Louise O’Keeffe to challenge State again over ‘insulting’ settlement offer

Courageous abuse survivor Louise O’Keeffe is set to take on the State again over its “insulting” settlement offer arising out of her landmark legal case.

Louise O’Keeffe to challenge State again over ‘insulting’ settlement offer

“I’m not giving up the fight,” Ms O’Keeffe said.

“I’m not happy and the children of the past are not happy either. It’s not something that can be left standing — no more than the fact that the State couldn’t have been allowed to not accept responsibility for the abuse of children in schools.”

She was speaking yesterday after being named Cork Person of the Year for 2014 for her tenacity, courage, and dignity throughout her 40-year fight for justice.

She dedicated her award to the children of Ireland.

Ms O’Keeffe won a landmark legal battle with the State last year which forced it to accept responsibility for abuse she suffered in primary school.

However, last month she described the Government’s settlement offer to children who were abused in school as “discrimination of the highest order”.

The State has offered up to €84,000 to people bringing cases against them in cases similar to hers — arguing that the European court’s decision applies only to people who were abused after an initial complaint was made against a teacher and no action was taken.

Ms O’Keeffe strongly rejected this, saying that the court decision clearly says that the State had a duty to ensure all children would not be sexually abused at school.

In a powerful acceptance speech yesterday, she addressed ministers Simon Coveney and Kathleen Lynch directly and warned them that the settlement offer issue has to be dealt with.

“I beg, plead, and implore with you to knock on the Education Minister’s door about this,” said Ms O’Keeffe. “You must look after the children of Ireland.”

Abuse victim support group One in Four is due to meet Jan O’Sullivan next week to discuss the issue.

Ms O’Keeffe also paid tribute to the first woman who made a complaint against her abuser, then school principal Leo Hickey, and said that without that woman’s bravery, she would not have come forward.

“There are so many people who have never spoken of the abuse they suffered in the past,” she said.

“There are many more who are silent behind closed doors. It is important that they are remembered and supported.”

She received a standing ovation from the 250 guests who attended the ceremony at the Rochestown Park Hotel.

The other nominees for the main Cork Person of the Year award included the 11 monthly winners:

- English Market fishmonger Pat O’Connell;

- mental health pioneer Joan Hamilton;

- Cheltenham Gold Cup winning jockey Davey Russell and trainer Jim Culloty;

- SHARE mothers Paula Kelleher and Elizabeth Bermingham;

- West Cork Rapid Response’s Dr Jason Van der Velde;

- Marvel Comics’ graphic artist Will Sliney;

- Irish rugby star Heather O’Brien;

- Cork Summer Show’s Gerard Murphy;

- Live at the Marquee promoter Peter Aiken;

- Dairygold executive Jim Woulfe;

- last year’s Young Scientist winners Sophie Healy-Thow, Ciara Judge, and Emer Hickey;

- and Cork’s All Ireland winning camogie and ladies football captains, Anna Geary and Briege Corkery.

Speakers at the event included Tom Murphy, the MD of the Irish Examiner; Geraldine O’Leary, commercial director of RTÉ Television; Pat Lemasney of Southern Advertising; awards organiser Manus O’Callaghan; Lord Mayor Mary Shields; County Mayor Alan Coleman; and Bishop John Buckley and Bishop Paul Colton.

Louise's long battle over school abuse 

 Two-thirds of sex abuse victims in schools who had cases like Louise O'Keeffe's pending against the Department of Education withdrew them after being warned of the financial consequences by the State.

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

She argued that the State was liable as the Department of Education had failed to put in place appropriate protection measures.

But after years of frustration at court decisions, during which the State alwaysdenied liability, she went to the European Court of Human Rights, claiming inhuman and degrading treatment through her abuse at school.

Her 40-year battle for justice ended in triumph last year when the Strasbourg-based court ruled in her favour.

It found her rights were breached on two grounds, and granted her €100,000 compensation.

She described the landmark judgement as a “win for the children of Ireland”, but has criticised the subsequent settlement offer, which emerged in December.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore subsequently apologised to her for the horrendous experience she endured.

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