Abuse victim’s case under way at European Court

The State must accept responsibility for children who were sexually abused in schools managed and run by the Catholic Church, the European Court of Human Rights was told.

However, the State denies it had such responsibility in the case taken by Louise O’Keeffe, who was 8 when she was abused by Leo Hickey, the then principle of Dunderrow National School. Her case agues that the State failed to structure the primary education in such a way as to protect her, and pupils should be eligible for compensation as those in residential institutions were.

“It’s a child’s right to have the State protect them from who in law have a coercive power over that child,” her lawyer David Holland told the court in Strasbourg.

He said that in 1995, gardaí investigating claims by another pupil contacted Ms O’Keeffe and she found out a parent had complained about Hickey two years before her abuse began.

He pleaded guilty to 386 offences against 21 pupils and was jailed in 1998.

Mr Holland said that, since legislation had been introduced in the 1930s on foot of investigations into abuse by teachers, the State knew the dangers and should have introduced guidelines or a system for complaints. Instead, he said, complaints were generally dismissed or ignored by the Department of Education.

Feichín McDonagh, for the State, denied it had any liability in relation to “what the State knew or ought to have known that a primary school child in a day school in Ireland in 1973 in a school established by a bishop, managed by a clergy man, [was] abused by a teacher who was seen as a pillar of society”.

He denied the department ignored complaints adding “the State did not know of the propensities of Mr Hickey”.

The school was owned by the Diocese of Cork and Ross. Following complaints, Hickey went on sick leave in 1973 and later resigned but taught in other schools until 1995.

The complaints had not been passed on to the department or the gardaí.

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