Twenty years ago, then taoiseach Bertie Ahern unreservedly apologised to the victims of child abuse, vowing that the State would immediately do all that it could to overcome the lasting effects of their ordeals.

The Investigative Commission his government established on the issue scrutinised, among other things, the case of a former Christian Brother who carried out abuse in day schools - so the apology was not restricted to victims of institutional abuse.

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At the time of the apology, Louise O'Keeffe was embarking on a 15-year legal battle, which proved unsuccessful in Irish courts, to hold the State vicariously liable for the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her national school principal, Leo Hickey.

In 2014, she won her case at the European Court of Human Rights, leading hundreds of survivors of day school sexual abuse to hope that they might get compensated here.

But they were to be disappointed because in 2015, the State unveiled an ex gratia - or out of court - scheme which was very tightly drawn.

How do we know that?

Survivors and other observers would certainly point to the failure by the State to pay out anything under the scheme, despite receiving 50 applications.

Five weeks ago, in a hitherto unreported documented, the Government told the European Court of Human Rights that the scheme - which it regards as an important part of the action plan to implement the Strasbourg court's O'Keeffe judgment - had received 50 applications and rejected 44 of them. It also emphasised that it had appointed an independent assessor - a retired High Court judge - to process appeals.

The Department of Education has confirmed that nothing has been paid out under the scheme.

Last July, the snail-like progress of the ex gratia scheme prompted Fianna Fáil to table a Dáil motion demanding that survivors of convicted abusers should receive payments without having to prove that their abuser had already been denounced to authorities for similar crimes before he offended against the applicant.

The motion was passed, but like many motions passed in the era of new politics, it is non-binding.

Did the Government act in the face of protests?

Yes, in November 2017 it appointed an Independent Assessor, retired High Court judge Iarfhlaith O'Neill, to adjudicate on appeals applicants could make against rejections.

Last August, a Department of Education spokesman said the judge was expected to report within two weeks.

But more than eight months later, Mr Justice O'Neill has yet to report, and the Department has told RTÉ News that it is expecting the results of the judge's deliberations to be provided to it "shortly".

Official papers seen by RTÉ News indicate that the assessor is exploring whether the scheme is in fact an adequate instrument in the implementation of the O'Keeffe judgment.

Survivors try to get case heard

John Allen is a former pupil at North Monastery Christian Brothers National School in Cork, where he was abused. Two of his Christian Brother abusers have since been convicted on charges of child sexual abuse. He is in the 17th year of his legal battle to make the State vicariously liable, and he is trying to get his case heard in Strasbourg.

"It seems as if the State just wants you to just go away and shut up. This stuff is in our dark history. People want to just keep the slime under the rock and not lift the rock.

"Not one single syllable or one red cent has been paid to me for the loss of my potential in life. Give me someone who can quantify the effects it had on me as a child. Just because I was a vulnerable, cute, shy kid - these were the points that attracted these predatory people."

Mr Allen has been told in letters from the State Claims Agency, dated February 2018, that the Department of Education had failed to provide documents it sought from officials a year-and-a-half earlier in order to process his claim.

Case in Creagh Lane

A predatory Christian Brother teacher was also committing crimes in Creagh Lane school in Limerick. The abuser in this case was Sean John Drummond. He was convicted in June 2009 of 36 counts of sexually assaulting 19 boys in the late 1960s.

One of those is 59-year-old John Boland, whose application for an ex gratia payment has been rejected by the State Claims Agency acting for the Department of Education.

"We didn't get a chance because the first day we went into that school, was the first day that we met this guy and it was the first day that our lives stopped, stopped in the manner where it should have gone from the start.

"We should have been out there enjoying our hurling days, our football days, our handball days… But we had this all the time.

"In actual fact when he was moved, it didn't stop there because the thought was, is the next guy going to do it, is the next guy going to do it? It was there all along. And it was there when I was rearing my children. They weren't allowed out of my sight.

"That's the effect that this has on you. You are more aware of it, obviously because it has happened to you.

"So the money would not mean a great thing to me. But it would say 'we're sorry'. 'That's what it would mean. 'We're sorry'."

Mr Boland and his peers from Creagh Lane have a particular problem when it comes to qualifying for an ex gratia scheme.

Under the State's interpretation of the O'Keeffe ruling in Strasbourg, a victim of child sexual abuse must establish the existence of a prior complaint before State liability is established.

This effectively means that survivors are not eligible for compensation if they were the abuser's first victim or if other victims of the abuser did not make a complaint to the authorities.

But John Boland says that Drummond's first full-time teaching job was in Creagh Lane, and therefore there was no possibility of that school management or gardaí having received any complaint prior to his abuse of the 19 boys in their school.

What has the Minister for Education said about this?

A statement from Minister Joe McHugh’s spokesperson has said he will not comment in relation to any specifics on Mr Allen’s case.

"The position in relation to the ex gratia scheme is that no awards have been made to date.

"It was set up for a specific purpose in respect of a specific cohort of individuals who discontinued actions in the wake of the domestic courts' judgments following Louise O'Keeffe's case," said the statement.

"Some cases have been settled outside of the confines of the scheme and those settlements are recorded in our recent Action Plan."

If you have been affected by the issues raised in this story, you can call the Rape Crisis Centre national 24-hour helpline at 1800 77 8888