Louise O’Keefe (above) and (top) with Prime Time Host Miriam O’Callaghan
Louise O’Keefe was abused in the early 1970s while a pupil at Dunderrow National School in west Cork.
Louise sued the Department of Education but the High Court and the Supreme Court ruled the State was not liable because her abuser, school principal Leo Hickey was employed by the school’s board of management.
She took her case to Europe. and The European Court of Human Rights ruled last January that Ireland had failed to protect her from sex abuse in school.
The cases of 45 other survivors come within the terms of a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights.
Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan has now said said the State would offer settlements up to a maximum of €84,000.
Louise appeared on RTÉ’s Prime Time Last night
Miriam O’Callaghan: “I heard you saying earlier, you’re disappointed. Why? And the Government will say, what’s been announced is in line with the European court judgement.”
Louise O’Keeffe: “Yes, but that’s on the pretext where the Government are saying that the judgement from Europe came because of the fact that a complaint had been made and that nothing had been done with regard to that complaint. And I was abused after the complaint. But really there is nothing mentioned, in the European judgement, and anybody can access it on the internet. There is no mention of the complaint and there is no mention whatsoever to the lack of response to the complaint, so I don’t understand where the Government are coming from and using that point. It’s simply not in the judgement. So every single case, of the 45 cases that are pending, should be offered a settlement and there should be no use of this point, that the Government, and only the Government are interpreting.”
O’Callaghan: “But I suppose the Government would say, their trying to protect taxpayers’ money and that maybe they need to be careful, that each case, on its merits, warrants the compensation.”
O’Keeffe: “Well the State fought me for 15 and a half years, they spent quite a lot of money fighting me. Surely a lesson should be learned from that alone. They’re now reviewing, it’s taken 11 months for them to review the 45 cases and that’s all they’ve reviewed. They haven’t reviewed the other 90-odd. So they’re spending money, reviewing the cases, they’re going spending more money, contacting solicitors to differentiate between one and another. Why not turn around and stop spending that money in a useless way. Do something concrete. Offer everyone with a case pending a settlement and bring in the people as well, that they intimidated, by writing out letters to them and forcing them to drop their cases.”
O’Callaghan: “But, Louise, would you put any limits on it. Obviously, I’m being the devil’s advocate here, cause I know how much you’ve went through, I’ve interviewed you at length but surely not everybody may be entitled to what you are entitled to. How do they stop maybe cases that don’t deserve what you deserve, getting through.”
O’Keeffe: “There’s nobody who’ll take a case of sexual violence, or assault, into a court without having gone through horrendous treatment. To continue to fight those cases, and a lot of these people have their cases pending for the length of time that I have been fighting the case right up to Europe. So,they’re not holding out, all that length of time just for the sake of looking for money. They are fighting for the same reasons that I did. The protection of children, the acknowledgement by the State that they did not protect the children. We must remember the State are trying to say that you must have had a complaint in your school, in order to be offered the settlement. When I was in the High Court, the State brought in a witness and that witness was the inspector that was in the school at the time that I was in national school. That inspector told the court that they were aware of possible sexual abuse in the schools. When this inspector was being trained he was told to come to a meeting, with the inspector who was training him, sit on the chair and keep his mouth shut. The inspector was investigating sexual abuse in a school. So the department were aware…”
O’Callaghan: “Were aware of abuse in lots of schools in otherwords.”
O’Keeffe: “Yes. My parents were not aware of any hint or the possibility of sexual abuse in the school that they sent their daughter to. However, the department were aware of a possibility. So they’re discriminating between pupils who went into a school, it’s simply outrageous.”
O’Callaghan: “For you, Louise, it’s such a long fight. I mean it’s almost 20 years. Do you get any satisfaction from today’s announcement. Is it some type of a victory for you, after such a long fight?”
O’Keeffe: “There isn’t an ounce of victory in today. It’s a disgrace for any minister, any minister who sat inside in that Cabinet meeting, every single one of them should be ashamed. It’s an absolute disgrace, the way they’re discriminating amongst children, abused inside of national schools in this country. They should hold up their hands, every single one of them and say, ‘what is the proposal?’, ‘is it wrong?’, ‘we must rectify it immediately’, ‘we must sort it’. Every single one of those cases that are pending are pending for a reason.”
Watch back in full here