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Judge says State misinterpreted ruling about redress for school abuse survivors

A retired judge said that the State’s approach showed an “inherent inversion of logic and a fundamental unfairness to applicants”.

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France.
The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France.
Image: DPA/PA Images

A RULING BY an Independent Assessor has found that the Irish State has misinterpreted a European court ruling in relation to the survivors of school sexual abuse and the requirements they must meet in order to avail of redress.

The judgement said it was “inherently illogical” of the State to demand evidence when there was no “State controlled mechanism for detecting and reporting incidents of child sexual abuse in National Schools”.

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

“For the State to insist on such a precondition to eligibility involves an inherent inversion of logic and a fundamental unfairness to applicants,” retired judge Iarfhlaith O’Neill found. 

I have no hesitation in concluding that judgement of the ECtHR does not expressly or by any permissible or possible implication contain such reasoning.

The judge added that in his opinion, had a system to report abuse “been in place in the years before 1992 when all of the historic child sexual abuse occurred in national schools… the prevailing culture of impunity which permitted these crimes to occur, could not have existed or survived”. 

In January 2014, the European Court of Human Rights 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.

Following the ECHR ruling, the State said it would make settlement offers of up to €84,000 to people with cases similar to O’Keefe’s but only seven people have received settlements in the four years since.

Minister for Education Joe McHugh said: “First and foremost my thoughts are with those who were sexually abused in schools. It is a heinous act which left some people feeling robbed of their youth, and others their lives, while other survivors railed against the trauma and overcame it.

I hope that the work of the Independent Assessor Judge O’Neill will bring some measure of closure to some people who were affected by abuse in school and went on to challenge the State.
The ruling by Judge O’Neill is a complex one which will require in-depth analysis before decisions are taken on how to respond to the issues raised.

TheJournal.ie has spoken to a number of men who were sexually abused by their teachers as children but have never received redress – John Allen who attended North Monastery CBS in Cork and Christopher Rainbow and Thomas Hogan who went to Creagh Lane National School in Limerick. Hogan is taking his own case to Europe.

Speaking to RTÉ this evening, O’Keefe said that she now expected the Taoiseach to make a statement to the Dáil apologising to victims of sexual abuse in schools as a result of their treatment when applying for redress.

UCC’s Child Law Clinic welcomed today’s finding that the requirement that abuse survivors in day schools must demonstrate “prior complaint” in order to qualify for compensation is incompatible with the Louise O’Keeffe ECHR judgment.

- with reporting from Christina Finn

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