Rights watchdog expresses ‘grave concern’ over treatment of historic abuse victims

Rights watchdog expresses 'grave concern' over treatment of historic abuse victims

Sinéad Gibney

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has expressed “grave concern” over the State withholding redress from alleged victims of sexual abuse in schools.

The Commission has told the Council of Europe’s highest body, the Council of Ministers, that Ireland continues to withhold redress from alleged victims of sexual abuses in schools seven years after the European Court of Human Rights judgment won by Cork woman Louise O’Keeffe.

In a written submission, the Commission has asked the Council of Europe to transfer the case to an “enhanced supervision” process which would see Ireland more closely monitored on its implementation of the 2014 O’Keeffe ruling.

Since 2015 the Commission has held the position that the State has adopted an unduly restrictive and narrow approach to the category of “victim” in its interpretation of the ECtHR ruling.

Under such an interpretation, a victim of child sexual abuse is required to establish the existence of a prior complaint before the State’s liability was triggered- placing the onus on victims to explain how their abuse could have been prevented. The Commission says such an onus is “redundant” given that the O’Keeffe ruling made it clear that Ireland failed to put in place effective mechanisms of child protection in Irish schools.

Chief commissioner Sinéad Gibney said: “As the Government is preparing to publish its proposed redress scheme for victims of Mother and Baby Homes, it’s frankly shameful that seven years after Louise O’Keeffe won her legal battle for redress for survivors of sexual abuses in schools, the State continues to deny access.

“Almost two years to the day after the report of the Independent Assessor was published, there remains no redress mechanism due to the ongoing suspension of the previous, unsatisfactory scheme.

“The Government’s ongoing narrow interpretation of the O’Keeffe case since 2015 is depriving people who suffered sexual abuse as children within our national school system of an effective remedy. That deprivation of justice looks ever starker as victims grow older.

“What use is a formal State apology to victims, when the actions following it ring so hollow?”

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