28th January 2014
By Elaine Murphy
Statement of Ernest J. Cantillon Solicitor Cork Ireland
Re: Louise O’Keeffe V Ireland
It has been a long journey for Louise O’Keeffe from Dunderrow National
School to Strasburg. Louise is hurt and disappointed that the Irish
State continued to fight her at every step of the way. Louise was
sexually abused whilst attending a National School by a School
Teacher, whose salary was paid by the Irish Government and who was
controlled by the State. The fact that the Irish State continue to
fight Louise O’Keeffe is worrying because it signals an ongoing
attempt to distance itself from responsibility. If the Irish
Government has no responsibility, then abusers will feel that they may
continue to abuse without any danger of detection from the State. The
Irish Government rightly seeks praise for its educational system.
That is one side of the coin. The other side is that there comes a
responsibility with the kudos. The Irish State must first acknowledge
that it has a role, and then must assess the system that it has in
place to prevent abuse, otherwise, children will continue to be
Ultimately, this case is about human rights in one of its purest
forms; the child’s right to have the State protect him or her from
sexual abuse by an adult placed by the State in a position of power
over him or her.
What was particularly hurtful, was that the State sought to blame
Louise’s parents, who are now dead, and indeed the parents of the
other children, for not reporting the abuse. Indeed, we found out,
during the course of this litigation, that the parents of one little
girl did indeed complain to the only person who was available to them,
namely the Catholic Church Appointed Manager, but to no avail. Who
were the parents supposed to report the abuse to? There was no one
from the Department of Education in rural Dunderrow, or indeed in any
of the other National Schools. There was no system or person on the
ground to whom the abuse might have been reported to, nor indeed was
the reporting of such abuse encouraged. It was swept under the
carpet. It was a case of ‘hear no evil, see no evil’ and ergo there
is no evil.
This case has legal implications. The State will no longer be able to
hide behind Boards of Management that they set up, in an attempt to
place a buffer between themselves and the responsibility for wrongs
that might occur in the classroom. The State have considerable
control over the running of schools and, with that control, must come
responsibility. The European Court has now placed that
responsibility firmly at the door of the Irish State. They, thus,
will have to deal with the outstanding cases, having regard to this
Judgement. Children who have been abused, need to have the wrongs
done to them corrected as soon as possible. An apology should issue
and appropriate compensation should be paid for the very serious
wrongs that have occurred. That is the decent thing to do.
Louise is delighted that the State were, at last, held accountable.
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.
Finally, Louise would like to thank her Legal Team Solicitors Ernest
Cantillon and Mary Scriven, her Counsel David Holland SC and Alan
Keating BL, the Team at UCC and in particular Ursula Kilkelly and
Conor O’Mahony and, last, but not least, her fantastic children,
family and friends.