrong and have perpetuated it and we will seek to right that wrong now”.

He said the “intention may have been honourable to provide for abuse survivors while protecting the taxpayer who ultimately had to pay the bill for things they were not responsible for.

“But it was wrong to make the terms of the ex-gratia scheme so restrictive so the State will now make payments to the 13 people whose appeals have been successful, without undue delay.”

Ms O’Keeffe won a lengthy court battle to establish the State had responsibility for sexual abuse of her by a teacher while she was in school. But others in similar situations were forced after the court judgment, to show a prior complaint had been made against their abuser.

The Taoiseach paid tribute to Ms O’Keeffe and for her campaigning and advocacy role on her own behalf. He said there were many people who still had not reported abuse but her actions gave them “hope, courage and some comfort”.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said the State had seriously failed brave people like Louise O’Keeffe, placing unreasonable barriers to their achieving justice.

Mr Martin said the scheme would have to be re-opened because it was founded on the wrong premise Some cases were discontinued because of the extraordinary pressure put on many of the litigants and victims.

“It is accepted that many victims of child sexual abuse go through extraordinary trauma throughout their lives. When the power of the State is devoted to continuously denying them justice, that trauma is exacerbated beyond belief.”

Mr Varadkar said he deplored sexual abuse, which was the most heinous crime especially when committed against children. He formally apologised in the Dáil to Ms O’Keeffe and others in similar circumstances.

Mr Varadkar also said an apology was no good without action and said he had asked Minister for Education Joe McHugh to bring proposals forward in conjunction with the Attorney General.

“It is us clear there are other cases whre survivors did not appeal or sruvivors did not apply in the first place and these will have to be re-examined,” he said.

The Taoiseach said he accepted people like Ms O’Keeffe were failed a number of times.

“The State failed them at the time, it failed them a second time when it did not own up to its responsibility . We won’t fail them a third time.”

Mr Varadkar said he expected the scheme to be re-opened.

“We will have to remove the prior complaint condition, which will mean amending the scheme, as well as reopening it.”