The effects of Louise O’Keeffe’s ECHR case

Cork woman Louise O’Keeffe was abused by school principal Leo Hickey while she was an eight-year-old pupil at Dunderrow NS, in Kinsale, in 1973.

She went as far as the Supreme Court to seek justice for the sexual abuse she endured in the primary school.

Ms O’Keeffe argued that the State was liable, as the Department of Education had failed to put in place appropriate protection measures.

In 2008, the Supreme Court threw out her case and two things happened after this.

The State Claims Agency wrote to other victims, who experienced sexual abuse in Irish primary schools, to tell them that if they continued with their cases, the State would pursue them for costs.

Dozens of people signed a ‘notice of discontinuance’ in order to avoid the State pursuing them for hundred of thousands of euro in legal fees. Signing this notice means you cease your litigation against the State forever more.

However, Ms O’Keeffe took her case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and, in 2014, that court made a landmark ruling against the Irish State.

The ECHR found the Irish State to be in breach of its obligation to protect schoolchildren from sexual abuse and to be in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.

It was after this ECHR finding that 75 victims sought to have the notices of discontinuance that they had signed in 2008, set aside so that they could sue the State and Department of Education for failing to protect them against the sexual abuse they suffered.

Five of these victims took a case against the State asking that their notices be set aside.

In May, the High Court ruled against them.

The State was expected to pursue these people for legal costs but this did not happen.

These victims will appeal the High Court decision in the Court of Appeal.


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