I propose to take Questions Nos. 156 to 164, inclusive, together.
Following the ECtHR judgement in the Louise O’Keefe case, the SCA made settlement offers in 7 of the 35 extant High Court cases and 6 were accepted while in the remaining case, the settlement offer was withdrawn as the Plaintiff died in August 2015. In these cases, the prior complaints were made to a school authority, not a State authority, and the prior complaints arose in relation to abuse in different schools, not the schools in which the 6 Plaintiffs were abused.
In these cases, the State’s liability was settled but the 6 plaintiffs are pursuing their High Court claims against the congregation and the State is pursuing its claim against the congregation. The settlement offers are not part of any redress scheme.
It is not appropriate to comment on the type of abuse suffered by the plaintiffs.
The plaintiffs were in 3 different schools - the schools involved were Our Lady Queen of Angels/Ballyfermot National School, Naomh Mhuire/Walsh Island National School and Presentation Convent National School, Castlecomer. All were victims of the one abuser.
The source of information on prior complaints in these 6 cases is Chapter 14 of the Report from the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, the Ryan report.
I would like to explain to the Deputy what actions were taken to implement the recommendations of the ECtHR judgement referred to.
The State Claims Agency (SCA) manages school child sexual abuse litigation being taken against the State. In December 2014, the Government authorised the SCA to offer “out of court” settlements to persons taking High Court cases of school child sexual abuse against the State where their cases come within the terms of the ECHR judgment in the O’Keeffe case and are not statute barred.
Separately and in addition, in July 2015, the Government agreed that it would respond to those who instituted legal proceedings against the State in relation to school child sexual abuse but had discontinued their cases by offering ex gratia payments. It was decided that such payments would be offered to those persons whose cases were not statute barred prior to their proceedings being discontinued and where the person can demonstrate that their circumstances involved sexual abuse of a school child by a primary or post-primary school employee in respect of whom there was a prior complaint of sexual abuse to a school authority (including an authority of a school in which the employee had previously worked) prior to the issue of the Department of Education guidelines to primary and post-primary schools in 1991 and 1992 respectively.
For the purposes of the settlement of litigation and the Government’s ex gratia scheme, there is no strict interpretation as to what constitutes a “prior complaint.” The State must be satisfied on the balance of probabilities that there was a prior complaint but the State does not insist on a strict evidential standard in assessing the material put forward by an applicant. A holistic analysis of the case is undertaken and a flexible approach is adopted.
In assessing whether a settlement will be offered or whether an applicant comes within the ex gratia scheme, the State will consider instances of abuse which occurred in both primary and post-primary schools.
In assessing a case or application, the State works on the basis that a prior complaint includes not only complaints made to teachers but also complaints made to any person(s) in authority in a school. There are no time limits to the submitting of an application and if new evidence subsequently comes to light, even where an application had been declined, a further application can be submitted at any stage.
Following all of the above steps and consideration of all relevant materials, the SCA makes its decision on the ex-gratia scheme application.
There has been consistent legal advice to the effect that the approach being taken by the State is legally sound.
While the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse has completed its work, allegations of abuse should always be referred to the appropriate authority for a full and proper investigation.