THE TAOISEACH AND the Tánaiste have apologised to Louise O’Keeffe following a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) that the Irish State was liable for the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her primary school principal.
The court found that the State failed to meet its obligations to protect the Cork woman who was nine years old when she was abused by Leo Hickey in 1973.
The Irish courts dismissed O’Keeffe’s claim that the State was liable on the basis that the Department of Education failed to put in place appropriate protection measures. But the ECHR found in her favour this week in a judgement likely to have significant implications for the State.
Speaking at the launch of the Child and Family Agency in Dublin today, Enda Kenny said that while the judgement from the ECHR is “exceptionally complex”, the abuse O’Keeffe suffered was “horrendous”.
“I just think that while this judgement is exceptionally complex and will be studied by government, I would like to say to Louise O’Keeffe that I apologise for what happened to her in the location where she was, for the horrendous experience that she had to go through,” he said.
O’Keeffe: ‘Act on it’
Reacting to the apology on RTÉ’s News at One this afternoon, O’Keeffe said that she was not looking for a personal apology, but for one that would apply to all victims of abuse in schools.
Decades after he abused O’Keeffe Hickey was charged with hundreds of criminal offences involving other pupils at Dunderrow National School and was later imprisoned.
“I would take it that he is apologising on all accounts”, O’Keffee said of Kenny’s words today, adding that he must ensure they are acted on in the coming weeks.
“My call really would be please work on the legislation quickly. Please don’t leave it go on for months and years. It’s crucial, please act on it.”
She said that she would never have gone to the courts if she had received an apology 15 years ago and said she did not understand why the State fought the case in the way it did.
“A wrong was done, I think hands should have been held up,” she said, later adding: “I am simply one of hundreds – those who have come forward, those who haven’t – and an apology is for everyone because, you know, I wasn’t alone.”
Her solicitor, Ernest Cantillon also issued a statement in response to the apology:
He said he had only “limited opportunity” to speak to his client but noted that she was “grateful” for the Taoiseach’s “courtesy and decency with the speed with which he has issued this apology at this point in time”.
However, he added: “Louise has already expressed disappointment that an apology was not issued at a far earlier stage, and at the time that all this has taken place, but better late than never. The apology is graciously accepted.”
Speaking at Leaders’ Questions in the Dáil today, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said that O’Keeffe should “never have been subjected to abuse”.
“I admire Louise O’Keeffe and I join with the Taoiseach in apologising to her for what happened in that school and for the horrendous experience that she had to go through,” he said.
Gilmore said that the matter would be discussed at Cabinet next week and said there are “very significant implications” in the ECHR judgement for the State’s responsibility in respect of victims of abuse in Irish schools.
He also told Sinn Féin TD Mary Lou McDonald that the judgement has “very serious implications for the relationship between the State and the patronage of our schools”.
McDonald said that the Taoiseach owed it to victims to issue a full State apology and described O’Keeffe as “an extremely courageous woman”.
She said: “It would be appropriate for the Taoiseach to come before the Dáil and apologise on behalf of the State to Louise O’Keeffe and all victims of abuse in schools.”
- First published 1.25pm