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ECHR rules that governments are liable if children are sexually abused in state schools

Date:30 JAN 2014

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) yesterday ruled that the Irish State had failed to protect a woman from sexual abuse endured as a pupil at an Irish national school. Louise O'Keeffe was abused in the 1970s by her former primary school principal.

The key issue before the court was whether it was the responsibility of the State to be aware of the risk of sexual abuse to minors in schools.

The Irish Supreme Court ruled in 2009 that the State was not legally liable for the abuse she suffered, but the ECHR said that the Department of Education ‘must protect children in schools.' It found that the Irish State was in breach of Article 3, which prohibits inhuman and degrading treatment, and Article 13 which sets out the right to an effective remedy.

Speaking after the ruling, Ms O'Keeffe said: ‘The message I have today for the Department of Education on foot of this ruling is that you must protect children in the schools, it's a right that the children have and it's now been recognised in Europe and it must be done.'

Today the Irish Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, apologised to Ms O'Keeffe: ‘I would like to say to Louise O'Keeffe that I apologise for what happened to her, and for the horrendous experience that she had to go through,' he said. The Taoiseach also paid tribute to the ‘commitment' shown by Ms O'Keeffe by pursuing justice through the courts.

Ms O'Keefe's solicitor, Ernest Cantillon, said that the State had 135 cases pending this judgment that now needed to be dealt with as quickly as possible.