The Government is to consider appointing a nationally recognised, go-to figure that children around the country could contact in confidence with complaints of abuse.
The suggestion was made by the abuse survivor Louise O’Keeffe in her first meeting with Taoiseach Enda Kenny since she won a landmark case earlier this year following a 15-year legal battle against the State.
The Taoiseach issued a public apology to her in January after the European Court of Human Rights ruled the State was negligent in failing to protect her from abuse by her national school principal in the 1970s.
The Cork mother of two had initially lost a High Court action, and then a Supreme Court appeal, and at times feared she would lose her home to pay for the legal costs. It was eventually heard in Europe despite vehement opposition from the State.
She told the Irish Examiner last night she would now like to see an apology issued to all those abused in national day-schools, similar to that made to victims of clerical sex abuse.
“The Taoiseach had issued an apology to me back in January. He did not reiterate the apology today. But he did congratulate me on staying the course and keeping going with the case because of my principles,” she said after the meeting.
“He said ‘well done’ to me. So, fingers-crossed that, because he appreciated the length of time it took, and the success at the end of it, for children, they will take that on board and we will have a positive outcome.”
During the meeting, which included Minister for Children James Reilly, and Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan, Ms O’Keeffe was promised that 135 other victims of abuse in national schools would get a response from the Government before Christmas.
Some 44 of these people still have pending cases against the State, but the remainder dropped their cases when, just a month after Ms O’Keeffe lost her Supreme Court case, the State wrote to them urging them to do so.
Ms O’Sullivan told her yesterday that she would bring proposals to cabinet by the end of the year on how to respond to all those who had been abused in the national school system.
“I would be hopeful it would be done on friendly terms and that an apology will come to all of the people involved in those cases, and all of the children who have been abused in our schools,” she said. “It should have been brought to cabinet sooner, it has taken ten months up to now.”
“But we now have a commitment that we’ll know what decision will be made before Christmas. It’s a positive outcome that will end the waiting. It’s a long waiting game and for those who have been involved in those cases, so it’s vital that they will finally get an end and know where they stand.”
She said the child protection measures in place were still not adequate and called for a child protection officer to be put in place in each province, who would be independent of schools, the department of Education or the HSE.
“This person must be a person the child knows they can contact, they can talk to, and they will be believed by,” she said.
“It must be communicated, published, advertised, anything and everything must be done in terms of letting children know that this person is there and is at the other end of the phone.
“It is vitally important that they are overly familiar with this person who will listen to them.”
She said that when the child is making that phone call, “they’re already extremely vulnerable, they have no self-confidence at all, regardless of their age”. She said: “It can just take a split second to make that phone call. When they make that phone call, they need to have confidence in the fact that that person will listen.”
Dr Reilly gave her a commitment to pursue this idea and invited her to give a presentation to TDs and senators at an Oireachtas Committee when the Children First Bill is debated.
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