Ruling of European Court of Human Rights an indictment of our institutions

Opinion: There was copious evidence available that the sexual abuse of children was widespread in Ireland

 Louise O’Keeffe: vindicated yesterday at the European Court of Human Rights. Photograph: Garrett White / Collins Court

Louise O’Keeffe: vindicated yesterday at the European Court of Human Rights. Photograph: Garrett White / Collins Court

Wed, Jan 29, 2014, 14:35

The Republic has again been shamed in the international court of decent opinion and two of our primary institutions, the Government and Supreme Court, have been chastened.

This is not just a reflection on Ireland of 40 or 50 years ago, it is a commentary on Ireland as of now. It is this Government and this Supreme Court that has exacerbated the shame.

In a case taken to the European Court of Human Rights by a sexually abused victim, Louise O’Keeffe, this Government claimed the State had no responsibility for her sexual abuse by primary school teacher Leo Hickey when she was aged nine and attending the national school at Dunderow, Co Cork. This man had abused children at that school on at least 400 occasions. Following complaints to the local parish priest, he resigned voluntarily and was then hired as a teacher elsewhere.

Legal representatives for the State argued it had no knowledge of the abuse for it was the Catholic Church, via its local bishop, that owned and controlled the school, that no complaint had been made to the gardaí or any other State official. This denial of liability was made even though the State funded the school, paid the abuser’s salary and authorised his appointment. Moreover, officials regularly inspected the school. But it was argued the State had no liability for the abuse suffered by O’Keeffe, that it had no duty of care towards her.


Extensive evidence
That argument had won out in the High Court and Supreme Court. Four of five judges on the Supreme Court

John Murray, Susan Denham, Adrian Hardiman and Niall Fennelly, the fifth, Hugh Geoghegan, dissented – accepted that the State had no liability.

There was copious evidence available that the sexual abuse of children had been widespread. The Carrigan report of the 1930s had noted evidence from the Garda commissioner, based on data presented to him from 800 stations around the country, that there was “an alarming amount of sexual crime, increasing yearly, a feature of which was the large number of cases of criminal interference with girls and children from 16 years downwards, including many cases of children under 10 years”. He suggested that less than 15 per cent of sexual crime was prosecuted for various reasons, including the reluctance of parents to pursue matters.

On advice from the Department of Justice at the time, neither the evidence heard by the Carrigan Committee nor the report itself was published. This was done on grounds that the conclusion to be drawn from the report was that ordinary feelings of decency and the influence of religion had failed in Ireland and that the only remedy was Garda action. Though the report was not published the State had knowledge of the prevalence of child sexual abuse.

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