Out-of-court payouts a ‘disgrace’, says abuse survivor

The State’s offer of out-of- court settlements to victims of child sexual abuse at school has been described as "an absolute disgrace" by survivor Louise O’Keeffe, who was forced to resort to the European courts in her own battle for justice.

Out-of-court payouts a ‘disgrace’, says abuse survivor

Ms O’Keeffe, who was abused in 1973, at the age of eight, by her school principal, said it was outrageous that the State was limiting its offer to cases where a prior complaint of abuse had been made and the State had failed to act.

This offer was based on what Ms O’Keeffe’s solicitor, Ernest Cantillon, described as a “minimalist” interpretation of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling. That ruling, made last January, found the State had been negligent in failing to protect Ms O’Keeffe from abuse in school and that her human rights had been breached.

Mr Cantillon said the State’s interpretation had been designed “to exclude as many people as possible” from the possibility of compensation.

The State’s offer is limited to abuse that occurred prior to 1991, when more robust child care legislation was introduced. The settlement offer is also limited to a maximum of €84,000, based on compensation paid to Ms O’Keeffe.

Ms O’Keeffe, now aged 50 and a mother of two from Cork, said it was disgraceful to put “such a mediocre price” on child abuse.

Moreover, arriving at a figure based on what she was paid meant the Government had decided “everyone else either suffered the same or less than me”, which Ms O’Keeffe said was outrageous.

She said the Government’s proposals essentially meant “you could have two pupils in the same school abused by the same teacher but in different years and one will be offered a settlement and the other will be told ‘Go to hell’,” because evidence of a prior complaint depended on who was abused first.

Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan, who outlined the Government’s offer, said only that all 45 cases lodged against the Government “would be reviewed in detail” by the State Claims Agency (SCA) and offers made to those who came within the terms of the ECHR.

In relation to victims who discontinued cases prior to the ECHR judgment (said to number about 90), Ms O’Sullivan said she had asked the SCA to review the cases and report back early in the New Year.

Ms O’Keeffe’s sexual abuse came to light in 1973 after the parent of another pupil informed the local canon that her daughter had been sexually abused by Leo Hickey, the lay principal of Dunderrow National School.

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