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Brendan Smyth abuse: Irish Court of Appeal halts three actions for damages brought over alleged failure to act to prevent paedophile sexually abusing children

Published 12/11/2015

Disgraced priest Brendan Smyth
Disgraced priest Brendan Smyth

The Republic's Court of Appeal has halted three actions for damages brought over an alleged failure to act to prevent paedophile priest Fr Brendan Smyth sexually abusing children.

The case was brought by a man from Northern Ireland, his sister and a female cousin against a Catholic Bishop in a representative capacity.

The three-judge court upheld a High Court decision stopping separate actions by the three against the Bishop of Kilmore, Dr Leo O'Reilly, as representative of the Kilmore diocese.

They had also sued Cardinal Sean Brady in his personal capacity arising from his role as part-time secretary to former Bishop of Kilmore, Francis McKiernan, during a church investigation in 1975 into complaints about Smyth.

While Cardinal Brady had not made a similar application to Bishop O'Reilly, legal sources suggest the judgment means he too cannot be pursued by the plaintiffs.

The three previously settled Northern Ireland court actions for £25,000 damages each arising from being sexually abused over years as children by Smyth but claimed those settlements did not adequately compensate them.

They also said they were unaware of meetings which, they alleged, showed Catholic church representatives were made aware of Smyth's abuse in 1975 but failed to act to stop it. The knowledge of those meetings exacerbated their injuries, they said.

In proceedings initiated in the Republic in 2012, they alleged negligence and breach of duty of care over failure by representatives of the Catholic Church over years to monitor and supervise Smyth and failure to stop his abuse or report it to the Gardai.

In opposing the application, Rossa Fanning BL, for Bishop O'Reilly, produced media reports from October 1995 to the High Court which stated Bishop McKiernan had said he was aware in 1975 Smyth was abusing children.

The three appeal court judges, in upholding the High Court decision, expressed sympathy with the plaintiffs.

Heinous: Father Brendan Smyth
Heinous: Father Brendan Smyth
Brendan Smyth at a court appearance in the Republic

Mr Justice Michael Peart, giving the judgment, noted the "very tragic background" to the cases.

The court welcomed Mr Fanning's statement the Bishop was not seeking his costs of either the High Court or appeal court against the plaintiffs.

In his judgment, Mr Justice Peart said the real issue for determination was whether the revelation or discovery of the 1975 meeting constitutes a fresh cause of action and a new and separate injury not addressed by the Northern Ireland (NI) settlements.

The High Court was correct Bishop O'Reilly was sued as an institutional defendant in these cases and was sued in the same institutional capacity as Cardinal Cahal Daly had been sued in the Northern Ireland cases.

There was "no meaningful distinction" derived from the different nomenclature for the defendants adopted in the legal proceedings in both jurisdictions.

The settlements of the Northern Ireland cases discharged not only the named defendants in those cases but also "any third party in connection with each and every one of the complaints made".

Brendan Smyth died in prison
Brendan Smyth died in prison

The three Northern Ireland cases were taken against Smyth himself, the Norbertine order and Cardinal Cahal Daly as representative of the Catholic Church. The £25,000 payments were made by the Norbertines.

The judge noted the three argued the damages secured in the Northern Ireland cases were inadequate but they accepted them for reasons including advice they had no case against Cardinal Daly and neither the Norbertine Order nor Smyth had funds.

Cases are settled regularly for less than full value and there are many reasons for that.

A party who settles their case does so, except in "most exceptional" circumstances, for all time, regardless of facts or information which later come to light unless a clear intention to the contrary to evident from the signed settlement, the judge said.

Irish Independent

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