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Campaigner Louise O’Keefe urges stricter supervision on abuse redress efforts
Coleman Legal LLP
June 04, 2024
Louise O’Keefe criticises the Irish government for failing to fully implement the European Court's ruling on child sex abuse redress, despite creating schemes that exclude many survivors.

Louise O’Keefe Calls for Stricter Oversight on Abuse Redress

The Government has recently come under fire from Louise O’Keefe, a campaigner for the rights of child sex abuse victims in State-run schools. Ms O’Keefe won a case before the European Court of Human Rights more than ten years ago yet claims that no Irish Government since has fully implemented the Court’s judgement.

Her comments follow a meeting between Louise O’Keefe, Noeline Blackwell, representing the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, and various members of the Permanent Representations of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. The two women were advocating for the Council to impose stricter levels of supervision on the Irish Government, which should be facilitating a scheme of redress for victims of child sex abuse in schools.

Despite Ms O’Keefe and Ms Blackwell’s critiques, the Government continues to assert that it has implemented the O’Keefe ruling. While schemes have been established since the decision was handed down, Ms O’Keefe claims they exclude “hundreds” of survivors from claiming under them due to their restrictive criteria.

While failing to address whether a new scheme would be considered, Taoiseach Simon Harris said the government would carefully listen to Ms O’Keefe’s arguments. Harris emphasised that the Government did not want to be “arrogant or dismissive” when working with victims of these crimes. Harris mentioned the Child First Legislation and mandatory reporting as developments since the case.

In 1973, Ms Louise O’Keefe was sexually assaulted several times by Leo Hickey, the principal of Dunderrow National School, Co Cork, where she was a student at the time. While Hickey was imprisoned for indecent assault in 1998, the High Court rejected the lawsuit Ms O’Keefe brought against the State in 2006.

This decision was reaffirmed by the Supreme Court in 2009, which did not find that responsibility for Ms O’Keefe’s abuse should lie with the State. However, Ms O’Keefe was eventually successful before the European Court of Human Rights in 2014, which found that the State was obliged to protect her from the abuse she was subjected to when she was a child.

O’Keefe has since argued that this judgment should apply to other victims of the same abuse. The ex-gratia scheme, created in the wake of this case, received 50 applications, none of which were approved. A former High Court judge, Mr Justice Iarflaith O’Neill, found that this was at least partly due to the excessively narrow conditions imposed on the scheme. 130 people were compensated as part of a second ex-gratia scheme in 2021, resulting in a payout of over €10 million. However, Ms O’Keefe argues that this still leaves many victims without redress or apology.

Speaking from her own experience, she said 21 fellow students in her primary school were witnesses in the criminal case against Hickey, yet she is the sole compensation recipient. She cites “obstacles” placed in the way of survivors by their own Government as the factor restricting their access to redress.

The Department of Education continues to refute the claims that victims are deprived of the judgement’s effects. Minister of Education Norma Foley has extended an apology “to all victims of abuse.” However, Ms Louise O’Keefe asserts that anyone who has not had redress has not received a legitimate apology from the State.

Briefing the Permanent Representations of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, Ms Louise O’Keefe emphasised the importance of protecting children in society, something she claims successive Irish Governments have failed to achieve.

He hopes that if the Council subjected Ireland to stricter scrutiny, the Government would be pressured to take action. She insisted that Irish law must be changed and an adequate redress scheme established to truly implement the judgement handed down a decade ago.

If you have been the victim of sexual assault or sexual abuse, please get in touch with Diane Treanor either by email or freephone us at 1800-844-104 for a Free Case Evaluation.

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Clodagh Magennis

Clodagh Magennis

Head of Client Services

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