ABUSE SURVIVOR LOUISE O’Keeffe today accused the State of taking advantage of the fact victims of abuse are getting older and “less able to continue to fight for their rights”.
O’Keeffe instigated a landmark ruling at the European Court of Human Rights earlier this year, after the Strasbourg-based court ruled that the Irish State bore responsibility for the sexual abuse she was subjected to while attending a national school.
The ruling meant that the State was liable to compensate O’Keeffe, which raised the potential for others who were abused by State employees to receive similar compensation.
Speaking on RTÉ’s This Week this afternoon, O’Keeffe said that when she first began her fight for justice, there were 135 other people who were making similar claims. However, after a series of letters were sent to the claimants by officials in an attempt to dissuade them from pursuing their cases, the number steadily dropped to 44. O’Keeffe described the letters had been “frightening” for victims and might have been a factor in some choosing to cease legal action. But, O’Keeffe pointed out: “Just because they have [now] dropped their case doesn’t mean they weren’t abused.”
She said that while her fellow claimants cases were considered to be of the same category as her own during the initial stages of legal action, official attitudes changed when she won her landmark case. “In 2006 and 2009 their cases were ‘the same’ as mine. Suddenly I had a positive judgment and, suddenly, the State is looking for differences… it’s outrageous.”
“There’s no difference in it – we’ve been abused, pure and simple. It beggars belief that the Government cannot own up to that.”
O’Keeffe claimed there had been no engagement with survivors: “The fact that they are doing nothing to speak to these people means, as far as I’m concerned, that [the Government is] still fighting those cases.”
She also stressed that the process of seeking justice got progressively harder with age. “People are getting older. They’re less able to continue to fight for their rights. The stress, I know that it’s like, I went through it… it takes its toll. It really does. And the State is taking advantage of that.”