The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) has described as “indefensible” a requirement for survivors of historic sexual abuses in schools to have taken legal proceedings against the State before 1 July 2021.
The commission was appearing as amicus curiae (friend of the court) in a High Court case challenging the ex gratia scheme that provides 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.
IHREC said that the man, known as PD, taking the case 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.
The commission said that PD was now excluded from the payments scheme because he did not issue legal proceedings against the State before 1 July 2021.
He is now challenging that exclusion on the basis that it is unreasonable and discriminatory.
‘Barrier after barrier’
IHREC concluded in its legal submissions 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.
“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,” said Sinéad Gibney (IHREC’s chief commissioner).
She added that the State must ensure that the payments scheme complied with its 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,” Gibney stated.