A history of limitation and redress in Ireland

Recent blogs have looked at limitation in Scotland and the wider approach to limitation and redress. Whilst the preferred route in all jurisdictions seems to be for the removal of limitation periods in abuse claims, whether civil claims or redress, it is not always a straightforward process.  This can be seen from the history of redress and limitation which occurred in Ireland and which is summarised below.

In May, 1999 the Taoiseach announced a package of measures to deal with the issue of child abuse in Ireland.

These included:

“…an apology on behalf of the State to victims of child abuse; the setting up of a commission to inquire into childhood abuse; expansion nationwide of the counselling services available to assist victims of child abuse; immediate amendment of the limitation laws as they relate to civil actions based on childhood sexual abuse; referral of the question of limitation in other forms of childhood abuse to the Law Reform Commission and priority advancement of legislation to include a register of sex offenders.”

The Government gave effect to its pledge on the immediate amendments of the limitation laws by introducing the Statute of Limitations (Amendment) Act, 2000.

When originally introduced in the Dáil/Parliament, the Bill was intended to apply to both physical and sexual abuse however the Bill was amended in Oct/Nov 1999 to exclude non sexual abuse from its ambit.

The Act became law in June 2000 and extended the definition of “disability”, as contained in the Statute of Limitations, 1957, to circumstances in which a person is suffering from a significant “psychological injury” as a result of being sexually abused during childhood so “that his or her will or his or her ability to make a reasoned decision,” to institute civil proceedings in respect of such abuse is “substantially impaired”.

The Statute of Limitations (Amendment) Act, 2000 recognised that people who have been sexually abused during childhood are likely to have suffered trauma as a result of such abuse and to have been hindered from taking legal action within the prescribed timeframe. The Act therefore extended the definition of ‘disability’ in the 1957 Act to include cases of child sexual abuse.

With the enactment of the Statute of Limitations (Amendment) Act 2000 the vast majority of people who were bringing claims in respect of allegations of historical sex abuse then issued High Court proceedings, however, many only did so on a protective basis, as even at this stage i.e. June 2000 discussions were under way about a possible compensation scheme.

The Government had agreed in principle to a compensation scheme as far back as October 2000 and in August 2001 it appointed the Compensation Advisory Committee chaired by Mr Sean Ryan S.C. (who subsequently became Mr Justice Sean Ryan and who took over the Chairmanship of the Commission of Inquire into Abuse and produced what we all now know as “The Ryan Report”). The report and recommendations from that Committee formed the basis for the establishment of the Redress Board and the Residential Institutions Redress Act, 2002.

At the time of the establishment of the Redress Board limitation was not really an issue as almost all of the early applicants to the Redress Board had already issued and/or were in the process of issuing proceedings on foot of the Statute of Limitations (Amendment) Act, 2000 and pursuant to the provisions of the Residential Institutions Redress Act, 2002 applicants were entitled to run their High Court proceeding and their Redress Board Applications in parallel. However, if an applicant accepted an Award of Redress from the Board he/she had a statutory obligation to discontinue their proceedings, which in all cases had issued in the High Court.



Written by Paula Jefferson, partner

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