O’Keeffe ruling opens the door

Louise O’Keeffe’s victory against the Irish government in the European Court of Human Rights is a victory for all institutionally abused children. Her bravery and determination deserves the highest commendation.

The judgement drives a coach and horses through the Irish government’s claim that it is not responsible for abuse in education, welfare and health bodies it regulated in law and/or paid for through the public purse.

The excuse that abuse was the responsibility of the church bodies and organisations to whom the state handed over children, is shown to be nonsense. For some years successive governments have used exposure of the abuse carried out by clergy and other individuals as a means of escaping responsibility. It was the state that put a sectarian system in place, behind which abuse occurred.

The judgement will give new hope to all of those abandoned by the state in various institutions. This includes misnamed mother and baby homes where so-called ‘illegitimate’ children suffered appalling abuse, including death, under a regulatory regime that knew of, but ignored their plight.

The former child residents of the Rathgar-based Bethany Home will welcome this judgement. Hundreds died in the 1930s and 40s because the then Deputy Chief Medical Adviser explained, “illegitimate children are delicate and marasmic [starving]”. He explained also the state’s priority, that Roman Catholic and Protestant children be segregated.

Properly functioning sectarian regulation would make welfare concerns and bad publicity go away, he contended. Go away they did while children suffered and died in silence.

Now those concerns are back where they should be, at the door of the Irish government. The Bethany residents, whose case for restitution was spurned by Justice Minister Alan Shatter in 2013, and others, are back knocking on that door.

Niall Meehan

Faculty Head, Journalism & Media

Griffith College

SCR Dublin 8

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