The Government has approved the reopening of a revised scheme to compensate victims of sexual abuse in schools, in line with a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in 2014.
In a case taken by Cork woman Louise O’Keeffe, the European court had ruled that the State had a liability to these victims.
The Supreme Court, upholding an earlier High Court ruling, had previously found that the State could not be held responsible, because the national school in question had been run by an independent board at the time.
After these rulings, but before the ECHR decision, a number of people who had begun legal action against the State over their abuse discontinued those proceedings.
A scheme to compensate victims of abuse in national schools was first opened in July 2015 after the ECHR judgment, giving those who had halted their legal proceedings the opportunity to apply for an ex gratia payment.
The scheme was paused in 2019, however, after a report by retired High Court Judge Iarfhlaith O’Neill that reviewed a number of unsuccessful applications to the scheme. He found that the criteria to qualify for a payment were too restrictive for this group of applicants, specifically the requirement to provide evidence of a prior complaint against their abuser.
Minister for Education Norma Foley (pictured) said that she was confident that the revised scheme addressed Judge O’Neill’s criticisms, as it allowed a wider range of evidence to be accepted.
“Protecting children from harm should be the foremost ambition in any society, and many children were failed in this respect in the past in this country,” the minister said.
Commitment to ECHR
“I also want to emphasise that Ireland takes its obligations to the European Court of Human Rights extremely seriously, and the revised terms of the scheme should remove any doubt about Ireland’s ongoing commitment to implement the ruling in full,” she added.
Under the revised scheme, in order to receive an ex gratia payment of €84,000, applicants must demonstrate that:
- They were sexually abused while a pupil at a recognised day school, and that this occurred before June 1991 in a primary school, or before November 1992 in a post-primary school, when guidelines for dealing with allegations or suspicions of child abuse were introduced in schools, and
- Had these guidelines 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 by them as a result.
The original group that was eligible to apply to the scheme can now apply or reapply to the redesigned scheme, provided that they have not already received a payment.