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Pathway to Redress for Victims of Convicted Child Sexual Abusers: Motion [Private Members] (Continued)

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 971 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Finian McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath Zoom on Finian McGrath] The first is that the 2014 scheme, to which survivors are seeking entry, is an ex gratia scheme. It was also mentioned that some survivors had died in tragic circumstances while waiting to access the scheme. Then there was prior complaint being a condition of entry and the near impossibility of proving, or even showing, prior complaint, in respect of which we raised the point that the vast majority of victims of child abuse did not disclose their abuse and that, as a result, the number of prior complaints on which one could rely was minuscule by comparison. Also on survivors' behalf, we raised the significance of the Ryan report which highlighted the lack of integrity of the then Department of Education, on the same historical records of which survivors now have to rely to show prior complaint. The Ryan report states:

The Department of Education dealt inadequately with complaints about sexual abuse. These complaints were generally dismissed or ignored ... The Department, however, gave the impression that it had a function in relation to investigating allegations of abuse but actually failed to do so.

In addressing this matter at the meeting I reiterated that I was referring to the Department of Education in historical times only. I acknowledged and commended the Department of Education and Skills for the vast body of work it carried out to protect schoolchildren. To further demonstrate the difficulties in having to rely on prior complaint, we also gave as an example a mid-1990s written complaint which had effectively been ignored and in which case the teacher who was subsequently convicted had been allowed to teach for a further three years.

  I thank and commend Louise O'Keeffe, John Allen, John Boland and Mark Vincent Healy and all of the survivors and victims for their efforts on this issue.

Deputy Willie O'Dea: Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea I thank everybody who contributed to the debate. I thank Members of all parties and none who indicated that they would support the motion when it is put to the House tomorrow. I was interested in the contribution of the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, but noted that he did not indicate how he would vote. As the survivors in the Visitors Gallery would like to know, perhaps he might communicate his intentions to them later.

This is more of the same. The Government's approach in the Louise O'Keeffe case was not to state, "The State has been found wanting, so what can we do for the victims?" Its approach was to ask: "How much further does this force us to go? What do we have to do? What is the least we have to do as a result of this judgment?" In order to facilitate that approach, it gave the judgment the most narrow interpretation possible. I will not go over the mistaken interpretation, the asinine and narrow interpretation which the Government deliberately gave the Louise O'Keeffe decision as it has been dealt with very effectively by Deputies Micheál Martin and Catherine Connolly. Even if the Government was correct and the Louise O'Keeffe judgment in the European Court of Human Rights meant what it stated it meant, the Government is not prevented from allowing people to access the redress fund where the evidence is absolutely clear. The Louise O'Keeffe judgment does not restrict it from going further than requiring a prior complaint.

We have heard all of the international evidence of children not speaking about this type of activity until later in life, the difficulties in proving prior complaints and issues back in the 1960s and 1970s, but, as if all of those things were not enough, the Government set up a second hurdle, that one had to have brought legal proceedings within the time set out in the Statute of Limitations. Anybody who consulted a solicitor about legal proceedings was told that the courts would take the view that as the teachers involved who were paid by the State were employed by school management, the State did not have a liability. That legal advice was correct and has been upheld in a number of decisions in the High Court. When the plaintiff went into a solicitor's office, he or she was told that there was no point in pursuing his or her case as he or she would be wasting his or her time and money, as well as that of the solicitor. Now we are saying if they did not ignore that advice and tell the solicitor to go ahead anyway, we cannot accommodate them. That is cynical. The Government set up a redress scheme allegedly to help people, but it framed it in such a way that virtually nobody could access it successfully. If it is so confident about its redress scheme and its legal advice that it is a wonderful scheme, how come so few have managed to avail of it? It is because they cannot surmount the two barriers the Government has erected in their way.

The interpretation in the Louise O'Keeffe case and the artificial requirement to have brought a legal case are buttressed by another argument, a constitutional argument which is pretty convoluted from what I could make out of the Minister's explanation. It sounded to me suspiciously like gobbledygook, but I would like to see the Minister's advice on it, if he has received any from the Attorney General or anybody else. He seems to be saying that adopting our motion would mean that we would divide victims into two classes, as though we wanted to compensate one class and not the other. That is farcical, as we want to see all victims compensated. In the motion we are simply trying to reach a situation where, if the evidence is clear and the case proved beyond reasonable doubt in a criminal court conviction, the victims would be given access to the redress compensation scheme. That is not an unreasonable demand. There is no question of the floodgates opening or a victim in the absence of a conviction challenging the scheme and opening it up. Any legal opinion to that effect is not well founded and before I could give it any credence, I would like to see such advice in writing.

The Government is emphasising the role of Mr. Justice Iarfhlaith O'Neill, which surprises me to some extent. I have read the terms of reference for his appointment and it is not clear to me that he is an appeal judge in respect of decisions of the redress board, or that he can reverse any of its decisions. The Government insisted on its interpretation of the Louise O'Keeffe judgment, but it is telling us tonight that it has now appointed Mr. Justice Iarfhlaith O'Neill to see if it is, in fact, correct. I do not want to personalise the issue, but the Government has been extremely slow in its correspondence and communication with Mr. Justice O'Neill. It has been a while since he was appointed, but the activity and timelines do not indicate seriousness of intent on the part of the Government.

We will be pushing the motion and I hope we will receive the support of all non-Fine Gael Members of the House, as well as of the Deputies in the Minister of State's group. We are simply seeking justice, but the Government continues to hide behind evasions, legal niceties, legalese about such things as vicarious liability and references to the High Court and the Supreme Court, but these are victims of people who have admitted openly in court what they did and been convicted. Those who carried out these appalling acts had their salaries paid by the State. The acts were carried out in schools which were under the management and control of the State and which the victims were compelled, by law, to attend.

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