Campaigner for child sexual abuse victims to be honoured

Louise O’Keeffe to be presented with Spirit of Mother Jones Award in recognition of work

Cork woman, Louise O'Keeffe is to be honoured for her work campaigning for justice for victims of child sexual abuse in Irish schools when she receives the Spirit of Mother Jones Award next month.

Ms O'Keeffe who was abused by schoolteacher, Leo Hickey in Dunderrow National School in West Cork in the 1970s has spent 15 years trying to get justice for herself and other victims of school abuse.

After failing in the Irish courts to have the Department of Education found liable for Hickey’s abuse, she took her case to the European Court of Human Rights and won in 2014.

Since then Ms O’Keeffe has criticised the government’s interpretation of the ECHR ruling where the state argued it was only liable where there had been a prior complaint of abuse against a teacher.


Ms O’Keeffe said the government’s interpretation of the ECHR judgement was discriminatory in that it created two categories of abuse victims among those abused by school teachers.

But just this month, Mr Justice Iarfhlaith O’Neill found the government had misrepresented the ECHR ruling when it came to operating a redress scheme for those abused by teachers in Irish schools.

Mr Justice O’Neill, who carried out an independent assessment of the scheme, found that the state’s requirement that there be a prior complaint was “not compatible” with the ruling in Ms O’Keeffe’s case.


Now Jim Nolan of the Cork Mother Jones Committee said that Ms O'Keeffe, a mother of two, was a worthy winner of the Spirit of Mother Jones Award which honours those who fight against injustice.

Previous winners of the award, named in honour of Cork born US trade unionist, Mother Jones, include English solicitor, Gareth Peirce and Dublin based anti-homelessness activist, Fr Peter McVerry.

Other winners include Margaret Aspinall and Sue Roberts of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, anti-apartheid activist Mary Manning of the Dunnes Stores workers and trade unionist Ken Fleming.

"Louise O'Keeffe is indeed an extraordinary woman, a fighter for justice who was determined to ensure justice for herself and the hundreds of people who suffered similar injustice in the schools of Ireland.

In doing this she exposed the failure of the Irish authorities in spite of the Irish courts to ensure Irish children were protected from sexual abuse in Irish schools,” said Mr Nolan.

Mr Nolan recalled how Ms O'Keeffe had delivered an inspirational talk at the 2018 Spirit of Mother Jones Summer School where she detailed her personal journey and the obstacles she had to overcome.

“Louise is a worthy recipient of the 2019 Spirit of Mother Jones Award and we are extremely proud Louise is the first Cork person to receive this honour. Mother Jones herself would have been proud of her.”

Ms O'Keeffe will be presented with the award at this year's Spirit of Mother Jones Festival which runs from July 31st to August 3rd.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times