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"Discrimination of the highest order" - Louise O'Keeffe shocked by State offer to abuse victims

The offers are being linked to whether or not a complaint was made against an abuser.

Image: Screengrab/RTÉ News

Updated 10.00 pm

ABUSE VICTIM LOUISE O’Keeffe has described the Government’s settlement offer to children who were abused in school as “discrimination of the highest order”.

O’Keeffe spoke to TheJournal.ie after it was announced that the State is to make settlement offers of up to €84,000 to people bringing cases against them in cases similar to her’s.

Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan said the offers are about, “the State accepting its responsibilities and making an offer that we feel is equitable.”

Last January, the the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) found in favour of O’Keeffe in her case against the Irish State, making it liable for the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her primary school principal.

Today’s announcement from the Government means that out of court settlement offers will be made in cases that come within the terms of that ECHR decision.

The minister says that it is not possible to say at this time how many cases the settlements will be offered. This, O’Sullivan said, was due to a lack of information of the “precise circumstances of the 45 cases current at the time of the ECHR decision.”

“It is likely that there will be cases that will not come within the terms of the ECHR decision,” the minister added.

The Government argues that the ECHR decision applies only to people who were abused only after an initial complaint complaint was made against a teacher and no action was taken.

But O’Keeffe has strongly rejected this saying that it the decision clearly says that the State had a duty to ensure all children would not be sexually abused at school.

O’Keeffe added that it would lead to a situation where two children abused by the same person are treated differently:

It really beggars belief, the fact that you can have two children who were in the same school abused by the same teacher. One was abused prior to a complaint being made, the second the abused following the complaint, the second child is entitled to a settlement while the first child ins’t. That’s discrimination of the highest order.

Perpetrators 

“They can choose to accept the settlement on behalf of the State and I stress that that is just a settlement on behalf of the State,” O’Sullivan told reporters this afternoon.

“It doesn’t mean that they can’t look for compensation from other people who are named in these cases.”

These people would included “perpetrators, school patrons or other co-defendants”.

O’Sullivan said that, in the cases where the offers apply, they would be made in the “very near future”.

Leaving Cert Exams Results Minister for Education, Jan O'Sullivan. (File photo) Source: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

Disappointment 

O’Keeffe fought against the High Court and Supreme Court in Ireland who both ruled that the State was not liable for the assaults.

As a result, 135 people who also had cases against the State were told by the State Claims Agency to withdraw them as they would also fail, 95 people withdrew their cases, and 40 people maintained their cases.

O’Keeffe met with the Taoiseach and Ministers O’Sullivan and James Reilly this afternoon and says she put it her anger to the minster.

O ‘Keeffe wants all 135 cases to be included in the compensation offer.

“I had a meeting with Louise,” said O’Sullivan. “Louise has expressed disappointment, she obviously feels very strongly about these issues and she’s fought a very very long battle, but she does feel disappointed.”

The minister was non-committal when making reference the cases that were dropped after advice from the State Claims Agency:

We actually don’t have enough information on this and it’s the State Claims Agency that has to gather the information. So I’m simply not in a position today to make a decision on the so-called ‘discontinued’ cases.

“More certainty needs to be brought to the exact position in relation to these cases and whether they had been formally discontinued or not,” a statement from the department added.

The department says that the minster has asked the State Claims Agency to review these cases and report back early next year.

A number of new cases have also been initiated since the ECHR decision with these also to be considered.

O’Sullivan also told reporters that the offers are about the State taking responsibility for the abuse of school children, but not full-responsibility:

The state doesn’t have all the responsibility in the sense that there are patron bodies and church orders etc. We believe that the State should take its own responsibility but (in this decision) we’re not taking the responsibility of others.
Connect Telephone Counselling and Support for adults who experienced abuse in childhood – 1800 477 477

Read: Sexual abuse ruling will have “significant implications” for the State >

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Rónán Duffy

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