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Landmark European judgement finds Irish State liable for sexual abuse

Louise O’Keeffe, who was abused by her primary school teacher, took the Irish State to the European Court Human Rights after losing in the Irish High and Supreme Courts.

Updated 10.50pm

THE EUROPEAN COURT of Human Rights (ECtHR) has found in favour of Louise O’Keeffe in her case against the Irish state, making them liable for the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her primary school principal.

Both the High Court and Supreme Court in Ireland had ruled that the State was not responsible for the assaults but the ECtHR has this morning overruled their judgements.

O’Keeffe’s solicitors said in statement after the ruling that she is “delighted that the State were, at last, held accountable”. They added though that she remains concerned about the approach the State takes to sexual abuse cases:

It is a pity that it had to come to this, and it is worrying for the future that the State can continue to deny that they have a role and a responsibility for what happened, and what is continuing to happen. The longer they continue in that state of denial, the greater the likelihood is that sexual abuse will continue.

The right for O’Keeffe to bring her case before the ECtHR in Strasbourg, France was challenged by the State which argued that she had not exhausted all legal remedies in the country.

This evening, O’Keeffe told RTÉ News that the State Claims agency should write and apologise to people who it contacted about their cases after the initial judgements against O’Keeffe in the High and Supreme Courts.


The ECtHR has ordered that the State pay O’Keeffe €30,000 in damages and that they pay €85,000 for costs and expenses.

The Cork woman was indecently assaulted by Leo Hickey at Dunderrow National School in Kinsale for a number of months in 1973 when she was just nine years old.

In a civil action taken against Hickey her abuser was ordered to pay damages but subsequent cases against the State were unsuccessful.

O’Keefe’s case in the ECtHR had argued that the State failed to structure the primary education system so as to protect her. It also argued that the State failed to investigate or provide an appropriate judicial response to her ill-treatment.

In it’s judgement delivered this morning, the ECtHR said that the State “had to have been aware of the level of sexual crime against minors” as a result of a number of reports from the 1930s to the 1970s.

“Despite this awareness, the Irish State continued to entrust the management of the primary education of the vast majority of young Irish children to privately managed National Schools, without putting in place any mechanism of effective State control,” the 17 judge Grand Chamber decided.

“The Government maintained that certain mechanisms of detection and reporting had been in place. However, the Court did not consider these to be effective,” they add.

The State had defended the charges saying that rules had been published in 1965 and 1970 outlining procedures to be followed for complaints against teachers.

The court found, however, that these procedures did not provide for a procedure to prompt a child or parent to report ill-treatment directly to a State.

- First published 11.09am

Read: European Court of Human Rights to rule on Irish child sex abuse case >

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