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Legal victory could open floodgates for abuse victims

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

Louise O'Keeffe (46) wept as the 17-judge Strasbourg 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-of-two for what she suffered.

The judgment is also expected to open the floodgates to more than 200 compensation claims by Irish victims abused by State employees.

Louise's first reaction was to cry with joy. "This is a great day for the children of Ireland," she said.

The ECHR decision will also have enormous implications for European law given the fact dozens of countries 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. But the government had denied liability – insisting that it was the school board of management involved that was responsible.

The ECHR heard the case on March 6 last year in formal session in Strasbourg. Louise won an initial legal victory in July 2012 when the top EU court agreed to hear her case despite opposition by the government.

She sued the State over the 1970s abuse incidents and claimed the Department of Education was liable.

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.

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