Legal bar to abuse survivors inclusion in State redress scheme dubbed ‘indefensible’

Legal bar to abuse survivors inclusion in State redress scheme dubbed 'indefensible'

Sinéad Gibney

The Irish Human Rights and Equality commission has argued before the High Court that a State requirement for survivors of historic sexual abuses in schools to have taken legal proceedings against the State before 1 July 2021 – proceedings that, would be doomed to fail – “is indefensible.”

The commission is amicus curiae in a significant case which challenges the ex-gratia scheme providing 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.

The man taking the case (PD) 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. PD is now excluded from the State ex-gratia scheme because he did not issue legal proceedings against the State before 1 July 2021. He now challenges that exclusion on the basis that it is unreasonable and discriminatory.

The commission concludes in its legal submissions published today 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.

Sinéad Gibney, chief commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, said: “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.

“In our legal submissions today to the High Court we set out that the State cannot discriminate between victims of abuse recognised under international law in their access to the ex-gratia scheme established by the State. The State must ensure that the ex-gratia scheme complies with their 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.”

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