Tag Archives: Louise O’Keeffe

From top: Ruairi Quinn; European Court of Human Rights decision in respect of Louise O’Keeffe in 2014; Dáil sitting this morning; Minister for Education Joe McHugh, Sinn Féin TD Maurice Quinlivan 

This morning.

Minister for Education Joe McHugh gave a statement to the Dáil in light of Mr Justice Iarfhlaith O’Neill finding earlier this week that the State misinterpreted a 2014 ruling by the European Court of Human Rights.

The ECHR ruling was in respect of Louise O’Keeffe who was abused by her primary school principal in the 1970s.

It’s been 21 years since Ms O’Keeffe first made contact with the Department of Education about her abuse, the Dáil heard.

Ms O’Keeffe took her case to the ECHR after the Supreme Court upheld a High Court decision to dismiss her claim that the State/Department of Education was liable for her abuse.

The ECHR ultimately found the State was liable.

The State’s misinterpretation of this ECHR ruling led to survivors of child sex abuse in schools being denied access to compensation via an ex-gratia redress scheme – the maximum of which is set at €84,000 per person.

The State maintained the ruling meant only victims who could prove they were abused after an initial complaint was made against a teacher and no action was taken were entitled to redress.

But Mr Justice O’Neill found this was not the case.

It’s understood there are 360 known victims but Mr O’Neill was only tasked with examining 19 specific cases – ruling that 13 should be paid under the scheme while a separate avenue should be found to pay compensation to the other six survivors.

During his speech this morning, Mr McHugh made it clear that 13 of those 19 will be paid compensation “as a matter of priority”.

And what the others?

He said he met the Attorney General Seamus Woulfe yesterday and that he hopes to bring a memo to Cabinet next week outlining the Government’s response to Mr Justice O’Neill’s findings.

Meanwhile, several TDs asked questions of Mr McHugh including Limerick TD Maurice Quinlivan, of Sinn Féin, who has met with a number of victims in his own constituency.

He asked the minister to explain to the Dáil who came up with the “prior complaint” requirement.

He also asked if Mr McHugh and his department will publish the advice it got after the 2014 ruling to say that “prior complaint” was required to access the redress scheme.

Mr Quinlivan said he was asking the latter question because he believes there was no such legal requirement.

Mr McHugh,, did not answer Mr Quinlivan’s specific questions.

From his speech:

“The European Court of Human Rights took a different view to the view of the High Court and the Supreme Court, and the specific issue of liability, for sexual abuse of schoolchildren in the landmark case taken by Ms Louise O’Keeffe.

“The European Court of Human Rights found in the facts of that case that the State did have a certain responsibility for historic abuse.

“The European Court of Human Rights judgement is complex and lengthy and runs to some 80 pages.

“What is clear is that some people who were abused in day schools discontinued cases against the State before the judgement in respect of Ms O’Keeffe’s in the European Court of Human Rights.

“Some of those cases involve the State being joined in actions that survivors had taken against school authorities, including religious congregations.

“The ex-gratia scheme was established to provide a mechanism to address the situation of these people.

“The criteria of the scheme reflected the State’s interpretation of the ECHR’s judgement, among other things – that there must have been a prior complaint to abuse to a school authority.

“I acknowledge, as a matter of fact, that this proved to be too difficult a hurdle for applicants to cross. Put simply: the scheme did not work.

“The result is that close to half the people who applied to the ex-gratia scheme subsequently applied to have their case reviewed by the independent assessor to the scheme – retired High Court judge Mr Iarlaith O’Neill.

“Judge O’Neill has ruled on those 19 applications. He has formed the view that the requirement for a survivor to secure evidence of a prior complaint is not consistent with the European Court of Human Rights’ judgement.

“As a result, 13 people are entitled to a payment – this will be paid as a matter of priority.

“In response to the assessor’s decision, the Taoiseach announced in the Dáil yesterday that the ‘prior complaint’ criterion would be dispensed with and the scheme would be reopened.

“My department, in conjunction with the Office of the Attorney General is examining the scheme in light of this.

“I met the Attorney General Seamus Woulfe yesterday, to discuss the next steps and the process and I hope to be in a position to bring a memo to Cabinet next week outlining the Government’s response.”


“Words, words are probably useless today to the survivors. My words are probably, I don’t know how they’re going to fall. But that’s not what I’m interested in. I’m interested in rectifying this. I’m interested in trying to get it right…”

Mr McHugh, of Fine Gael, became the Minister for Education in October 2018, taking over from his party colleague Richard Bruton who held the role from May 2016.

When the ECHR ruling was made, in January 2014, Labour’s Ruairí Quinn was the Minister for Education until July of that year, when his party colleague Jan O’Sullivan took over the role.

Yesterday: “Anybody Who Suffered Abuse In That Defective System Was Failed By The State In The Same Way”

Related: Stop treating abuse victims with contempt (Conor O’Mahony, The Irish Examiner) 


From top: Justice Iarfhlaith O’Neill; Conor O’Mahony (left), director of UCC’s Child Law Clinic; Louise O’Keeffe

Yesterday, Mr Justice Iarfhlaith O’Neill ruled that the State misinterpreted a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights – a misinterpretation which led to survivors of child sex abuse in schools being denied access to a redress scheme.

The ECHR ruling in 2014 was in respect of Louise O’Keeffe who was abused by her primary school principal in the 1970s.

Ms O’Keeffe took her case to the ECHR after the Supreme Court upheld a High Court dismissal against her claim that the State/Department of Education was liable for her abuse – in so much as it failed to put in place appropriate protection measures to stop the abuse at her school.

The ECHR ultimately found the State was liable.

However what some believed was a watershed moment for survivors of child sex abuse in schools wasn’t – as the State limited redress to victims who could prove they were abused after they made a complaint about the abuse.

Yesterday Judge O’Neill – who was appointed to review cases which had been deemed ineligible by the then Minister for Education Richard Bruton in 2017 – found the requirement of a “prior complaint” to be incompatible with the ECHR judgment in the O’Keeffe v Ireland case.

He said 13 cases he reviewed – where the applicants were refused access to redress on the grounds that they couldn’t provide proof of “prior complaint” – are entitled to a payment under the ex gratia scheme.

And, in relation to six other cases – where the State Claims Agency refused payments – he found they were not entitled to payments under the ex gratia scheme, he said there may still be a more appropriate way to get redress outside that scheme.

Further to this…

Director of UCC’s Child Law Clinic Conor O’Mahony tweeted his thoughts – and fears – on the matter yesterday…

He then updated his thoughts, following an interview given by the Minister for Education Joe McHugh to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland this morning…

Further to this…

Speaking to Áine Lawlor on RTÉ’s News At One this afternoon, Mr O’Mahony said the State’s commitment to ensure just 13 of 19 people at the centre of the cases reviewed by Mr Justice O’Neill will get payments is just the “bare start”.

He added:

“It is also extremely obvious from the decision that the implications of the decision are much broader.

“So the compensation scheme that was set up in response to the Louise O’Keeffe judgement was entirely designed around this idea that people would have to proof prior complaint in order to be eligible for compensation.

And that condition has been applied to anybody, not just to those 13 cases but to any applicant or potential applicant. So we’ve had 44 applications rejected for that reason and potentially several hundred more where simply people didn’t make applications because they couldn’t meet that condition.

“So the implication of the ruling extends to all of those people.

“Yet if the minister is determined to ‘get it right’ as he indicated this morning, then really they need to be looking much more seriously, not just at those 13 cases, but also what needs to be done for people who were similarly abused in a system which was found to be defective in the O’Keeffe case.”

Ms Lawlor put to Mr O’Mahony that she understand that there are around 360 people who haven’t been before courts about their abuse.

Mr O’Mahony explained:

“The 360 figure relates to people who would have had court proceedings at some point, some of them have discontinued…because the State, at one point, threatened to pursue them for costs.

“Others, the court proceedings are still live. Those cases now need to be brought in and you know, in cases where there is clear evidence that abuse occurred the finding of the O’Keeffe case was not just about a mishandling of her particular case, it was about the fact that the entire schools system was defective from a child protection point of view.”

“So anybody who suffered abuse in that defective system was failed by the State in the same way.”

“…they all suffered the same harm, they should all receive the same remedy.”

Listen back in full here

Last night: In Fairness


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This afternoon.

During Leaders’s Questions.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin raised what he called a “legacy issue which reflects all parties who’ve have been in Government over the last number of years” and that he wasn’t raising it as a mean to score political points.

The issue is how the State has dealt with child sex abuse in national schools in Ireland up to and since Louise O’Keeffe’s successful case in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in 2014.

Mr Martin said the State’s response to the ECHR judgement has been “a significant failure and leaves a lot to be desired”.

From Leaders’ Questions:

Micheál Martin: “The State that introduced an ex-gratia payment scheme, in many respects the limits were too low; but also the prior complaint expedient that was put in, has effectively debarred a lot from seeking justice. Only seven settlements so far have been reached out of about 210 cases and those cases are still going through the courts.”

“I recently met a victim of, who has been involved in this situation for quite some time, of horrific abuse, at the hands of a Christian Brother in a school. The person who abused was subsequently convicted, okay, so there’s no doubt about the issue. And I think he was convicted of other abuse cases as well. And there are quite a number of other victims out there at the moment, Taoiseach. Now this man went through horrific abuse, has been up and down through the courts and religious orders and has received absolutely no compensation, not a cent, nothing from the State. And, recently, in the High Court, because many of these people discontinued their cases when the Supreme Court ruled that the State didn’t have an obligation, the High Court would not uphold the rights now to pursue it in law and, indeed, Judge Barrett made such a ruling. But he also said in his statement that ‘The Irish people…’, and I quote, this is at the end of the court case, the High Court: ‘…with their great and proper sense of justice may well conclude to the path of rightness in this matter should lead ultimately into a different end’. He added: ‘as an Irishman, I would respectfully agree’. Essentially, Taoiseach what has been going on has been quite, in my view, unacceptable.”


Enda Kenny:I don’t know how many victims of sexual abuse there are in the, there have been over the years in the primary system, no more than the secondary system I assume. We have the, we had the redress scheme, we had the case of all the Magdalenes – not that there was sexual abuse in the vast majority of cases. There is the mother and baby home report coming before the Minister for Children as well which we’ll have to see what that means. I can’t recall all the details of, of the file in this case. Your question is can something be done about this. I’ve no idea of the scale of what might be involved here. But I need to read the detail of the file and the legal outcomes here. People who are abused have to live with that for all of their lives and it’s a horrific issue to have to contend with, every waking moment. Now, I don’t want to go beyond that because to come into something that I haven’t the full facts and details about, it wouldn’t be appropriate on the floor of the Dáil here…


Kenny: “Yeah, you see, you mention that there are 7 out of 210 that have been settled – that’s 210 that are before the courts now. But, you have no idea of the numbers who might wish to come forward and say ‘I was sexually abused in school X or Y by teacher or person X or Y. You have no idea of the scale of that. And, and, I think in the process, when the State dealt with the Louise O’Keeffe case, on the 28th of January, 2014, that judgement was issued and the State awarded made awards both in respect of pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages and costs and expenses. They also agreed in December of that year that out-of-court settlements would be offered to those extant cases of school child sexual abuse being brought against the State – where the cases came within the terms of the ECHR judgement and satisfied the statute of limitations. And in that regard the State claims agency could manage such cases on behalf of the State, has made settlement offers which have been accepted, as you say, in six cases. In July 2015, the Government approved proposals to offer ex-gratia payments of up to a maximum of €84,000 to those who initiated legal proceedings in such cases agains the State but who subsequently discontinued their claims against the State and where, similarly, the circumstances of the claims came within the terms of the ECHR judgement and where the claims were not statute barred prior to the proceedings being discontinued. I’ll follow through on the question.”

There you go now.

Previously: Grooming A Nation

Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 03.24.32Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 03.24.45

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


“I think this was an example of a woman of extraordinary commitment, over a long number of years, to following through her case being taken before them. Sadly, it’s one that’s indicative of a long litany of cases in Ireland, where these and other events took place. That’s why, in the past, we’ve had to deal some exceptionally sensitive cases that scar our memory. And for that reason I just think that, while this judgement is exceptionally complex and will be studied by Government, I would like to say to Louise O’Keeffe that I apologise for what happened to her in the location where she was and for the horrendous experience that she had to go through.”

Taoiseach Enda Kenny, speaking in the Dail this morning.

How committed?

Ms O’Keeffe was sexually abused by teacher Leo Hickey when she was eight and attending Dunderrow National School in Co. Cork in 1973.

In 1998 Hickey was convicted of 21 sample charges involving 21 children from 380 charges.

Ms O’Keeffe tried to hold the State liable but the High Court dismissed her case, as did the Supreme Court.

It’s believed 200 similar cases were dropped after the Supreme Court case.

This week the European Court of Human Rights overturned the Supreme Court ruling.

The State had tried to stop Ms O’Keeffe’s application to the ECHR, arguing her failure to sue the Diocese of Cork and Ross, which owned the school, showed she didn’t exhaust legal avenues in the Irish court system

The ECHR found: “That obligation [to protect her from harm] had not been met when the Irish State…continued to entrust the management of the primary education of the vast majority of young Irish children to National Schools, without putting in place any mechanism of effective State control against the risks of such abuse occurring”.

Taoiseach apologises to Louise O’Keeffe for ‘horrendous’ sex abuse suffered (Newstalk)

Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland




Louise O’Keeffe, behind her lawyer above, began her case against the Irish Government in the European Court of Human Rights today.

Teacher Leo Hickey sexually abused Ms O’Keeffe when she was eight and attending Dunderrow National School in Co Cork in 1973.

In 1998 Hickey was convicted of 21 sample charges involving 21 children from 380 charges.

Ms O’Keeffe has tried to hold the State liable but the High Court dismissed her case, as did the Supreme Court.

It’s believed 200 similar cases have been dropped since the Supreme Court case.

The State tried to stop Ms O’Keeffe’s application to the ECHR, arguing her failure to sue the Diocese of Cork and Ross, which owned the school, showed she didn’t exhaust legal avenues in the Irish court system.

Watch today’s proceedings in Strasbourg here.

Cork woman’s abuse case opens in the European Court of Human Rights (RTÉ)

(Hat tip for video: Conor O’Mahony)