From top: Justice Iarfhlaith O’Neill; Conor O’Mahony (left), director of UCC’s Child Law Clinic; Louise O’Keeffe
Yesterday, Mr Justice Iarfhlaith O’Neill ruled that the State misinterpreted a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights – a misinterpretation which led to survivors of child sex abuse in schools being denied access to a redress scheme.
The ECHR ruling in 2014 was in respect of Louise O’Keeffe who was abused by her primary school principal in the 1970s.
Ms O’Keeffe took her case to the ECHR after the Supreme Court upheld a High Court dismissal against her claim that the State/Department of Education was liable for her abuse – in so much as it failed to put in place appropriate protection measures to stop the abuse at her school.
The ECHR ultimately found the State was liable.
However what some believed was a watershed moment for survivors of child sex abuse in schools wasn’t – as the State limited redress to victims who could prove they were abused after they made a complaint about the abuse.
Yesterday Judge O’Neill – who was appointed to review cases which had been deemed ineligible by the then Minister for Education Richard Bruton in 2017 – found the requirement of a “prior complaint” to be incompatible with the ECHR judgment in the O’Keeffe v Ireland case.
He said 13 cases he reviewed – where the applicants were refused access to redress on the grounds that they couldn’t provide proof of “prior complaint” – are entitled to a payment under the ex gratia scheme.
And, in relation to six other cases – where the State Claims Agency refused payments – he found they were not entitled to payments under the ex gratia scheme, he said there may still be a more appropriate way to get redress outside that scheme.
Further to this…
Director of UCC’s Child Law Clinic Conor O’Mahony tweeted his thoughts – and fears – on the matter yesterday…
He then updated his thoughts, following an interview given by the Minister for Education Joe McHugh to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland this morning…
Further to this…
Speaking to Áine Lawlor on RTÉ’s News At One this afternoon, Mr O’Mahony said the State’s commitment to ensure just 13 of 19 people at the centre of the cases reviewed by Mr Justice O’Neill will get payments is just the “bare start”.
“It is also extremely obvious from the decision that the implications of the decision are much broader.
“So the compensation scheme that was set up in response to the Louise O’Keeffe judgement was entirely designed around this idea that people would have to proof prior complaint in order to be eligible for compensation.
“And that condition has been applied to anybody, not just to those 13 cases but to any applicant or potential applicant. So we’ve had 44 applications rejected for that reason and potentially several hundred more where simply people didn’t make applications because they couldn’t meet that condition.
“So the implication of the ruling extends to all of those people.
“Yet if the minister is determined to ‘get it right’ as he indicated this morning, then really they need to be looking much more seriously, not just at those 13 cases, but also what needs to be done for people who were similarly abused in a system which was found to be defective in the O’Keeffe case.”
Ms Lawlor put to Mr O’Mahony that she understand that there are around 360 people who haven’t been before courts about their abuse.
Mr O’Mahony explained:
“The 360 figure relates to people who would have had court proceedings at some point, some of them have discontinued…because the State, at one point, threatened to pursue them for costs.
“Others, the court proceedings are still live. Those cases now need to be brought in and you know, in cases where there is clear evidence that abuse occurred the finding of the O’Keeffe case was not just about a mishandling of her particular case, it was about the fact that the entire schools system was defective from a child protection point of view.”
“So anybody who suffered abuse in that defective system was failed by the State in the same way.”
“…they all suffered the same harm, they should all receive the same remedy.”
Listen back in full here
Last night: In Fairness
Louise Ó Keeffe's abuser was moved to Scoil Eoin Ballincollig where he abused again. He taught my eldest son. Who knew his history and why was this allowed.
— DJLinehan63 (@linny55) July 9, 2019