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Government to pay €31m in redress scheme to survivors of sexual abuse in primary schools

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The Government is setting aside €31m for payments under a redress scheme arising from the Louise O’Keeffe case.

he scheme allows for payments of €84,000 to pupils who were sexually abused at a primary school before November 1991 or in a post-primary school before June 1992.

It will be open to applications up to June 2023, and is a revise version of an earlier scheme following a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) judgement.

Education Minister Norma Foley announced the new scheme in July and Budget 2022 included a figure of €31m for compensation payments.

Louise O’Keeffe, who was sexually abused by principal Leo Hickey in Dunderrow National School, west Cork in the early 1970s, has pursued a lengthy campaign for the State to recognise its obligations to her and other similar victims.

Ms O’Keeffe was forced to bring her own case for damage to the ECHR, which ruled in 2014 that Ireland had failed to protect her as a five-year-old from Hickey when at school.

The Government sought to limit the application of the European court’s ruling to cases where there had been a prior complaint against an abuser and argued that it was not liable for damages if there had not been a prior complaint.

However, after a number of unsuccessful applications, a review found the scheme to be too restrictive, particularly in relation to the requirement to provide evidence of a prior complaint against their abuser. The scheme was paused in 2019.

Dr Conor O’Mahony, Director of the Child Law Clinic at UCC, who assisted Ms O’Keeffe in preparing her case for Europe, previously estimated that there were about 360 potential claimants with individual payments likely to average €84,000, putting an overall cost of €25m-€30m on the scheme.

The original group that were eligible to apply may apply or reapply to the redesigned scheme, provided that they have not already received an ex-gratia payment.

As well as the changed criteria, the type and nature of evidence that will be considered by the State Claims Agency in respect of individual applications is deemed to make it easier for an applicant to demonstrate that they fall within the terms of the European Court ruling.

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