The case of a Cork woman who was abused at the Dunderrow National School in 1973 has been opened at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg.
Louise O’Keeffe, 47, brought the case forward after the Irish Supreme Court failed to hold the State liable for sexual abuse since the school was run by an independent board. The ruling of the case, which may take months, could have a large impact on similar cases of abuse victims who could not hold the State liable.
The Irish Times reports Ernest Cantillon, O’Keeffe’s solicitor said: “This is a very important decision by the European court of Human Rights and one which will be watched very closely by the Irish State and by other victims of sexual abuse who may be contemplating similar actions for the abuse they suffered.”
An eight year old O’Keeffe suffered abuse at the hands of teacher Leo Hickey at Dunderrow National School in 1973. Hickey was convicted of assaulting a number of girls in the 1970s and was sentenced to three years in prison in 1998.
O’Keeffe fought a long battle to bring her case to the ECHR. She began civil proceedings in 1998. The High Court rejected O’Keeffe’s case against the Department of Education in 2006. The Irish Supreme Court reaffirmed the decision in 2009. RTE reported, “It is understood that 200 similar cases were postponed or dropped after the Supreme Court rejected her case.
O’Keeffe then placed a bid for the ECHR to hear her case in 2009 and the State challenged her bid. The State argued in a 36 page submission that she had not used all of the legal remedies available in Ireland because she had not sued the Bishop of Cork and Ross, who was patron of the school and owned it through trustees.
In July of 2012 the ECHR ruled that since O’Keeffe had sued the State, she did not have to also sue the bishop. The Irish Times quoted the ECHR argued, “She chose to pursue to the Supreme Court an action alleging State responsibility for the abuse on the basis of vicarious liability and the court considers this was a reasonable choice.”
The Irish Times reported she said about the ECHR’s decision to hear her case, “It’s a big step for me and a very welcome development- the fact that the European Court of Human Rights has decided that my case is important enough to be heard is highly encouraging.”