Wednesday 21 August 2019

Landmark victory after 30 years for abuse victim Louise O'Keeffe

Louise O'Keeffe. Picture: Courtpix
Louise O'Keeffe. Picture: Courtpix

Ralph Riegel and Dearbhail McDonald

AN IRISH woman’s courageous 30 year battle for justice ended in triumph today when the European Court of Human Rights ruled in her favour.

Louise O’Keeffe (46) wept as the 17 judge Strasbourg-based Court delivered a majority ruling in her favour that the Irish State had been negligent in failing to protect her from abuse in national school.

The court ruled that her human rights had been breached under Section 3 and 13 of European law – with the Irish State now liable to compensate the mother for what she suffered.

The judgement is also expected to open the floodgates to over 200 compensation claims by Irish victims abused by State employees.

Louise’s first reaction today was to cry with joy.

“This is a great day for the children of Ireland,” she said.

The mother of two also paid glowing tribute to her legal team lead by solicitor Ernest Cantillon.

The ECHR decision will also have enormous implications for European law given the fact dozens of countries other than Ireland also rely on the principal of vicarious or separated liability.

Louise was abused by her then-principal, Leo Hickey, in a Cork primary school in the 1970s.

However, the Government had denied liability – insisting that it was the school board of management involved which was responsible.

The ECHR heard the case on March 6 last in formal session in Strasbourg.

A senior Government source admitted that an ECHR ruling in favour of Ms O’Keeffe would have had “significant implications for the State both in legal and financial terms.”

Louise won an initial legal victory in July 2012 when the top EU court agreed to hear her case despite vehement opposition by the Government.

Louise was only eight when she was abused in 1973 in Dunderrow primary school by Leo Hickey.

She sued the State over the 1970s abuse incidents and claimed the Department of Education was liable as they paid the teacher’s wages, supervised the school curriculum, paid the teacher’s pension and even inspected the classrooms.

However, the State contested the action and insisted that it was not liable given that there was an independent board of management in place.

Louise first lost a High Court action and then her Supreme Court appeal – and for some time feared that she might even lose her home to pay all the legal costs which were estimated at €750,000.

The Supreme Court later ruled the case involved important legal principles and she should not be held liable for the costs involved.

Louise also took a civil action against Leo Hickey, who is now retired, and was awarded a monthly payment of around €400.

Hickey was jailed for three years in 1998 after being convicted of indecently assaulting a number of girls in the 1970s.

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