New Redress Scheme for Victims of Historic Schools Abuses Continues to Fail Victims

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (the Commission) has told the Council of Europe’s highest body, its Council of Ministers, that a new State Redress scheme designed to meet obligations to survivors of abuse in schools has a number of significant flaws, which mean it continues to fail survivors seven years after the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) judgment was won by Cork woman Louise O’Keeffe.

In the letter published today the Commission sets out its significant concerns about 3 specific aspects of the new scheme:

  • It is only open to victims who sued the State before 1st July 2021 – This is an arbitrary date and victims who sued the State are not more deserving of redress that those who did not.
  • It leaves victims holding the bill for having sued the state – having required that applicants must have started legal proceedings to be included in the scheme, it fails to make adequate provision for the legal costs which survivors have incurred. Applicants are eligible for only €4,000 towards legal costs— which are likely to be substantially higher. This means the awards made to many victims will be eaten up by outstanding legal bills.
  • It places the onus on victims to explain how their abuse would have been prevented – applicants are obliged to satisfy the State Claims Agency that, had the Department of Education Guidelines for Procedures for Dealing with Allegations or Suspicions of Child Abuse been in place at the time the sexual abuse occurred, there would have been a real prospect of altering the outcome or mitigating the harm suffered as a result.

On this third point the Commission sets out in its written submission “There can be no objective justification for subjecting people whose childhoods were shattered by sexual abuse to such an insensitive exercise, which can be based on no more than a series of hypotheticals. Placing the onus on victims to explain how their abuse would have been prevented is redundant when, as the judgment of the Grand Chamber makes clear, Ireland failed to put in place effective mechanisms of child protection in Irish schools”

The Commission has, as a result of these failings, asked the Council of Europe again 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.

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:

“Redress for children subjected to life-changing abuses by trusted adults in what should have been a safe place of learning, is being treated by the State as a tick box exercise rather than one which responds to survivors’ needs. Once again, Ireland is failing to adopt the humility and respect required in dealing with victims of State wrongdoing, and instead taking a defensive position, informed by suspicion and distrust.

“As victims grow older, we cannot allow the State to run down the clock on their right to effective redress.”

ENDS/

For further information, please contact

Brian Dawson, IHREC Communications Manager,

087 0697095 bdawson@ihrec.ie

Follow us on twitter @_IHREC

Notes to editor

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

  • The Commission’s December 2021 letter to the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers is available here
  • The Commission’s full June 2021 submission to the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers is available
  • 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 on the Council of Europe’s website https://www.coe.int/en/web/execution/ 

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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