Grave Concerns on State’s Resolve to Redress Aging Victims of Historic Schools Abuses

Latest State Report Risks Giving Incorrect Impression that Victims Have Been Redressed, While Government’s Actions Point to Ongoing State Barriers

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (the Commission) has told the Council of Europe’s highest body, its Council of Ministers, that Ireland continues to withhold redress from alleged victims of sexual abuses in schools seven years after the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) judgment won by Cork woman Louise O’Keeffe.

The Commission has, as a result, asked the Council of Europe to transfer this case to an “enhanced supervision” process which would see Ireland more closely monitored on its implementation of the 2014 O’Keeffe ruling.

The Commission has consistently, since 2015, used its legal standing, which affords national human rights institutions the opportunity to contribute to the execution of a ECtHR judgment, to set out that the State has adopted an unduly restrictive and narrow approach to the category of “victim” in its interpretation of the ECtHR ruling.

Under the State’s restrictive interpretation of the O’Keeffe judgment, a victim of child sexual abuse is required to establish the existence of a prior complaint before the State’s liability was triggered. Placing the onus on victims to explain how their abuse could have been prevented is redundant when the O’Keeffe ruling made clear Ireland failed to put in place effective mechanisms of child protection in Irish schools.

The Commission sets out to the Council of Europe that “Ireland’s imprecise commitment that a ‘new or revised’ Scheme will be commenced in the third quarter of 2021 offers potential applicants little consolation. Legal submissions filed in ongoing legal proceedings in Ireland indicate that any new Scheme will be a very narrow one, raising the real possibility of further disputes about eligibility and the scope of the Grand Chamber judgment.”

The application of the ‘prior complaint’ criterion in the exclusion of 13 applicants from the State’s (now suspended) Ex Gratia Redress Scheme was reviewed by the Scheme’s Independent Assessor, Mr Justice Iarfhlaith O’Neill. On 5 July 2019, he concluded that this condition was incompatible with the O’Keeffe judgment and that its application was a continuing breach of the right to an effective remedy of victims of child sexual abuse otherwise eligible for redress.

In its written submissions, published today to the Council of Europe, which responds directly to Ireland’s State Report, the Commission sets out that:

  • Even the inadequate redress scheme established by the State has now been suspended points to a major structural problem. The fact that the question of execution of the O’Keefe judgment remains live more than seven years later demonstrates that the current European Court of Human Rights supervision mechanism is inadequate;
  • The Commission is concerned that the Council of Europe may be given the incorrect impression, from the information supplied by Ireland, that the question of reparation for victims of historic abuse in schools has largely been resolved. In fact, the State’s operation of the Scheme has compounded the situation as victims are now unable to obtain even such limited satisfaction as an award under the Scheme might afford them;
  • The State’s delay in re-opening the redress scheme is especially regrettable given the advancing age of the victims and the differential impact of the Covid-19 public health emergency on older people;
  • The State’s “erroneous interpretation” of the O’Keeffe judgment ignores the fact that, it is abundantly clear that the finding against Ireland by the Court was made on the basis of a systemic failure on Ireland’s part to put in place effective arrangements for detecting and reporting child sexual abuse incidents in schools until 1992;
  • The information submitted by the State refers to the making of compensation payments to 16 applicants following the Independent Assessor’s determination. Yet on Ireland’s own account approximately 210 plaintiffs discontinued proceedings against the State after the judgment of the Supreme Court but before the judgment in the Louise O’Keeffe case; and
  • The State’s ‘Ex gratia’ Scheme also excludes approximately 150 alleged victims of historic sexual abuse at school who commenced their legal proceedings against the State after the O’Keeffe judgment was delivered, as well as the uncertain number who never commenced proceedings at all.

In 2014 the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the State had violated Articles 3 and 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights, had failed to fulfil its obligation to protect Louise O’Keeffe from inhuman and degrading treatment, and had failed to provide her with an effective remedy.

In October 2015, the Commission reported to the Council of Europe its concern over the State’s execution of the judgment. A further submission to the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers also followed in October 2016 on the State’s restrictive interpretation of the O’Keeffe v Ireland judgment. In June 2018 and March 2019 the Commission submitted its views to the Independent Assessor of claims.

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

“As the Government is preparing to publish its proposed redress scheme for victims of Mother and Baby Homes, it’s frankly shameful that seven years after Louise O’Keeffe won her legal battle for redress for survivors of sexual abuses in schools, the State continues to deny access.

“Almost two years to the day after the report of the Independent Assessor was published, there remains no redress mechanism due to the ongoing suspension of the previous, unsatisfactory scheme.

“The Government’s ongoing narrow interpretation of the O’Keeffe case since 2015 is depriving people who suffered sexual abuse as children within our national school system of an effective remedy. That deprivation of justice looks ever starker as victims grow older.

“What use is a formal State apology to victims, when the actions following it ring so hollow?”

ENDS/

For further information, please contact

Brian Dawson, IHREC Communications Manager,

01 8589601 / 087 0697095 bdawson@ihrec.ie

Follow us on twitter @_IHREC

Notes to editor

Background to this issue – Chronology of the Commission’s Engagment.

  • The Commission’s full June 2021 submission to the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers is available here:
  • The full text of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission March 2019 submission to the Independent Assessor Mr. Justice Iarfhlaith O’Neill is available here:
  • The full text of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission December 2018 submission to the Independent Assessor Mr. Justice Iarfhlaith O’Neill is available here: 
  • The full text of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission June 2018 submission to the Independent Assessor Mr. Justice Iarfhlaith O’Neill is available here:
  • The Commission’s October 2016 written submission to the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers is available here:
  • The Commission’s October 2015 written submission to the Council of Europe under Rule 9 is available here

The Louise O’Keeffe Case:

In the case of O’Keeffe v Ireland (Application no 35810/09) 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.

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

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.

 

 

 

 

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