Saturday 7 December 2019

No abuse cases settled by the State in wake of landmark judgment

Dearbhail McDonald

Dearbhail McDonald

THE State has not settled any cases involving pupils who alleged they were abused in schools in the wake of the landmark Louise O'Keefe ruling in the European Court of Human Rights.

The State Claims Agency (SCA) has completed a review of 45 open day school cases that are before the courts.

More than 80 people are believed to have dropped their legal actions against the State over alleged abuse in day schools after they received letters stating they were at risk of having to pay its legal costs.

But the SCA, which manages claims and risk management on behalf of the State, has received an extra 75 cases since the review was completed.

The SCA said that no cases had been settled since last January's landmark ruling in the Strasbourg-based court.

The Department of Education says it has obtained legal advice on the implications of the O'Keefe ruling.

It has also received the SCA review and is identifying cases that come within the parameters of the judgment.

New Education Minister Jan O'Sullivan will shortly report to the Government on the outstanding day school cases. "It is the Government's intention to seek a fair and reasonable outcome to those cases that come within the parameters of the ECtHR judgment," said a spokesperson for the minister.

Dublin solicitor Dermot McNamara said he has a client's claim that bears direct similarities to the Louise O'Keefe case, but has been rejected by the department.

"My client was told that his case was in abeyance pending the outcome of the European Court of Human Rights judgment," said Mr McNamara.


"However, since the judgment, we have been told that they now consider it to be different, but refuse to give us a reason why."

Ms O'Keefe accused the Government of "dragging its heels" on the outstanding day cases.

"The State can't move forward without accepting the past," said Ms O'Keefe.

She took the case to Europe after the Supreme Court ruled the State could not be held responsible because the national school in question had been run by an independent board at the time.

But the ECtHR found that the State had failed to protect Ms O'Keefe from abuse in primary school. She had been abused by principal Leo Hickey at Dunderrow National School, Co Cork, in the 1970s.

The ECtHR ordered that the Government pay Ms O'Keefe €30,000 damages and €85,000 costs and expenses and arrangements are in train to do that.

In a majority decision, the court ruled the structure of primary education in Ireland in the 1970s failed to protect Ms O'Keefe from sexual abuse by her teacher. The court held that there had been a violation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits inhuman and degrading treatment, and Article 13, which sets out the right to an effective remedy.

Irish Independent

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