Abuse victim ‘not chased’ for legal costs

THE State Claims Agency (SCA) has dismissed reports that it is aggressively pursuing legal costs of €500,000 from an abuse victim who lost her case for damages against the State.

The agency said it is precluded from pursuing costs because the case is still under appeal, and even if it was it would not be acting “aggressively”.

Ciarán Breen, head of claims and deputy director of the SCA, said Mr Justice de Valera made an order on March 23, putting a stay on the State’s €500,000 costs until the determination of Louise O’Keeffe’s Supreme Court appeal.

“That judgment was formally delivered in early May and precluded us from even negotiating anything. So the State is not pursuing her for those costs, because we cannot do so,” Mr Breen said.

“In any case, we would not be aggressively pursuing them as has been reported.”

The State side will fully contest the appeal, being taken after the High Court ruled the State was not liable for the abuse suffered by Ms O’Keeffe as a child at the hands of her primary school principal.

The High Court awarded her €305,104 in damages this week arising from her parallel action against Leo Hickey, who indecently assaulted her 20 times when she was a pupil at Dunderrow National School near Kinsale, Co Cork, in the 1970s, but his ability to pay the damages is unclear. He was jailed for three years in 1998 after pleading guilty to charges of indecent assault.

Ms O’Keeffe, 42, a mother-of-two from Dunmanway, Co Cork, began proceedings against Hickey and the State in 2004, but the State side denied liability for the assaults.

It is expected to be at least a year before the appeal of the case against the State will get to hearing.

The stay on costs in Ms O’Keefe’s case against the State was referred to by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern in the Dáil yesterday.

“The woman lost her case in the High Court and, because there was a large bill, I said we would do that. I understand that the State Claims Agency told the lady’s solicitor on the record at an early meeting that, while some arrangements would have to be made regarding costs, there was no question whatsoever of her losing her house — so that does not arise,” he said.

“However, the lady’s solicitor informed the agency that she intended to appeal the case to the Supreme Court, so obviously I could not go any further. If she did not want us to deal sympathetically and in a measured way with the issue at the end of the High Court case, but wished to proceed to the Supreme Court, as was her right, then I could do nothing,” Mr Ahern said in response to a question on the matter from Labour Party leader Pat Rabbitte.

Education Minister Mary Hanafin, whose department was the named State plaintiff, refused to be drawn on the matter yesterday.

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