News & Events

Parliamentary Questions – 22nd May 2018

Residential Institutions Statutory Fund

Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Education and Skills further to Parliamentary Questions Nos. 204 of 27 June 2017 and 244 of 20 September 2017, if an economist on secondment from the Irish Government Economic and Evaluation Service conducted and completed the initial phase of the Caranua eligibility review involving a review of Caranua’s expenditure to date and an estimation of the projected expenditure as set out in the replies; if a copy of the initial phase review is available; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Richard Bruton: As I explained to the Deputy on 24 April in response to Parliamentary Question number 236 the review of eligibility to apply for Caranua is nearing completion and will be published in the coming weeks.

Compensation Schemes

Deputy Maurice Quinlivan asked the Minister for Education and Skills if, in cases of historical sexual abuse in which a prior complaint cannot be established but the perpetrator has been convicted of the crime, survivors of this abuse will be compensated; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Richard Bruton: Widening the parameters of the ex-gratia scheme introduced following the ECtHR judgment in the Louise O’Keeffe case to include cases where there was no prior complaint but there was a criminal conviction has been examined.

Such an approach would unfairly discriminate against those who were abused but whose abusers were not convicted (e.g., due to no complaint, level of response to the complaint, investigation of the complaint, a decision not to prosecute or acquittal in Court).

In addition, the fact that there was a criminal conviction, while it might provide evidence of abuse, does not of itself provide a causal connection to a failure to act on the part of the State.

There is consistent legal advice that the State’s interpretation of the ECtHR judgement in the Louise O’Keeffe case is legally sound and in keeping with that judgement.

Dáil Éireann: Leaders Questions

Deputy Micheál Martin: I wish to begin by acknowledging the hurt and absolute devastation being experienced by the Kriegel and Valdez families over the past number of days. Our thoughts and prayers are with them. Both Ana Kriegel and Jastine Valdez were taken violently and brutally and their families and communities have been left broken-hearted. I pay tribute to the gardaí and first responders for all they are doing in such very devastating and traumatic situations.

In 2014, Louise O’Keeffe won a major breakthrough case in the European Court of Human Rights in regard to the State’s culpability in child sexual abuse in our primary schools. The Government’s response to that judgment has been a significant failure and, I would argue, represents the very worst of an adversarial approach to victims of child sexual abuse in our schools. They were abused by teachers who have subsequently been convicted. The response to the decision of the European Court of Human Rights is a scandal in itself and it needs to stop. Why is the Government fighting survivors of sexual abuse tooth and nail?

The redress scheme and the conditions attached to it represent a deliberate and quite shocking interpretation of the O’Keeffe judgment. By imposing a condition of prior complaint on the availability of redress, the Government has shifted the onus from itself to take proactive and preventative measures to vulnerable children who are victims of sexual abuse, in other words, to make disclosures leading to complaints. We know that multiple international research studies show that the vast majority of children who were victims of sexual abuse do not disclose that abuse.

Those who do wait a significant period before doing so. Therefore, prior complaints are incredibly unlikely to exist. Indeed, even though there are 360 known victims of sexual abuse in national schools, a prior complaint has only been established in respect of a single abuser to date. As Dr Conor O’Mahony of the Child Law Clinic at University College Cork put it, the condition of prior complaint is not designed to limit the scope of liability, it is designed to eliminate it.

Just seven offers of settlement have been made under the scheme, all of which relate to prior complaints in respect of one single abuser even though at least 360 cases arise for consideration. A settlement rate of just 2% is not indicative of a humane, flexible or holistic approach. Are we really suggesting that the victims will have to go back to the European Court of Human Rights to get justice in terms of the Government’s interpretation of the original O’Keeffe decision or that a second application must be made to the court? I have met the victims concerned. The Government is putting them through huge trauma right now because of the approach it has adopted. I ask the Taoiseach to change direction, to stop using the approach the Government is taking and to go back and give justice to those who were victims of such terrible abuse.

An Taoiseach, Deputy Leo Varadkar: I join Deputy Micheál Martin in condemning the senseless and brutal crimes we have seen in the past few days. We condemn them unreservedly. Although nothing we can say will bring Ana Kriegel or Jastine Valdez back, I hope we can provide some reassurance to the many young women and families out there who are scared and concerned. I particularly recognise An Garda Síochána for its very swift action in dealing with these two terrible crimes. I thank the Defence Forces and the Civil Defence for the assistance they gave the civil authorities. A Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, investigation is under way for reasons that people will understand. The Department of Justice and Equality is contacting the families with a view to assisting them. The Tánaiste has made contact with the Philippines embassy to see if there is any assistance we can provide. The National Educational Psychological Service has sent a team to Ana Kriegel’s school to assist the children there for whom it must be a difficult and shocking time. This matter was discussed at Cabinet this morning.

In respect of the Louise O’Keeffe case, I assure the Deputy that the Government fully accepts the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights and is now implementing that decision. We will deal with it as sensitively as possible. Our interpretation of the judgment is that in order for us to be in a position to pay compensation and redress, there must have been a prior complaint. As the Deputy knows, as has been the case with so many other redress schemes, such as the symphysiotomy redress scheme – which I was involved in putting together – or the scheme we put in place for women who were residents in the Magdalen laundries, it is necessary in all cases that there be evidence. Redress is made based on evidence and that is the basis on which we are operating into the future. I know the Minister for Education and Skills is very engaged with and on top of this issue and has met people affected and people concerned. I know he will deal with it in a sensitive a manner as possible.

Deputy Micheál Martin: The Taoiseach is not dealing with this in the most sensitive manner possible, he is dealing with it in the most insensitive manner possible. The prior complaint is a device to circumvent the Government’s responsibilities. There is only one case in Dunderrow relating to the prior complaint regarding an abuser. Most children in primary school do not disclose that they have been abused until years later. Are we seriously suggesting that prior complaint is legitimate where a child has been abused, where the paedophile rapist has been convicted and is in jail as a result of his conviction and where there is absolutely no doubt that the most appalling abuse was visited upon a person? We have forced that person through the High Court, the Supreme Court and the European Court of Human Rights, and the Government is still saying that the person is entitled to no redress and is entitled to nothing because of a legal device that has been implemented to eliminate liability and not admit it.

That is a shocking scandal in itself. In recent weeks, we have been talking about trying to end this adversarial approach. I have not come across anything as bad as this. The trauma of the victims is intense, which is the only reason I am raising this again on the floor of the House. The Government must change direction because what it is doing to the victims who are trying to seek legitimate redress as a result of being abused in primary school is inhumane. The European Court of Human Rights has ruled; it is time that we, as a State, accepted our responsibility and that the Government does the right thing by the people involved.

An Taoiseach, Deputy Leo Varadkar: I have discussed the matter again with the Minister for Education and Skills and he is very much aware of it. We are of the view that we are complying with the European Court of Human Rights judgment in the matter. If it is the case, as the Deputy said, that abuse has occurred and there is no doubt about that fact, then that is something we will have to consider. However, people will understand that when it comes to any scheme of compensation or redress scheme, there needs to be some evidence when claims are being made that alleged abuse took place. That was very much the case in previous redress schemes. However, if, as the Deputy said, there is no doubt that abuse has taken place in these cases, certainly that is something we can examine. I will take the matter up with the Minister for Education and Skills soon.

Seanad Éireann: Data Protection Bill 2018: [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil] Report and Final Stages

Senator Alice-Mary Higgins: Other areas discussed …..

Second, I note that the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002 and the inquiry into child abuse and other important inquiries are rightly given the exemptions they need to ensure that information that is in the public interest in this area is brought forward. Does the Minister of State feel there is enough future proofing in the Bill for future similar inquiries? Those under way are properly protected in this suite of amendments but what part of the Bill allows scope for future inquiries to avoid a cumbersome legal process to ensure that appropriate data can be accessed? The public interest measure is probably the relevant one but can the Minister of State clarify that?

Minister of State, Deputy Pat Breen: I thank all the Members of both Houses for their input into this Bill. There was a great deal of engagement in both Houses when I took part of the debate for the Minister, Deputy Flanagan. A lot of work has gone into the Bill to ensure we get the best possible Act.