Ireland’s Attempt to Hide Behind Separation of Church and State

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights will soon be deciding O’Keeffe v. Ireland, a case concerning the responsibility of the State for the sexual abuse, age nine, by a lay teacher in an Irish National School in 1973.

Louise O’Keeffe went to a National School, a State-funded primary school, which are privately managed under the Church (mainly Catholic).  Ms. O’Keeffe went to Dunderrow National School, owned by the Catholic Diocese of Cork and Ross, managed by a priest on behalf of an Archdeacon.

From January to mid 1973, O’Keeffe was subjected to a number of sexual assaults by LH, a lay teacher at the national school. While she had some psychological issues, she did not attribute them to the sexual abuse. In the course of a criminal complaint filed by a former classmate, the police contacted O’Keeffe and she made a statement in 1997. Consequently, she was referred to counseling.

A number of other students throughout the course of the police investigation made statements concerning their own sexual encounters with LH.  He was ultimately charged with 389 criminal offense of sexual abuse, involving 21 former students at the national school. In 1998, LH pleaded guilty to 21 sample charges and was sentenced to imprisonment.

Soon after hearing the evidence presented by other victims at LH’s criminal trial, Ms. O’Keeffe realized the nexus between her psychological problems and the abuse she endured at the hands of LH.

In October 198 she applied to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Tribunal for compensation and was awarded 53, 962. 24 EUR.  In September 1998, she also brought a civil suit against LH, the Minister for Education and Science, Ireland and the Attorney General claiming damages for personal injuries she suffered as a result of the sexual assaults.  Among many of her allegations, O’Keeffe alleged that the State was vicariously liable as the employer of LH.

As a result, LH was ordered to pay Ms. O’Keeffe 400 EUR a month.  Subsequently the High Court dismissed the claims against the State and held the State was not vicariously liable for LH’s actions. Ms. O’Keeffe has recovered 30,000 EUR, to date. In 2008 the Supreme Court dismissed O’Keeffe’s appeal on the vicarious liability issue. The Court found that the Irish primary school system, while State funded, the management and role of the church was such that the State could not be held liable for the acts of the teacher.

In her complaint to the European Court of Human Rights, she claims that she has not been able to obtain recognition of, and compensation for, the State’s failure to protect her. She relies on Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman and degrading treatment) and Article 13 (right to an effective remedy) of the European Convention on Human Rights. She further complains of violations of Article 8 (right to respect for private life) and Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 (right to education), alone and in conjunction with Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) of the Convention, in that the sexual abuse has caused her significant relationship, sexual and marital problems and that she has suffered discrimination given the refusal to compensate victims of abuse in National Schools while accepting to do so as regards abuse victims from reformatory or industrial schools.

The judgment is set to be decided on January 28, 2014.

How do you think the Grand Chamber will come out on this case? Do you think Ms. O’Keefe has recovered enough? Do you think the Grand Chamber should or will take the compensation already recovered into consideration when deciding this case?  Do you think there truly still is a separation of church and State?


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