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Justice for Louise O’Keeffe after a long and brave battle

Posted in News on Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

Statement of Ernest J. Cantillon Solicitor Cork Ireland

Re: Louise O’Keeffe V Ireland

It has been a long journey for Louise O’Keeffe from Dunderrow National School to Strasbourg. Louise is hurt and disappointed that the Irish State continued to fight her at every step of the way. Louise was sexually abused whilst attending a National School by a School Teacher, whose salary was paid by the Irish Government and who was controlled by the State. The fact that the Irish State continue to fight Louise O’Keeffe is worrying because it signals an ongoing attempt to distance itself from responsibility.  If the Irish Government has no responsibility, then abusers will feel that they may continue to abuse without any danger of detection from the State. The Irish Government rightly seeks praise for its educational system. That is one side of the coin. The other side is that there comes a responsibility with the kudos. The Irish State must first acknowledge that it has a role and then must assess the system that it has in place to prevent abuse otherwise, children will continue to be abused.

Ultimately, this case is about human rights in one of its purest forms; the child’s right to have the State protect him or her from sexual abuse by an adult placed by the State in a position of power over him or her.

What was particularly hurtful, was that the State sought to blame Louise’s parents, who are now dead, and indeed the parents of the other children, for not reporting the abuse.  Indeed, we found out, during the course of this litigation, that the parents of one little girl did indeed complain to the only person who was available to them, namely the Catholic Church Appointed Manager but to no avail. Who were the parents supposed to report the abuse to? There was no one from the Department of Education in rural Dunderrow, or indeed in any of the other National Schools.  There was no system or person on the ground to whom the abuse might have been reported to, nor indeed was the reporting of such abuse encouraged.  It was swept under the carpet. It was a case of ‘hear no evil, see no evil’ and ergo there is no evil. 

This case has legal implications. The State will no longer be able to hide behind Boards of Management that they set up in an attempt to place a buffer between themselves and the responsibility for wrongs that might occur in the classroom. The State has considerable control over the running of schools and with that control, must come responsibility. The European Court has now placed that responsibility firmly at the door of the Irish State. They will have to deal with the outstanding cases having regard to this Judgement. Children who have been abused need to have the wrongs done to them corrected as soon as possible. An apology should issue and appropriate compensation should be paid for the very serious wrongs that have occurred. That is the decent thing to do.

Louise is delighted that the State was, at last, held accountable.  It is a pity that it had to come to this and it is worrying for the future that the State can continue to deny that they have a role and a responsibility for what happened and what is continuing to happen. The longer they continue in that state of denial the greater the likelihood is that sexual abuse will continue.

Finally, Louise would like to thank her Legal Team Solicitors Ernest Cantillon and Mary Scriven, her Counsel David Holland SC and Alan Keating BL, the Team at UCC and in particular Ursula Kilkelly and Conor O’Mahony and last but not least, her fantastic children, family and friends.

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