Human rights watchdog to intervene in child sexual abuse redress case

Human rights watchdog to intervene in child sexual abuse redress case

Sinéad Gibney

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has been granted leave from the High Court to exercise its amicus curiae function in a significant case focused on redress for survivors of historic child sexual abuse in schools.

As amicus curiae in the case of PD v. The Minister for Education, the watchdog will bring its experience to the issue of historic abuse, and how redress should be provided to victims of historic abuses in schools within the human rights framework under the revised ex gratia scheme.

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.

The Commission’s predecessor, the Irish Human Rights Commission, intervened as a third party in the O’Keeffe case and submitted written observations to the European Court of Human Rights 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.

Since that time, the Commission has engaged directly with the Council of Europe’s highest body, with the minister for education, with the State-appointed independent assessor, with the UN Human Rights Council and with Oireachtas members in relation to the human rights requirements for survivors to be able to access redress.

The Commission considers this case to have significance for the human rights of survivors of historic abuse in Irish schools.

Chief commissioner Sinéad Gibney said: “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.

“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.

“Since our establishment, we have used our legal powers to highlight the vital need to have human rights-compliant redress schemes that are accessible for survivors of abuse. This work continues but we are increasingly working in a context where survivors are getting older and need urgent resolution of the human rights 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.”

Share icon
Share this article: