Children abused in day schools deserve ‘heartfelt apology’ - Louise O’Keefe

No money has been paid to survivors from ex-gratia scheme to date

Louise O’Keeffe: the mother of two was sexually abused by a teacher in a Co Cork primary school in the 1970s. Photograph: Garrett White/Collins Court

Louise O’Keeffe: the mother of two was sexually abused by a teacher in a Co Cork primary school in the 1970s. Photograph: Garrett White/Collins Court

 

A woman who took a case against the State to the European Court of Human Rights has expressed disappointment at the State’s failure to compensate victims of sexual abuse in day schools.

Louise O’Keefe says the Government needs to acknowledge that the State failed to protect children who were abused in day schools and to offer a “heartfelt apology” for the delay in acknowledging that responsibility.

In 2014, after a 15-year legal campaign, Ms O’Keeffe received a judgment at the European Court of Human Rights that the State was vicariously liable for the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her former national school principal, Leo Hickey.

Four years ago the Government established an ex-gratiacompensation scheme, for anyone falling into the same category as Ms O’Keeffe and who had stopped suing the State, but to date no money has been paid to survivors.

Applicants have sharply criticised the ex-gratia scheme, which requires evidence of a prior complaint against the abuser.

Ms O’Keefe told RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland it was “extremely disappointing” that the State had taken “such a narrow view of the European judgment”.

She pointed out the victim of an abuser seeking compensation will have to show that there had been a prior complaint against the teacher.

The State had been aware as early as the 1940s that abuse was happening in national schools, she added. Details in the Ryan report had revealed that, she said, which serves as “prior knowledge”.

“The State knew about it, they should have acted to protect all children.”

Ms O’Keefe said the European Court of Human Rights had found the State was responsible in her case for the abuse she suffered in school. “The State were aware of the possibility of children being abused in school and they did nothing.

“They should have done something. They must own up to that responsibility. It means that somebody else is going to have to go back to Europe to take a case again. It’s unbelievable.”

She said that judgement she received in Europe had not changed the decision of the Government “one whit”.

The State continued to fail children as it had failed her, “from the day I started school”.

The Government continued to fail her, she said, because it had not acknowledged “the true essence of the judgement that came from Europe”.

She continued: “It is beyond time that the Government stood up and acknowledged what they did not do. They did not look after children, they let us down. They need to own up.

“I would ask them to own up and then give a heartfelt apology to those they failed and apologise for the delay in acknowledging that responsibility.”