Ruling means children ‘must be protected in schools’

Call for State to resolve 135 pending cases after landmark judgment in favour of Louise O’Keeffe

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled in favour of Irish woman Louise O’Keeffe in her landmark case against the Irish State.

Tue, Jan 28, 2014, 14:38

Irish woman Louise O’Keeffe, who today won a landmark case against the Irish State, said the ruling meant the Department of Education “must protect children in schools”.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled this morning that the State had failed to meet its obligation to protect Ms O’Keeffe from the sexual abuse she suffered while a pupil in an Irish national school.

Ms O’ Keeffe had brought her case to the European Court after the Irish Supreme court ruled in 2009 that the State was not legally liable for the abuse suffered by Ms O’Keeffe by her school principal while a nine-year old girl at Dunderrow National School.

Speaking from Cork after the ruling Ms O’Keeffe said: “The message I have today for the Department of Education on foot of this ruling is that ‘you must protect children in the schools, it’s a right that the children have and it’s now been recognised in Europe and it must be done.”

Her solicitor Ernest Cantillon said the State had 135 cases pending this judgment and said they should be dealt with by the State as soon as possible.

Mr Cantillon told RTÉ Radio that a wrong had been done to Ms O’Keeffe and that she should be given an apology by the State.

He also said Ms O’Keeffe should not have to ask for an apology from the State. She should be given one, he said.

Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn this afternoon said he would have to consider the judgment and receive advice before he can give a reaction.

The court examined her case in relation to a number of articles of the European Convention on Human Rights. It found that the Irish State was in breach of Article 3, which prohibits inhuman and degrading treatment, and Article 13 which sets out the right to an effective remedy.

In a landmark judgment, the European Court of Human Rights found that the Irish State “had to have been aware of the level of sexual crime against minors through its prosecution of such crimes at a significant rate prior to the 1970s.”

Ms O Keeffe said the judgment was a “win for the children of Ireland. ”

While taking into account the unique model of State-provided primary education in Ireland, the Court noted that it was an “inherent obligation of a Government to protect children from ill-treatment, especially in primary education when they are under the exclusive control of school authorities, by adopting special measures and safeguards.”

The crucial question, the Court said, concerned the State’s responsibility and whether it should have been aware of a risk of sexual abuse of minors such as the applicant in National Schools at the relevant time and whether it had adequately protected children, through its legal system, from such ill-treatment.”