Cork woman's abuse case opens in European Court of Human Rights

Wednesday 06 March 2013 22.26
Louise O'Keeffe was abused in Dunderrow National School in Co Cork in 1973
Louise O'Keeffe was abused in Dunderrow National School in Co Cork in 1973

The case of a Cork woman, who failed at the Supreme Court to have the State held liable for sexual abuse she suffered at school as a child, has opened at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Louise O'Keeffe, 47, took the case after the Supreme Court ruled the State could not be held liable for the abuse as the school in question was run by an independent board.

The outcome of the case, expected to take months, could have a major bearing on a large number of similar cases of abuse victims, who have been unable to sue the State for damages.

This is Ms O'Keeffe's last opportunity to hold the State responsible for the abuse she suffered as an eight-year-old at the hands of teacher Leo Hickey at Dunderrow National School in Co Cork in 1973.

Hickey was sentenced to three years in prison in 1998 after being convicted of assaulting a number of girls in the 1970s.

In 2006, the High Court rejected Ms O'Keeffe's case against the Department of Education. The Supreme Court affirmed that decision in 2009.

Her bid to have the case heard in Strasbourg was challenged by the State.

It argued that since Ms O'Keeffe had not sued the Bishop of Cork and Ross, she had not exhausted all legal remedies in Ireland.

However, in July last year the ECHR disagreed, arguing that since she had sued the State, it was not necessary for her to also sue the bishop.

It is understood that 200 similar cases were postponed or dropped after the Supreme Court rejected her case.

If the Strasbourg court finds in her favour, it could have major implications for other victims.