People who were sexually abused as children in Irish schools have accused the Government of denying them justice through what they say is an "incorrect" interpretation of a recent European Court of Human Rights ruling.

In its latest submission to Strasbourg on progress in implementing the ruling, the State has told the court that out of 19 recent applications made for compensation from the State in one particular category - 18 have been rejected. 

Lawyers representing a number of survivors have written to the Council of Europe asking it to refer the matter back to the European Court of Human Rights for adjudication.

Two years ago the ECHR ruled that Ireland had failed to protect Cork woman Louise O'Keeffe from abuse she suffered as a child in the 1970s at the hands of her teacher Leo Hickey.

In its judgment the court said the State "must have been aware of the sexual abuse of children by adults".

It said it had failed to fulfil its obligation to protect children in schools, by not putting in place a framework for their safety.

The court ruled that because their rights had been breached, Ms O'Keeffe and others in a similar position were entitled to a remedy. The ruling was binding on Ireland.

The then government established a redress scheme in response. That scheme offers out-of-court payments to people who suffered abuse as children in Irish schools in the 1970s.

But survivors have taken issue with a central requirement of the new scheme. Applicants must demonstrate that their abuse took place after a complaint of sexual abuse involving their abuser had already been received by a school authority.

In its latest update to the European court, published today, the State said six people have accepted settlements under the scheme since it was established over a year ago.

A further 46 applications have been rejected.

Lawyers representing survivors said they believe the prior complaint requirement is "completely at odds" with the rationale of the O'Keeffe decision, and based on a "wholly incorrect" interpretation of that ruling.

They said the judgment was clear that it was the failure to implement an effective child protection framework generally in schools, rather than the failure to act on a prior complaint, that was the crux of the finding against the State.

One Dublin legal firm has now written to the Council of Ministers asking it to refer the matter back to the ECHR for interpretation.

They said the State is once again denying survivors an effective remedy.

It is the third such submission. Late last year the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission wrote saying it was concerned by Ireland's "overly restrictive interpretation" of the judgment. Earlier this year the UCC Law Centre raised similar worries with the Council.

The State is standing by its interpretation. It says its prepared to be flexible, that its has no strict criteria for what constitutes a prior complaint, but lawyers say that is not what their clients have been experiencing.  

Meanwhile, the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children has criticised what it calls "a marked absence" of any plan for the commencement of the Children First Act in the update published today.

The organisation said it is a cause for concern that the opportunity to spell out the State's intentions in this area has been missed.

It said the Children First Act was enacted in November 2015 but today, over eight months later, only three sections of the Act have commenced.

The Act provides an obligation on service providers, such as early years' providers, schools and hospitals to compile a Child Safeguarding Statement, undertake risk assessment and to appoint a dedicated person charged with overseeing child protection concerns.

It also provides a mandatory obligation on certain professionals, including teachers, to report any concerns or suspicions that a child is being abused or in danger of any harm.

ISPCC Chief Executive Grainia Long said "Without the enactment of this legislation, children do not have sufficient legal protection when it comes to their safety.

She said commencement of the act in its entirety should not be delayed.

Commenting on the State's response to historical abuse cases, the charity said it was concerned at the message being sent by the State to adults who were sexually abused as children, and by extension to children and young people today who may be in need of help.