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Cork woman's appeal against school sexual abuse may be set for Europe

A Cork woman is appealing a ruling that the State is not liable for the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her teacher.

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
Image: jodastephen via Flickr

THE EUROPEAN COURT of Human Rights has begun examining whether it can hear an appeal from a Cork woman who failed in a Supreme Court case against the Department of Education over her sexual abuse at the hands of her former teacher.

Louise O’Keeffe, 46, is challenging a 2009 Supreme Court ruling which found that the Department was not responsible for the actions of her primary school principal who abused her while she was a pupil.

O’Keeffe claims that the state was in breach of a number of the European Convention on Human Rights, specifically Article 14 dealing with discrimination, because the State has accepted responsibility for the abuse of other children suffered in industrial schools.

In 2006 O’Keeffe was awarded €305,104 by the High Court over the abuse, carried out by former principal Leo Hickey while she was a student at Dunderrow National School in Kinsale in 1973.

She failed in subsequent High and Supreme Court claims, however, to have the Department of Education deemed vicariously responsible for Hickey’s actions. Hickey was unable to meet the judgment made against him, and is required to pay O’Keeffe a set amount each month.

An appeal was lodged almost immediately with the court in Strasbourg, which in the past few days communicated with the Irish government to submit its observations in the matter, ahead of a decision on whether a full hearing will be granted.

The case could be regarded as a test case, and would determine whether dozens of other abuse victims in similar circumstances could have a similar legal recourse.

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Gavan Reilly

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