A survivor of abuse has said she is hopeful that European judges will move to protect children in her battle to hold the State liable for her suffering at school.
If successful, a lawsuit by Louise O’Keeffe, 46, could spark a raft of claims from people denied compensation because abuse occurred in church-run or independent schools.
“I’d be hopeful, and I have a belief that even this would be my last step that I can go,” she said.
“It will be that rights will come right and the wrongs will be punished, and I’d hope the European courts will see my case for what it is and give me the judgment that is right – not just for me, but for every child that has been abused within the school system in Ireland.”
Ms O’Keeffe’s case is being heard by judges at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg today. It is almost 15 years since she began her action against the Irish state.
“At that time I never expected to be appealing to Europe to right the wrongs that happened to me as a child, as an eight-year-old in school,” she said.
Ms O’Keeffe had feared at one point that her marathon legal battle could leave her in financial ruin and homeless.
She was abused at Dunderrow primary school in Cork in 1973 by then principal Leo Hickey.
She sued the State, claiming the Department of Education was liable as it paid the teacher’s wages, supervised the curriculum and inspected the classrooms, but lost in the High Court in Dublin and subsequently the Supreme Court.
The State used the defence that the school was run by an independent board of management.
Ms O’Keeffe said she was not thinking of failure on this occasion.
“What I believe in has not changed. I believe children in schools should be protected and the State has continually reneged on their responsibility of protecting children in schools,” she said.
“I’m confident in taking these steps that we will win this case. This is the rights of children; children must be looked after.
“They must be protected and the state must be held responsible and must account for that responsibility. For me, this is a must-win.”
Ms O’Keeffe took a civil action against retired principal Hickey and was awarded a monthly payment of about €400.
He was jailed for three years in 1998 after being convicted of indecently assaulting a number of girls in the 1970s.
It is understood about 200 other abuse victims have either dropped or postponed their actions in the wake of the Supreme Court judgment against Ms O’Keeffe.
A ruling from the European Court is not expected for months.