The abuse to which Louise O’Keeffe and many others were subjected to in our recent past is a source of national shame and it has taught us lessons that we as a country must never forget.
The European Court of Human Rights delivered a Grand Chamber judgment in the case of O’Keeffe v. Ireland this morning. In its judgment the ECHR found, by a 11:6 majority decision, that there was a violation of the substantive aspect of Article 3 of the Convention as regards the State's failure to fulfil its obligation to protect the applicant and that there has been a violation of Article 13, taken together with the substantive aspect of Article 3 of the Convention, on account of the lack of an effective remedy as regards the State's failure to fulfil its obligation to protect the applicant.
The ECHR held that Ms O’Keeffe should be paid €30,000 damages and €85,000 in respect of the costs and expenses of the domestic and Convention proceedings. The ECHR held unanimously that there has been no violation of the procedural aspect of Article 3 of the Convention and that it is not necessary to examine separately the complaints under Article 8 or under Article 2 of Protocol No. 1, whether alone or in conjunction with Article 14 of the Convention.
The detailed judgment of the ECHR, which is binding on the State will now be assessed for its implications and the necessary steps to implement the decision of the ECHR will be pursued.
This case arose out of the sexual abuse of Ms O’Keeffe while attending primary school in the early 1970s. Since that time, Irish society has faced the scourge of child sexual abuse in a wide range of settings from within family homes, to residential settings and in the wider community settings, such as schools and sports clubs, as well as in specific Catholic Church contexts. This is a deeply shameful part of our recent history.
The State has put in place robust child protection measures with a central role for the recently established Child and Family Agency. Within the education sector, all schools are required to adhere to Child Protection Procedures which give direction and guidance to school authorities and school personnel in the implementation of Children First when dealing with allegations/suspicions of child abuse. All primary schools fully implement the Stay Safe programme which plays a valuable role in helping children develop the skills necessary to enable them to recognise and resist abuse and potentially abusive situations.