Belfast Telegraph

Taoiseach issues apology to those abused in day schools

Leo Varadkar acknowledged the state had taken too long to accept responsibility to protect children.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (PA)
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (PA)

The Taoiseach has apologised on behalf of the State to people who were sexually abused in the country’s day schools.

Leo Varadkar also apologised for the State’s delay in acknowledging that it had the responsibility to protect the children who suffered abuse.

It comes after a judge found on Monday that the Government had misrepresented a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) by excluding children abused in Irish schools from a redress scheme.

In the Dail on Tuesday Mr Varadkar said: “I believe that sexual abuse is the most heinous of all crimes especially when the victims are children.

“It stays with them forever, trust is betrayed, lives forever destroyed and families broken.

“So on behalf of the state I want to apologise to people who were sexually abused when they were children in our day schools before 1992 and for the state’s delay thereafter in acknowledging that it had a responsibility to protect them.

“As Judge Iarfhlaith O’Neill has reported had a system to report abuse, and I quote, been in place in the years before 1992, when all of the historic child sex abuse occurred in national schools, the prevailing culture of impunity which permitted these crimes to occur could not existed or survived.”

The Taoiseach thanked Judge O’Neill for the two years of work he had completed since he was appointed by minister Bruton.

“Procedures should have been in place before 1992 to record and act on allegations of sexual abuse by teachers and staff,” Mr Varadkar continued.

“They were not and governments prior to 1992 failed in their responsibility to do so.

“Since then successive governments, including this one, have not put right this historic wrong, and so have perpetuated it and we will seek to right that wrong now.

“The intentions may have been honourable, to provide for abuse survivors while protecting the taxpayer who ultimately has to pay the bill for things that they weren’t responsible for, but it was wrong to make the terms of the ex-gratia scheme so restrictive.”

He said the state would now make payments to the 13 payments to the people whose appeals were successful “without undue delay”.

The Taoiseach added that there were other cases where survivors did not appeal or survivors did not apply and he said these would have to be re-examined.

He said this could involve reopening the scheme.

He called on patron bodies to make any information they have available.

Mr Varadkar also told the Dail that without meaningful action, apologies do not count for very much.

“The best apology we can make to Louise O’Keeffe and to all other survivors is to say that further action will now be taken,” he said.

“The state failed them at the time, failed them again a second time when it did not own up to its responsibility. We won’t fail them a third time.”

He added that Education Minister Joe McHugh would make a further statement on this on Wednesday afternoon.

In his report, Judge Iarfhlaith O’Neill, who carried out an independent assessment of the redress scheme, found that one of the state’s conditions was “not compatible” with the judgment in the Louise O’Keeffe case in 2014.

One of the terms said that abuse victims are only eligible for redress if there had been a prior complaint made against their abusers.

Victims of sex abuse in primary schools had to prove there was a complaint made about the abuser before their abuse took place.

Judge O’Neill deemed that 13 applicants who were initially refused were entitled to a payment from the State Claims Agency (SCA).

Nineteen applications were assessed by Judge O’Neill.

The ex-gratia scheme was established in July 2015 following the judgment by the ECHR, which found that the state had a vicarious liability for the abuse Ms O’Keeffe suffered at the hands of her primary school principal.

PA

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