Child protection legislation a ‘priority’ for Government

Taoiseach says legislation will be introduced ‘in weeks’ after apology to Louise O’Keeffe

Taoiseach Enda Kenny with Minister for Children  Frances Fitzgerald at the official launch of the Child and Family Agency Tusla, in Dublin Castle yesterday. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Taoiseach Enda Kenny with Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald at the official launch of the Child and Family Agency Tusla, in Dublin Castle yesterday. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Fri, Jan 31, 2014, 12:19

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has pledged the Government will act within a matter of weeks to draft child protection legislation for schoolchildren as requested by sex abuse survivor, Louise O’Keeffe.

Speaking in Cork, Mr Kenny said the introduction of such legislation was a matter of priority for the Government and it would be ready in draft form within weeks as a first step towards enactment.

Ms O’Keeffe called on the state to enact child protection legislation quickly after she won a landmark judgement in the European Court of Human Rights earlier this week over the State’s failure to protect her from sex abuse while a schoolgirl.

Yesterday Ms O’Keeffe welcomed Mr Kenny’s apology for what had happened to her but said it would be far more meaningful if the Government moved to introduce child protection legislation for schoolchildren.

Mr Kenny said Ms O’Keeffe was correct to stress that enacting legislation was the best way to give substance to his apology.

“She’s right, actually I’ve spoken to the Minister for Children, Frances Fitzgerald about this and the Children First legislation I expect will be drafted and presented inside a matter of weeks.”

“I certainly will be happy to respond to Louise O’Keeffe’s call here, this is a priority piece of legislation for government and I will see to it that that happens,” he said, before praising Ms O’Keeffe for her courage and determination in fighting her case.

Asked about a comment by solicitor James MacGuill about whether his apology indicated a change of attitude by the State towards other victims of sexual abuse seeking compensation, Mr Kenny refused to be drawn.

“These are very difficult situations and obviously everybody involved in all of this will have had independent legal teams advising them. The judgement itself is quite a complex judgement,” he said.

Asked if his apology meant the State Claims Agency would withdraw its warning to others bringing actions for damages that they would be pursued for costs if unsuccessful, Mr Kenny again refused to be drawn.

“Obviously I don’t speak for the High Court or the Supreme Court of the day - the European Court of Human Rights has made its decision here. This is a complex 82-page judgement here and it needs to be studied by Government.”

Mr Kenny said he believed people across the country shared his view that he was correct to apologise to Ms O’Keeffe on behalf of the Irish state.

“The people of the country responded to me very strongly yesterday by saying we did the right thing to apologise to a woman who went through a harrowing experience in an location and a place, ie a school where people would expect is a place of comfort and security.”

Speaking in Cork where he delivered the Philip Monahan Memorial Lecture at UCC, Mr Kenny said he didn’t think he would be able to meet Ms O’Keeffe today but would be happy to meet with her on a future occasion.

“As I said yesterday, I think she’s a woman of extraordinary courage and to have the conviction and belief to carry it through for so long.

“And I really do appreciate the fact that she has graciously accepted an apology and I would be very happy to meet her when I get an opportunity,” said Mr Kenny, who described her experience at the hands of teacher Leo Hickey as a “sad and harrowing tragedy”.

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