Sexual abuse against children, whether in residential institutions, day schools or any other setting, is appalling. So too is the legacy of that abuse and the failure of the State to act, failing its citizens and society. Child sexual abuse is particularly abhorrent because those who perpetrate it have positions of power. That is the case whether the abuse happens in institutional settings or the home. Victims of violent crime deserve tremendous sympathy, victims of child sexual abuse all the more so. Child sexual abuse is a crime which deeply touches our emotions. I repeat the Taoiseach's apology to all those who were abused in day schools in the period prior to 1992. It is said the past is another country and that the country in which the abuses took place was very different from that of today. As a nation, we have travelled an enormous distance in our societal attitudes and willingness to place previously unspoken and unacknowledged facts in the open.
I will speak presently about the ex gratia scheme and the decision of the independent assessor, Mr. Justice Iarfhlaith O'Neill, but the sad fact of the matter is that we should not be here talking about compensation schemes. The truth is that if more people in decades past had been willing to speak out about issues such as sexual abuse, the State and those of us who hold positions of authority would have been better placed to act to prevent abuse and better protect children. We need to reflect, not just as a state but as a society, on this. There have been failings on the part of the State. This was most manifestly the case in the residential institutions where the State had a very direct role in the incarceration of children. It was at fault for failing to identify the systematic regimes of abuse which were in force in the institutions. It has paid significant financial redress to the survivors of the institutions, but it is important that we continue to pay tribute to those brave people who, as children and young adults, endured dreadful privations and carried that trauma. It is right that those survivors hear the apology again here today.
Child sexual abuse was not unique to institutions. We also know that it happened in some day schools. They were not set apart from the community or hidden behind high walls. The children who attended them were not separated from their parents, yet we know that, regrettably, there were still teachers in these schools who preyed on children for their own sexual gratification. Largely because of our history, we have a somewhat unique school system which reflects the constitutional position that the State provides for education, rather than being the provider of education. The arm's length nature of the system has been recognised by the domestic courts when considering issues of the State's liability for wrongdoing in schools. The European Court of Human Rights took a different view from the High Court and the Supreme Court on the specific issue of liability for the sexual abuse of schoolchildren in the landmark case taken by Ms Louise O'Keeffe. The European Court of Human Rights found on the facts of the case that the State did have a certain responsibility for historical abuse.
The judgment of the European Court of Human Rights is complex and lengthy and runs to some 80 pages. What is clear is that some people who were abused in day schools discontinued cases against the State before the judgment in respect of Ms O'Keeffe's in the European Court of Human Rights.
Some of those cases involved the State being joined in actions that survivors had taken against school authorities including religious congregations. The ex gratia scheme was established to provide a mechanism to address the situation of these people. The criteria of the scheme reflected the State's interpretation of the European Court of Human Rights, ECHR, judgment, including the criterion that there must have been a prior complaint of abuse to a school authority. I acknowledge as a matter of fact that this proved to be too difficult a hurdle for applicants to cross. Put simply, the scheme did not work. The result is that close to half of the people who applied to the ex gratia scheme subsequently applied to have their case reviewed by the independent assessor to the scheme, retired High Court judge Mr. Justice Iarfhlaith O'Neill. Mr. Justice O'Neill has ruled on those 19 applications. He has formed the view that the requirement for a survivor to secure evidence of a prior complaint is not consistent with the ECHR judgment. As a result, 13 people are entitled to a payment. This will be paid as a matter of priority.
In response to the assessor's decision, the Taoiseach announced in the Dáil yesterday that the prior complaint criterion would be dispensed with and that the scheme would be reopened. My Department, in conjunction with the Office of the Attorney General, is examining the scheme in light of this. I met the Attorney General, Mr. Séamus Woulfe, yesterday to discuss the next steps in the process and I hope to be in a position to bring a memo to Cabinet next week outlining the Government's response.