The Government today approved proposals of the Minister for Education and Skills, Jan O’Sullivan T.D. to offer out of court settlements to those bringing cases of school child sexual abuse against the State where the cases come within the terms of the ECHR Decision and meet certain other requirements.
The amounts of the settlement will vary according to the circumstances of each case and will be up to a maximum of €84,000 which was the settlement which Ms O’Keeffe received from the State including the award from the Criminal Inquiries Compensation Tribunal and the amount the European Court of Human Rights decided the State should pay to her.
Minister O’Sullivan said, “The sexual abuse of a child by a teacher or other school employee is a criminal act that is repugnant to the whole community. It is also a reprehensible abuse of power and trust. Parents entrust their children into the care of teachers and schools and should be confident that their children will be cared for and cherished in school.
“As Minister for Education and Skills, on behalf of both the State and all our people, I wish to apologise once again to Louise O’Keeffe, and to all those who were sexually abused as school children – for the horrific abuse which was inflicted upon them, and for our collective failure to protect them. As Minister I am committed to ensuring that we continue to improve the child protection arrangements we have in place in schools, so that never again shall we have to feel this collective shame.”
The Minister said this settlement offer represented a balanced and equitable response by the State in relation to those cases that come within the parameters of the ECHR judgement.
The Minister said that in making these settlement offers the State was not covering the liability of the perpetrators, school patrons or other Co-Defendants. In the O’Keeffe case, no claim was made against the school manager or patron.
Due to a lack of available information in relation to the precise circumstances of the 45 cases current at the time of the ECHR decision in January 2014 it is not possible at this stage to say in how many of these cases settlements will be offered. Since January 2014 a number of new cases have also been initiated or have sought to join the Minister to existing proceedings. The State Claims Agency will engage with the solicitors in these cases to clarify the position in relation to them and to make settlement offers where appropriate. It is likely that there will be cases that will not come within the terms of the ECHR Decision.
Minister O’Sullivan said that there was also a group of school child sexual abuse cases which had not been progressed for a number of reasons, including those which might have been discontinued after receiving letters from the State Claims Agency. The Minister said that more certainty needs to be brought to the exact position in relation to these cases and whether they had been formally discontinued or not. She said that she had asked the State Claims Agency to review these cases in detail and report back to her on them early in the New Year. She said that she would report back to Government on them following that review.
The Minister noted that none of the child protection architecture that is now in place was in place in 1973, when Louise O’Keeffe suffered horrendous sexual abuse.
Minister O’Sullivan said, “While the horrific abuse that Louise O’Keeffe endured dates back to the early 1970s, this Government is committed to ensuring the protection of children. Since then the Department of Education and Skills has issued enhanced child protection guidelines to schools in three phases and the Stay Safe programme was introduced in the early 1990s. New procedures in Whole School Evaluations undertaken by the Inspectorate of the Department now include a specific review of school policies in the area of child protection. Other significant developments include the introduction of vetting arrangements for new teaching and other staff recruited to schools.
With the forthcoming enactment of the Children First Bill and the implementation of the Children First Guidelines, we are continuing to very significantly improve our system of child protection both in schools and more generally.”
The Minister also said that, in conjunction with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, a review of current and planned child protection systems, both generally and in schools, was underway to ensure that they meet best practice standards.