O’Keeffe says onus on Department of Education to protect children in schools

Abuse victim welcomes European Court of Human Rights ruling in her favour

 Louise O’Keeffe:  “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.” Photograph: Garrett White/Collins

Louise O’Keeffe: “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.” Photograph: Garrett White/Collins

Tue, Jan 28, 2014, 22:56

Louise O’Keeffe warmly welcomed the European Court of Human Rights ruling in her favour and called on the Government to immediately introduce legislation to provide protection for children attending all schools in the State.

Speaking at the offices of her solicitor, Ernest Cantillon, in Cork, Ms O’Keeffe said she was relieved at the outcome but she was far from joyous as she felt that she should never have had to take her case to Europe if the Irish State had acted properly in the first place.

“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,” said the mother of two, from west Cork.

Ms O’Keeffe was abused when she was eight by school principal Leo Hickey while attending Dunderrow National School in the early 1970s.

She said if the State had acted on a complaint about Hickey made to a local priest, who was chairman of the board of management in 1971, she would not have been abused.

There was a duty on the Department of Education to ensure that there was a procedure available to all persons running the schools to deal with abuse and it had failed to do so. That was her motivation when bringing the case through the Irish courts and to Europe, she said.

“The Irish State owes every single child who was abused inside in a national school a very comprehensive apology . . . it isn’t something I should have to demand at all – it should be something that should be given immediately, ” she said.

“The protection of children in schools has always been my motivation – nothing else – you don’t go out and bare your soul in court in the way that I had to do for money – you do it because there is something wrong and it needs to be rectified.”

Ms O’Keeffe said she only began to fully appreciate the impact the abuse had on her life when she heard one of her fellow pupils give a victim impact statement at Hickey’s trial and realised that she could have been describing her life. She said she realised her life “ could have been so much different”.

She paid tribute to gardaí who investigated the case and to Mr Cantillon and his staff.