“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;
- mental health pioneer;
- Cheltenham Gold Cup winning jockeyand trainer ;
- SHARE mothersand ;
- West Cork Rapid Response’s;
- Marvel Comics’ graphic artist;
- Irish rugby star;
- Cork Summer Show’s;
- Live at the Marquee promoter;
- Dairygold executive;
- last year’s Young Scientist winners, , and ;
- and Cork’s All Ireland winning camogie and ladies football captains,and .
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 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.