Abuse victim Louise O’Keeffe, who defeated the State in the European Court, has launched a stinging attack on Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan over her “deplorable” failure to properly deal with children abused by State employees.
Ms O’Keeffe’s rebuke of the minister comes ahead of the Government’s update to Europe on January 28 regarding its response to the 2014 O’Keeffe judgement. Her comments will be a major embarrassment for the Coalition heading into the general election.
Ms O’Keeffe, who was “fought tooth and nail” by the State, said Ms O’Sullivan and the Government have devised a formula to “opportunistically minimise the liability of the State to these unfortunate victims”.
She added: “I find that deplorable and disheartening.”
Ms O’Keeffe, who was abused by her school principal in 1973, said the Government has clearly failed to live up to its obligation to “protect children from ill-treatment, especially in a primary education context”.
In the wake of her victory over the State, Ms O’Keeffe met with Ms O’Sullivan in December 2014 to discuss the Government approach to dealing with outstanding cases of child abuse.
She said she was not really sure why she was invited to such a meeting, “unless it was to give, in some way or another, the veneer of victim approval to the proposal”.
Ms O’Sullivan said the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) decision applies only to people who were abused and had made an initial complaint against a teacher, but no action was taken.
However, Ms O’Keeffe has strongly rejected this.
“There is no legal basis for suggesting that it is necessary to establish a prior sexual abuse before one can succeed,” she said. “That is simply not the law. An attempt has been made to use the factual matrix of my case and to seek to suggest that that is the rationale of the ECHR judgement.”
She also criticised the amount of €84,000 that the State proposed giving to victims by way of compensation to be completely insufficient.
“The quantum of the damages that I was awarded in the High Court for the abuse came to €305,104-odd,” she said. “That would be a more appropriate marker and in line with the level of damages.”
Ms O’Sullivan’s spokesman said it is the department’s informed opinion that the judgement in the O’Keeffe case relates to cases where there was a prior complaint about sexual abuse, no action or no effective action was taken, and children subsequently suffered.
“There is, however, no strict interpretation as to what constitutes a prior complaint,” the spokesman said.
“The department is aware that Ms O’Keeffe disagrees with this approach.
“However, it is our view that this approach addresses the issue of historic sexual abuse in Irish schools and we will continue to seek to reach agreement with individuals on that basis.”
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