The High Court has granted the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) leave to exercise its amicus curiae (friend of the court) function in a case that centres on redress for survivors of historic child-sexual abuse in schools.
The case, PD v The Minister for Education, focuses on the requirements for inclusion in the Government’s Revised Ex Gratia Scheme to compensate victims of sexual abuse in schools.
Under this scheme, survivors must 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.
The proceedings must also have been issued after the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in O’Keeffe v Ireland.
IHREC’s predecessor, the Irish Human Rights Commission, intervened as a third party in the O’Keeffe case, and submitted written observations to the ECtHR in 2011.
Those submissions were referred to in the court’s judgment, which addressed the failure by the State to protect Ms O’Keeffe from sexual abuse in a national school in 1973, and to put in place a system of adequate and effective remedies for that abuse.
The commission says that, since that time, it has engaged with the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers, the Minister for Education, the State-appointed Independent Assessor, the UN Human Rights Council, and Oireachtas Members on the human-rights requirements for survivors to be able to access redress.
The human-rights body believes this case has significance for the human rights of survivors of historic abuse in Irish schools.
Survivors getting older
“At the heart of this issue stand victims seeking redress for the State’s failure to protect them against sexual abuse, and who are met with onerous and arbitrary barriers in accessing this redress,” stated Sinéad Gibney (IHREC’s chief commissioner, pictured).
“Louise O’Keeffe eventually won her European Court of Human Rights case, but due to the State’s narrow interpretation of her 2014 ruling, survivors of historic child-sexual abuse in schools still face significant barriers in accessing redress,” she said.
Gibney added that the commission was working in a context where survivors were getting older, and needed “urgent resolution” of the questions raised in this case.
“It is important that these issues are clarified as a matter of urgency, as the scheme is due to close in July 2023,” she concluded.