“I still remember the black-frocked men chasing me down the corridors, and then into cloakrooms or swimming pools... That’s not what school should be about.”
John Allen, a survivor of child abuse in the 1960s in North Monastery Primary School in Cork recalls with bitterness the abuse he suffered and the battle he is still waging to get the Irish State to acknowledge its responsibility.
"You carry your childhood through life," he told a press conference in Brussels. "My country should not be doing this to survivors."
Allen was in Brussels on Wednesday with other representatives of of the VOCADS (Victims Of ChildAbuse in Day Schools) group as guests of Sinn Féin MEP Liadh Ní Riada to address a committee of the European Parliament, and to "shame" the Government, he said.
Their purpose was to highlight what they believe to be an outrageous and in Allen’s words, “specious” interpretation by the Irish State of a landmark 2014 decision in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) upholding Louise O’Keeffe’s case that the State had a duty of care to protect children in its schools.
Allen is also contemplating taking his own case to the European court.
O’Keeffe, who joined the delegation, said the Irish State’s “very narrow” interpretation of the O’Keeffe ruling insisted any complaint now by others could only be based “on a prior complaint”.
Yet even back in the 1930s, the Corrigan report had acknowledged the problem of abuse in schools and there could be no question of pleading ignorance, she said – “Each and every child needs to be protected”.
It was not good enough that there had to be a prior complaint for every abuser to get redress. “They failed our children,” she added, and they have to accept responsibility.
Threats on costs
Lawyer Gerard O'Neill, who represents former students of Creagh Lane school in Limerick, said the State had "used every tool in its box" to deny the claims of day school students who were abused, including threats to levy costs against them if they sued.
He argued that the State should establish a redress scheme for national and day school victims, like that set up for those who had suffered in the institutional system.
In the end, however, it is not about cash, Ms Ní Riada insisted, but about the State acknowledging its responsibility for the care of children and safeguarding them in future. The Government should be ashamed of the approach it had taken to these victims.
Ms O’Keeffe called on the EU Council of Ministers to put in a challenge to the Irish interpretation of the O’Keeffe decision to the ECHR.