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Government reopens scheme for victims of sexual abuse in day schools

The scheme was paused in 2019 following a report from a retired High Court judge.

The scheme was first opened in 2015 following the ECHR judgment in the case taken by Louise O’Keeffe against the State.
The scheme was first opened in 2015 following the ECHR judgment in the case taken by Louise O’Keeffe against the State.
Image: RTÉ News

THE GOVERNMENT IS reopening a revised scheme for victims of sexual abuse in day schools. 

Minister for Education Norma Foley announced the reopening of the ex-gratia scheme today for the implementation of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) judgement in O’Keeffe v Ireland.

The scheme was first opened in July 2015 following the ECHR judgment in a case taken by Louise O’Keeffe against the State.

In January 2014, the ECHR ruled that the Irish State failed to protect Louise O’Keeffe from abuse by her school principal.

In its judgement, the ECHR said that the State “had to have been aware of the level of sexual crime against minors” as a result of a number of reports from the 1930s to the 1970s.

Today’s announcement comes on foot of a detailed review of the scheme in consultation with the office of the Attorney General.

The scheme was intended to provide an opportunity for those who had instituted legal proceedings against the State, in respect of their abuse in a day school, and subsequently discontinued those proceedings following the rulings against Louise O’Keeffe in the High Court and the Supreme Court, and prior to the judgement of the ECHR in the O’Keeffe case.

The scheme was paused in 2019 following a report from retired High Court judge Iarfhlaith O’Neill who reviewed a number of unsuccessful applications to the scheme. Payments were made to 16 individuals following O’Neill’s determinations.

O’Neill also asserted that the criteria to qualify for a payment were too restrictive for this group of applicants, specifically the requirement to provide evidence of a prior complaint against their abuser.

Under the revised scheme, applicants may receive a payment of €84,000 if they can demonstrate that they were sexually abused while a pupil at a recognised day school and that this occurred before June 1991, in a primary school, or November 1992 in a post-primary school – when the Guidelines for Procedures for Dealing with Allegations or suspicions of Child Abuse were introduced.

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They must also demonstrate that, had the guidelines been in place at the time the sexual abuse occurred, there would have been a real prospect of altering the outcome or mitigating the harm suffered by them as a result.

“I want to first of all to extend an apology to all victims of abuse and in particular to Louise O’Keeffe who has rightfully received a full apology on behalf of the State,” Minister Foley said today.

Protecting children from harm should be the foremost ambition in any society and many children were failed in this respect in the past in this country.

“I also want to emphasise that Ireland takes its obligations to the European Court of Human Rights extremely seriously and the revised terms of the Scheme should remove any doubt about Ireland’s ongoing commitment to implement the ruling in full,” Minister Foley added.

The education minister added that she is confident that the criticisms identified by Judge O’Neill have been addressed through amended criteria and introducing a wider range of evidence to be accepted for applicants.

“This will ensure that the revised scheme offers a fairer, broader and more sensitive option to applicants,” she said.

About the author:

Céimin Burke

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