School child abuse victims should be more proactive - Louise O’Keeffe

Government is stalling on reviewing cases of people abused while pupils, survivor says

People taking legal action over being abused while attending day schools should become more proactive, Louise O’Keeffe has urged . Photo Garrett White / Collins Court

People taking legal action over being abused while attending day schools should become more proactive, Louise O’Keeffe has urged . Photo Garrett White / Collins Court

Sun, Aug 3, 2014, 12:46

People taking legal action over being abused while attending day schools should become more proactive to force the Government to address the issue of compensation in the wake of the European Court of Human Rights ruling, child sex abuse survivor Louise O’Keeffe has urged.

Ms O’Keeffe said that at the time that the Supreme Court ruled against her in December 2008 that the State was not vicariously liable for her abuse as her abuser was not a State employee but was an employee of the school’s board of management, some 135 people had similar claims pending.

However the State Claims Agency, acting on behalf of the Department of Education, wrote to the litigants within a month of the judgement, telling them of the outcome and advising them that they had two months to drop their cases or run the risk of having to pay costs if they lost, she said.

“The State effectively bullied these survivors of child sex abuse after the Supreme Court ruled against me - they wrote to these people and told them that they were giving them two months to drop the case or face being caught for legal costs,” she said.

“All but 44 dropped their cases and then within days of the deadline of March 31st 2009, they again wrote to these remaining people and told them they were ‘disappointed’ that they had not dropped their cases - it was nothing short of bullying and intimidation and it was shameful,” she said.

The Department of Education has confirmed that a review of these remaining cases has been carried out in light of the ruling by the European Court of Human Rights in Ms O’Keeffe’s case and that Minister for Education, Jan O’Sullivan will present that review to Dáil Eireann in the autumn.

But Ms O’Keeffe was critical of the move, pointing out that six months have elapsed since the European Court of Human Rights ruled in her case and the state has still not addressed the plight of those seeking compensation for abuse suffered while attending day schools.

“They are dragging it out again - the same as they have done for the past 16 years in my case - there’s been no real advance, they are saying that they must go back to the Oireachtas with the review in the autumn but the focus of the Oireachtas in the autumn will be on the budget,” she said.

Ms O’Keeffe said she would urge anyone with a case pending against the State and their legal advisors to become more proactive in their pursuit of damages as she believes “we are six months on from the judgement in my case and the State is clearly stalling on addressing the issue”.

“ I can understand why people and their legal teams would have held off to see what was going to be in the judgement and what was going to be the response from the government when I won in Europe - I can totally understand that but people need to become more proactive.

“Cases were put on hold because they were waiting the outcome of my case and the Government response but people and their legal advisors need to put more pressure on the government and become more proactive or otherwise the Government will continue to drag their heels on the issue.”