Louise O’Keeffe named Cork Person of the Year

Award is dedicated to other victims of abuse

Cork Person of the Year, Louise O’Keeffe. Photograph: Garrett White/Collins

Cork Person of the Year, Louise O’Keeffe. Photograph: Garrett White/Collins

 

Louise O’Keeffe has been named Cork Person of the Year.

Ms O’Keeffe, who was abused by her school principal at Dunderrow National School in Cork in the 1970s, dedicated the award to other victims of abuse.

“This award is given in recognition of the abuse children suffered in our schools in the past. Without those other victims, I would not have been able to persevere as long as I did. Their friendship and support kept me going as well as my two young children who needed care and to be looked after, so I had to get up in the morning and keep going,” she said.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled in Ms O’Keeffe’s favour last year following a long battle to hold the Irish State accountable for the abuse she suffered in primary school.

She called on the Government to rethink the settlement package offered to other abuse victims. “I am asking all Ministers and Councillors to please make a submission to the Government and Department of Education that they must rectify that settlement they are putting on offer to children who were abused, it is not good enough.”

Dancer Michael Flatley was made an Honorary Corkman at the prestigious award ceremony. He accepted the accolade from last year’s recipient, Oscar winning actor Jeremy Irons.

Mr Flatley said he finds “inspiration” walking the banks of the River Blackwater by his 18th century mansion, Castlehyde in North Cork.

“I love Cork, I have been blessed in my life to live in many different places, Beverly Hills, Malibu, Chicago, Manhattan and quite some time in the south of France. But no place has ever been so inspiring to me as walking on the banks of the Blackwater river in north Cork and I’m very lucky that I was able to find Castlehyde,” Mr Flatley said.

Mr Irons spoke out about “a sort of hysteria” about immigrants whom he says should be welcomed as newcomers. “It’s a special day to be awarding an incomer. Throughout the world there seems to be a sort of hysteria about people who move into other countries. I think it’s good to remember the good they bring, they have a lot to offer and should be welcomed,” he said.

As a “blow-in” to west Cork, Mr Irons, who renovated Kilcoe Castle outside Skibbereen for use as a home, said he was grateful to have been welcomed into the region.

“I’m grateful Michael (Flatley) and I over the last two years have been (welcomed). Let’s remember that those with funny names, who perhaps can’t speak the language that well, can bring an enormous amount to the country,” he said.

Mr Irons also called for VAT breaks for owners who renovate heritage properties. “One of the ways to do that is to make us VAT exempt, I paid them 20 per cent and it hurt, but I wanted my home to be a home, not open to the public. People who go out on a limb and put much of their ill-earned gains into Irish heritage should be supported by the government.”

Guests were told that MEP Brian Crowley, a regular face and co-compere at the Cork Person of the Year Awards, has had surgery on both his legs. Mr Crowley has been confined to Cork University Hospital for months due to ill-health, but is looking forward to being discharged according to RTÉ Nationwide Presenter Mary Kennedy. The veteran RTÉ presenter said Mr Crowley has been a great supporter of the awards ceremony, but he was detained in hospital for this year’s awards.

“He is looking forward to being discharged soon and the operation on his legs was completely successful,” she said.

Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney conveyed well wishes to Mr Crowley, the longest serving Irish MEP in Europe, who was officially expelled from the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party last June for switching his allegiance in the European Parliament from ALDE, the party of which Fianna Fáíl is a member, to the ECR.

“I’ve never been to (this awards ceremony) when Brian Crowley has not been on stage, I wish him well, he’s been through a very difficult few weeks, but we are look forward to seeing him here again next year,” Minister Coveney said.