Victim of abuse cannot pursue action for damages
A man whose life was blighted after he was seriously physically and sexually abused at a residential school operated by the Brothers of Charity cannot proceed with an action for damages against the State and Southern Health Board (SHB), the High Court has decided.
Because a settlement of £28,000, secured by John Barrett (53) in a 1999 action brought by him against the Brothers of Charity, was recorded at that time as "full and final settlement of all claims", he could not now proceed with his action against the Southern Health Board and the State, Mr Justice Éamon de Valera ruled yesterday.The 1999 settlement was made without admission of liability. In his action against the health board and State, Mr Barrett, The Ballagh, Enniscorthy, Co Wexford, claimed the health authorities and the State failed to properly inspect or inquire into what was going on at Our Lady of Good Counsel school at Lota, Glanmire, Cork. Moreover, he claimed his experiences there blighted his life, leading to problems with drink, depression and sexual relationships.
Although his parents were then still alive, he was admitted to Lota on the application of the Cork Health Authority in 1961 at the age of nine after he was mitching from school where he was being allegedly beaten for failing to write with his right hand. He claimed he was subject to serious and frequent sexual abuse until he left Lota at the age of 16. The abuse included being buggered on three or four nights a week for two- to three-hour periods each night, he claimed. A Brother Ambrose, also known as James Kelly, had been convicted and sentenced to 36 years on charges relating to that abuse and also relating to abuse of other boys at Lota. Mr Barrett claimed other Brothers also abused him.
Mr Justice De Valera delivered his reserved judgment yesterday on an application - made in March 2006 - by the health board and State defendants (the Ministers for Health and Children and Education and Science, Ireland and the Attorney General) for an order dismissing the proceedings on grounds of the earlier settlement, delay, and because, they claimed, the proceedings were brought outside the legal time limits.
Mr Justice De Valera said Mr Barrett's claim against the SHB and State was initiated in July 2000. A defence was filed by the SHB in 2001 but no defence had been filed by the other defendants. The judge noted that certain facts alleged by Mr Barrett, including that he was admitted to Lota in 1961, when he was described as suffering from a mild mental subnormality, and that he was physically and sexually abused there, were not contradicted. It was also not contradicted that Mr Barrett was able to read on admission to Lota but not to write and had received no further education there. It was also uncontradicted that Mr Barrett developed severe alcoholism and depression from early adult life which was professionally diagnosed as having been caused by the abuses suffered at Lota and that he was psychologically inhibited from disclosing abuses until 1997.
Mr Justice De Valera said he was satisfied that the defendants are "concurrent wrongdoers" within the provisions of section 2 of the Civil Liability Act 1961 and that other provisions of that Act applied to the case, including section 16 which provided that, where a person suffers damage as a result of concurrent wrongs, satisfaction by any wrongdoer "shall discharge the others whether such others have been sued to judgment or not".
Section 16, when applied to this case, discharged the SHB and State defendants in circumstances where Mr Barrett's claim had been fully satisfied, the judge ruled.
Case may go to Supreme Court
The man at the centre of yesterday's failed High Court challenge is considering taking his case to the Supreme Court.
John Barrett told The Irish Times he was disappointed at the decision of Mr Justice De Valera not to allow him to proceed with an action for damages against the State and Southern Health Board. The court ruled that because a previous settlement in an action brought by him against the Brothers of Charity was recorded at that time as "full and final settlement of all claims", Mr Barrett could not proceed with his separate action. "I don't think I should have lost," he said. "When that document was put in front of me I had no idea what I was signing. The case against Brother Ambrose hadn't even come up before the courts." Mr Barrett, who survives on an invalidity pension, said he did not know how he will pay the costs of his failed challenge.
He estimated there were some 2,000-3,000 survivors of abuse who cannot apply to the Residential Institutions Redress Board for compensation. But the board includes payments from both the religious orders and the State, he said. As a result, it was his belief that victims such as himself should also receive compensation from the State. "As far as I'm concerned the Government has broken its agreement with survivors," he said. "The religious have kept their side of the agreement, I've been paid by them. But as far as I'm concerned the Government have not.
"It is the Government at the end of the day who took me from my home in the middle of the night and sent me to Lota."