Commission Argues Legal Bar to Abuse Survivors Inclusion in State Redress Scheme is “Indefensible”.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (‘the Commission’) has today argued before the High Court that a State requirement for survivors of historic sexual abuses in schools to have taken legal proceedings against the State before 1 July 2021 – proceedings that, would be doomed to fail — “is indefensible.”

The Commission is amicus curiae (‘friend of the court’) in a significant case which challenges the Ex Gratia Scheme providing payments to victims of historic sexual abuse in schools.

The case focuses on the requirement under the Scheme for survivors to have, on or before 1 July 2021, issued legal proceedings against the State seeking damages for sexual abuse in day schools before 1991 and 1992 in primary and post-primary schools respectively, and following the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights in O’Keeffe v Ireland.

The man taking the case (‘PD’) was a victim of sexual abuse by a teacher, a Christian Brother, in his primary school between 1967 and 1970. In October 2011, he initiated civil proceedings claiming damages against his abuser and the Christian Brothers but did not join the State as a defendant.

PD is now excluded from the State Ex-Gratia Scheme because he did not issue legal proceedings against the State before 1 July 2021. He now challenges that exclusion on the basis that it is unreasonable and discriminatory.

The Commission concludes in its legal submissions published today that “The Scheme as established by the Government does not provide equal access to redress for all victims of sexual abuse in day schools. The Commission asserts that it is unlawful to discriminate between victims of violations of the European Convention of Human Rights in accessing the State Ex Gratia Scheme.

Sinéad Gibney, Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission stated:

“Formal apologies made in the Dáil ring absolutely hollow, when the State continues to put barrier after barrier in the way of people securing redress for abuses which, while suffered as a child, have impacted on victims’ entire adult lives.

“In our legal submissions today to the High Court we set out that the State cannot discriminate between victims of abuse recognised under international law in their access to the Ex Gratia Scheme established by the State. The State must ensure that the Ex Gratia Scheme complies with their international obligations.”

We are clear that this case has broad implications for the human rights of survivors of historic abuse in Irish schools as well as in other institutions.”


For further information, please contact:
Sarah Clarkin, IHREC Communications Manager,
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Editor’s Note

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission’s legal submissions to the High Court in this case are published at the following link:

IHREC’s Involvement in the O’Keeffe Case

The Commission’s predecessor, the Irish Human Rights Commission, intervened as a third party in the O’Keefe case and submitted written observations to the European Court of Human Rights in 2011. Those submissions were referred to in the court’s judgment, which addressed the failure by the State to protect Ms O’Keefe from sexual abuse in a national school in 1973 and to put in place a system of adequate and effective remedies for that abuse.

Since that time, the Commission has engaged directly with the Council of Europe’s highest body (its Committee of Ministers), with the Minister for Education, with the State appointed Independent Assessor, with the UN Human Rights Council and with Oireachtas Members in relation to the human rights requirements for survivors to be able to access redress.

Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is an independent public body, appointed by the President and directly accountable to the Oireachtas. The Commission has a statutory remit set out under the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act (2014) to protect and promote human rights and equality in Ireland, and build a culture of respect for human rights, equality and intercultural understanding in the State.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is Ireland’s national human rights institution and is recognised as such by the United Nations. The Commission is also Ireland’s national equality body for the purpose of a range of EU anti-discrimination measures.