Commission Challenges Government on Failure to Offer Settlements to Abuse Victims

The Government is facing the prospect of its treatment of survivors of child sexual abuse being scrutinised further by the Council of Europe, following action taken this week by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (‘the Commission’).

The Commission has submitted a request to the Council of Europe that the case of O’Keeffe v Ireland be referred back to the European Court of Human Rights, as the Commission believes the State has adopted an unduly narrow approach to the category of “victim”.

Emily Logan, Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, stated:

“The Commission, as Ireland’s national human rights institution, has an important role to play in ensuring that judgments of the European Court of Human Rights concerning Ireland are fully implemented.

“This is the first occasion on which the Commission has called for a case to be referred back to the Court, a fact that underlines the importance of the issues raised for the many survivors of sexual abuse who are potentially affected by the Court’s judgment.”

Reports submitted by the Government to the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers reveal that the State Claims Agency will only offer out of court settlements to survivors of child sexual abuse who can demonstrate that their circumstances involved abuse by a primary or post-primary school employee, in respect of whom there was a prior complaint of sexual abuse to a school authority.

In submissions made to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe (the body responsible for supervising the execution of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights) the Commission has criticised the Government’s interpretation of the judgement. The Commission argues that the criteria adopted by the State Claims Agency to identify cases covered by the O’Keeffe judgment are based on a limited interpretation of the decision of the European Court of Human Rights.

The Commission argues that the practical effect of the position adopted by the State Claims Agency is to deprive certain categories of individuals who suffered abuse as children within the national school system of an effective remedy.

The Commission has called on the Committee of Ministers to use its power under article 46

of the Convention, to refer the O’Keeffe judgment back to the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights to clarify whether its judgment was based on the existence in that case of a prior complaint against the abuser, which was not acted upon by the school manager.

Separately, Chief Commissioner Emily Logan has sought a meeting with Charlie Flanagan TD, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, with a view to ensuring that the State fulfils its obligations under the Convention to abide by the judgement of the European Court of Human Rights in the O’Keeffe case.

The Commission’s submissions to the Committee of Ministers are available here:

ENDS/

For further information, please contact

Brian Dawson, IHREC Communications Manager,

01 8589601 / 087 0697095 bdawson@ihrec.ie

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Notes to editor

* The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission was established on 1 November 2014 following the merger of the Equality Authority and the Irish Human Rights Commission.

* In the case of O’Keeffe v Ireland (Application no 35810/09) the applicant, Louise O’Keeffe, had been sexually abused in 1973 while attending a school owned (through trustees) by a Roman Catholic bishop, and managed by a local priest. The abuse was carried out by the school’s principal teacher, who was an employee of the school manager.

* In its decision of 28 January 2014 (available here: http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng?i=001-140235), the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights held that the State had violated Articles 3 and 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights, in that it had failed to fulfill its obligation to protect Louise O’Keeffe from inhuman and degrading treatment, and had failed to provide her with an effective remedy.

* The Committee of Ministers, which is comprised of the Ministers for Foreign Affairs

of Member States of the Council of Europe, is responsible for supervising the execution of final judgments of the European Court of Human Rights. For further information, see the website of the Council of Europe’s Department for the Execution of Judgments of the European Court of Human Rights: http://www.coe.int/en/web/execution

* Contracting States of the European Convention on Human Rights are required to abide by final judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, by adopting individual and general measures, and paying any just satisfaction ordered by the Court.

* Under Article 46(3) of the European Convention on Human Rights, where the Committee of Ministers considers that the supervision of the execution of a final judgment is hindered by a problem of interpretation of that judgment, it may refer the matter to the European Court of Human Rights for a ruling on the question of interpretation. A referral decision requires a majority vote of two thirds of the representatives entitled to sit on the Committee.

* Following the decision of the European Court of Human Rights in O’Keeffe, Ireland has been required to submit action plans to the Committee of Ministers on a periodic basis, outlining the individual and general measures adopted to implement the judgment of the Court. The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has previously made submissions to the Committee of Ministers in relation to the execution of the judgment in O’Keeffe. The State’s action plans, together with submissions made by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and a number of non-governmental organisations, are available here: http://www.coe.int/en/web/execution/submissions-ireland

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