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Taxpayers Fleeced and Reputations Ruined by False Child Abuse Claims

Added to www, on August 22, 2008

by Hermann Kelly in Irish Examiner, 21 August 2008

Two weeks ago in a Dublin criminal court an ex-Christian Brother was  acquitted of all sexual-abuse charges reigned against him by six accusers, all former residents of  a Galway industrial school in the late Sixties, and early Seventies. 

He was acquitted at the direction of JudgeTony Hunt who told the jury, that this case could not go forward because of significant inconsistency between the evidence given by witnesses in the trial and the statements they had made earlier to Gardaí and inconsistencies between what some witnesses had said in their statements and documentary evidence that was produced in court.

One of the complainants said that during his three years at the industrial school, he had been abused by three brothers. It was however proven that  one of the Brothers named did not exist,  and that another was not at the school at the same time as the accused. To cap it all off, it was also discovered that no one matching the complainant's details had ever attended the school. A retired Garda Superintendent, Jim Sugrue told the court that he had found that a social worker had coached some of the complainants, even going so far as having helped prepare their written statements.  Even through these charges were thrown out, it is most likely, because the complainants were at an industrial school, that they applied for money from the Residential Institution's Redress Board.

There have already been a number of occasions when  charges of sexual assault have been found without any basis whatsoever in Irish courts, yet the complainant, has gone on  to make the same accusations against the same person at the Redress Board and received money.  Researching for my book - 'Kathy's Real Story' I met a number of men who have been declared totally innocent in court who found that their accuser struck gold at the Redress Board for the same allegation  - they were devastated of course. Whereas cases like that of ex-Mercy nun Nora Wall have hit headlines - behind her there are a small army of lay and former-religious who must live with false accusations hanging over them in silence.

The Redress Board's own statistics show that the vast majority of people who applied to the Redress Board and could prove they were at the relevant institutions received compensation money, with the average payout being €76,500. It is estimated that the Redress Board will have paid out at least 1.1 billion euro (1,1000 million) by the time it has completed its work. At a time when the recession is biting and the Government is trying to reduce unnecessary costs, it is my opinion that much of the Redress Board's payouts are not just a flagrant waste of taxpayers' money but part of a scheme which has led to huge injustice.

This injustice is bound to happen because the normal standard of proof or evidence that is necessary in court proceedings is not required for applications to the Redress Board. In February 2003, the then Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell said he was proud that, "the State Redress Scheme won't need strict proof, adversarial justice or courtroom procedures."

Given that we live in a culture where Army Deafness claims, the Blue Flue and false insurance claims are common, I think it incredibly naive to expect that a large amount of money be put on offer, little proof of having been wronged are asked for; and we don't expect a number of people to make false claims.

It is clear that once financial compensation was put on offer that the number of claims of abuse increased exponentially.

When the Christian Brothers made an apology to all the former residents of their schools, in March 1998, there were three complaints on their files relating to Letterfrack.

In the next year there was a lot of media coverage of the issue of residential abuse and the Christian Brother apology leading to a further nine complaints relating to Letterfrack reaching the Christian Brothers.

But then things started to go haywire. In May 1999 Bertie Ahern apologised on behalf of the State, recommended that the Statute of Limitations be altered and that a  compensation scheme be established. Hey presto - the number of complaints increased by 449.

By the time that Redress Board applications closed in December 2006, the Christian Brothers received a total of 2,672 applications for compensation. Other religious orders found that the same pattern emerged  - a huge increase in the number of claims once compensation was put on offer.

A  similar compensation scheme in Nova Scotia for those in state orphanages led to similar problems. In a government-sponsored report on the scheme, Judge Fred Kaufman in 2002 wrote that "little or no validation was required for claims (which) was a recipe for disaster."  It was commendable, he said, that "the Government was concerned about the plight of abuse victims and understood its obligation to rectify past wrongs and prevent future wrongs. However it lost sight of its obligation to its own former and current employees. And fairnessbecame yet another victim. And so did the credibility of the Program itself."

In Ireland, there is no doubt that physical and sexual abuse of children and minors has been carried out in a very brutal manner by a number of people, including professed religious. Some people who were in the care of religious institutions suffered cruelty by some of those entrusted with their care. Those people who were abused should receive compensation, just as those who wickedly carried out abuse should be jailed for their criminal offences. But I hold this should be done via the courts where justice can be seen to be done for all.

When the State launches a 1.1 billion euro compensation scheme surely it is  proper that people should provide proof that they were abused before they can receive any money. Otherwise, some unscrupulous people will simply make a false allegation to get more money.

The State which provides the honey pot, to provide sustenance for the bees, shouldn't be too surprised when some hungry bears turn up to dip their paws at will. Especially as there are so few safeguards against this happening. Yes, the State, taking money from the Irish taxpayer, provides compensation to people who were resident in certain institutions, some of whom were abused, yet this does not justify allowing those who were not abused or suffered no harm  a lot of money. Nor should it encourage them to destroy someone's reputation and ensure that they, as innocent persons wrongly accused, are put through the mincer emotionally.

As it stands, the Redress Board has become a State-sponsored ATM machine, where virtually anybody who keys in a claim, gets a pay out.

It is the Irish taxpayer who is being abused by this ill-thought out compensation scheme. We need to stop and look at this Frankenstein the State has helped create. Does this Redress scheme do justice to all involved? Most certainly not. There is a lot of collateral damage. Just as one child being abused is one too many, so too is one innocent person being falsely accused of abuse.
Hermann Kelly is the author of 'Kathy's Real Story: A culture of false allegations exposed.  Prefect Press.  

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