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State ‘wants to wash its hands of abuse victims’

January 1st, 2020 5:05 PM

By Jackie Keogh

Louise O’Keeffe is a former recipient of the Cork Person of the Year award which she received in the company of Niamh and Michael Flatley and Fianna Fáil leader Mícheál Martin.

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THE continued failure of the government to compensate victims of sexual abuse within the Irish educational system has been criticised by West Cork woman, Louise O’Keeffe.

After 15 years fighting her case in the Irish courts, Louise O’Keeffe succeeded in January 2014 in her appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). It ruled that the State had failed to protect her from sexual abuse at Dunderrow National School.

In July 2015, the State announced a redress scheme for people who had discontinued their claims against the State, but that quickly got mired in difficulties because of what Louise O’Keeffe described as ‘the obstacles that the State put in the way.’

With little or nothing paid to those who deserved to be compensated for the State’s failure to protect them as young children, Ms O’Keeffe said: ‘The delays are inexcusable, a form of abuse in their own right.’

In November 2017, Judge Iarfhlaith O’Neill was appointed to review the chaotic redress scheme and, in July 2018, he concluded that the State had misinterpreted the ruling made by the European Court of Human Rights.

The State asserted that the ECHR ruling required that a prior complaint had to be made against each teacher accused of sexual abuse in order for the State to be held liable for its failure to protect the children. In other words, they would only be liable if it could be proved that they had ignored a previous complaint.

But Judge O’Neill held that this was ‘an inherent inversion of logic’ and that the victims of child sexual abuse were effectively being denied access to redress, and lawful compensation.

His pronouncement, and the State’s subsequent admission that the redress scheme had not worked, gave Louise O’Keeffe hope that the survivors of abuse – believed to be as many as 350 people – would finally be dealt with fairly.

However, the Minister for Education Joe McHugh TD, then established a second review and requested fresh proposals, but they have yet to be delivered.

The Department’s failure to indicate a timeline for the completion of the second review, and new proposals about how to offer redress, has been described by Louise O’Keeffe as ‘a failure of the State to act with fairness to those abused in their care.’

She said: ‘They have been let down for the third time: the first was when they were abused; the second was when the State failed to acknowledge the ECHR judgment correctly. And now, I believe, the State is waiting for a general election, after which they will wash their hands of it.’

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