A retired school teacher has been given a three-year prison sentence, with the final two years suspended, after being found guilty of sexually assaulting a nine-year-old schoolboy in the 1990s.

Leo Hickey, 78, from Realt na Mara, Skevanish, Innishannon, Co Cork, had pleaded not guilty to eight counts of sexually assaulting Daniel Kelleher while teaching at Scoil Eoin Boys National School in Ballincollig in Co Cork on dates between November 1991 and 1992.

He was found unanimously guilty by a jury at Cork Circuit Criminal Court in February.

During the trial, Mr Kelleher told the court that he was abused by Hickey over 20 times while in fourth class in the school. 

He said the abuse took place in a variety of locations, including in the toilets, corridor and school yard, as well as while walking back from the hurling pitch at the rear of the school.

His mother Stephanie recalled having a meeting with Hickey about her son staying back a year and when he returned to school under duress in September, she remembered him rolling around the floor in their hall saying: "I'm dead, I'm dead."

In his Victim Impact Statement read out in court, Mr Kelleher said the abuse had a devastating effect on him as he lived in constant fear of when he would next be sexually abused. 

He said he felt no-one would believe him because Hickey was his teacher, someone everyone looked up to. He said as a teenager he went completely off track and began abusing drugs. 

He disliked and felt complete disdain for anyone in authority and despite huge efforts by his family he spent most of his formative adolescent years abusing drugs and developing an addiction. 

He said he is glad the court case is over and now wished to walk forward and make a decent life for his partner and his children.

He expressed his heartfelt gratitude to Detective Donal O'Connell who believed he said "his darkest kept secret" and in doing so freed him to live a respectful life and a positive one into the future.

Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin said there was a substantial breach of trust.  He described Hickey's actions as disgraceful.  He said the appropriate sentence in view of him being found guilty by a jury is three years, with the final two years suspended to date from 24 February.

In 1998, Hickey was sentenced to three years imprisonment having admitted 21 charged of indecent assault from a sample of 380 counts relating to 21 school girls. 

These offences took place between the mid 1960s and 1973 while Hickey was principal of Dunderrow Primary School near Kinsale, Co Cork.

Among the children abused by the pensioners was Louise O'Keeffe, whom he had assaulted on over 20 occasions when she was eight.

In January 2014, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Ireland had failed to protect her from sex abuse in school after the State had denied any responsibility.

This evening, Ms O'Keeffe welcomed Hickey's conviction and that his name will now be on the Sexual Offenders Register.

She said that "to the girls in Dunderrow, it is no surprise that he was found guilty today".  

She said there should now be an investigation into how Hickey was able to move from his position as principal in Dunderrow to a teaching post at Scoil Eoin.

She supported Mr Kelleher's call through his solicitor Padraig Sheehan for victims of  sexual abuse to seek help.

"It is only by talking to someone that you have any chance of moving forward," she said.