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European Court of Human Rights to hear Cork woman's abuse case

Louise O’Keeffe claims that the State is liable for abuse she suffered at the hands of a school principal in Kinsale, Co Cork in the 1970s.

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

THE EUROPEAN COURT of Human Rights (ECHR) will today hear an abuse case brought by the Cork woman Louise O’Keeffe who is seeking damages from the State for abuse she suffered as a child at the hands of a primary school principal.

O’Keeffe suffered abuse at the hands of former school principal Leo Hickey at Dunderrow National School in Kinsale, Co Cork in 1973 and her case before the court today is likely to impact of dozens of other abuse victims’ claims against the State for similar legal recourse.

In 2009,  her case was rejected by the Supreme Court in Ireland which said the State could not be held liable for the abuse she suffered as the school was run by the church.

The 48-year-old mother of two from west Cork claims that the State failed to structure the primary education system in a way that would protect her from abuse and says she has no remedy from the State in this regard.

She has identified a number of articles in the European Convention on Human Rights which she says were breached.

These including Article 14 – prohibition to discrimination – given the refusal of the State to compensate victims of abuse in national schools while accepting responsibility for abuse of other children who were based in industrial schools.

In October 2006, the High Court ordered Hickey, who was sentenced to three years in prison in 1998 after being convicted of assaulting a number of girls in the 1970s, to pay O’Keeffe €305,104 in damages.

Following enforcement proceedings Hickey, who claimed he had insufficient means to meet this amount, was ordered to pay O’Keeffe €400 a month. To date she has recovered around €25,000.

The right for O’Keeffe to bring her case before the ECHR in Strasbourg, France was challenged by the State which argued that she had not exhausted all legal remedies in the country as she had not sued the Bishop of Cork and Ross which was responsible for running the school.

But the ECHR declared her case admissable in June of last year saying that it was not necessary for her to also sue the bishop having already taken legal action against the State.

The case is getting under way in Strasbourg this morning.

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Hugh O'Connell

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