BY Martin Dunlop | January 28 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print

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Irish state held liable for abuse in Catholic school

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has today found the Irish state liable for sexual abuse suffered by a girl at the hands of the principal of a Catholic-run state primary school in the 1970s

In the case of Louise O’Keefe—who was 9 years old when she was abused at Dunderrow National School, Cork—both the High Court and Supreme Court in Ireland had ruled that the state was not responsible for the assaults. However, the ECHR today overruled their judgements.

“The court found that it was an inherent obligation of a government to protect children from ill-treatment, especially in a primary education context,” the Strasbourg-based court said in its ruling. “That obligation had not been met.”

Ms O’Keefe, now 49 years old, said she was ‘delighted’ that the Irish state had been held accountable by the European Court.

“I think it’s very important for the schoolchildren in our country,” she said. “It’s the children in the schools that this case was fought for. It was fought for the protection of the boys and girls at a very young age who should simply be protected.”

However, Ms O’Keefe’s lawyer, Ernest J Cantillon, highlighted that the fact that the Irish state is ‘continuing to fight’ the case is worrying ‘because it signals an ongoing attempt to distance itself from responsibility.’

The case could lead to compensation claims from more than 200 Irish victims abused by employees of the state, according to media reports in Ireland.

The majority of Irish children attend schools that are state-funded but privately managed by religious authorities, most of them Catholic.

The court found that the state had continued to entrust the management of primary education to such schools despite being aware of the sexual abuse of children by adults before the 1970s.

The ECHR ordered the Irish state to pay Ms O’Keeffe €30,000 (£24,700) in damages and €85,000 (£70,000) to cover her legal costs.

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