Survivors ‘should be included’ in child protection review

Louise O’Keeffe calls on Taoiseach and Minister for Education to meet her and other victims

Louise O’Keeffe, who  was sexually abused by her teacher in a Co Cork primary school in the 1970s, has issued an invitation to the Taoiseach and Minister for Education to meet her and other survivors of child sex abuse. Photograph: Garrett White / Collins Court

Louise O’Keeffe, who was sexually abused by her teacher in a Co Cork primary school in the 1970s, has issued an invitation to the Taoiseach and Minister for Education to meet her and other survivors of child sex abuse. Photograph: Garrett White / Collins Court

Sun, Aug 3, 2014, 12:46

A child sexual abuse survivor who took Ireland to the European Court of Human Rights has called on the Taoiseach and Minister for Education to meet her and other sex abuse survivors to address the Government’s failure to put in place proper child protection measures.

Louise O’Keeffe from West Cork won her fight for justice last January when the European Court of Human Rights ruled Ireland had failed to meet its obligation to protect her while she was a pupil at Dunderrow National School in West Cork in the early 1970s.

Last Friday, the Dept of Education issued details of an action plan to address the issues raised by the European Court of Human Rights in its judgement and pointed out that Ireland has been developing and improving its child protection arrangements since Ms O’Keeffe was abused in the early 1970s

The Dept of Education pointed out in its action plan that legislation is currently before the Dail which will put key elements of children protection guidance on a statutory footing and make it mandatory for certain professionals who work with children, including teachers, to report any child protection concerns they might have.

However speaking to The Irish Times, Ms O’Keeffe was highly critical of the Dept of Education’s response to the European Court of Human Rights Judgement, saying that the action plan amounted to nothing more than a restatement of Ireland’s defence in the case.

Now she has written to Enda Kenny extending an invitation to both him and Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan to meet with her and other survivors of child sexual abuse in day schools to put in a place child protection measures that meet the requirements of the European Court of Human Rights ruling.

“The material published by the Department of Education on its website in relation to its Action Plan represents simply a restatement of the Department’s guidelines dating back to 1991 - it is historic and doesn’t address in any detailed way the significant findings of the European Court of Human Rights.

“That judgement was delivered on January 28th last and Ireland had until July 28th to respond to it but it has failed to do this in any meaningful way and I’m now calling on Taoiseach, Enda Kenny and Minister for Education, Jan O’Sullivan to meet me and others to discuss this.”

Ms O’Keeffe, who has given Mr Kenny and Ms O’Sullivan until the end of September to respond, pointed out that the Taoiseach had promised to address the issue of child protection in the immediate aftermath of the European Court of Human Rights ruling last January,

In its statement, the Department of Education said a sub-committee within the Inter-Departmental Implementation Group on Children First, comprising of senior officials across a range of relevant departments, has been reviewing Ireland’s current and planned child protection measures.

But Ms O’Keeffe called on Mr Kenny and Ms O’Sullivan to include the survivors of child sexual abuse among those charged with reviewing the current and proposed measures, as such people had first-hand experience of the State’s failure to properly protect children in day schools.

“In the statement about child safety and the school inspection of children, they are talking about an inter-departmental committee and department officials - they aren’t going out to the people who were abused and who know exactly what child protection is all about,” she said.

“Surely it only makes sense to hear what we have to say as we are the people who have suffered because of the State’s failings - surely they should recognise that we might have something valuable to contribute to the review rather than just leaving it to civil servants - our voices should be heard.”