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IHREC wants CoE action on O’Keeffe judgment
Solicitor Noeline Blackwell Pic: RollingNews.ie

04 Jun 2024 / human rights Print

IHREC wants CoE action on O’Keeffe judgment

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) has called on the Council of Europe to step up its supervision of Ireland’s implementation of the O’Keeffe v Ireland judgment.

The judgment, delivered by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ten years ago, found that the State had an obligation to protect Louise O’Keeffe from the sexual abuse she had suffered in primary school.

The Government introduced a revised ex gratia scheme for victims of sexual abuse in schools in response to the judgment.

IHREC, however, (31 May) briefed the Council of Europe on what it called the “ongoing failure by Ireland” to fully implement the judgment.

‘Lack of coherence’

The human-rights body, represented by Commissioner Noeline Blackwell, called for the council’s Committee of Ministers to increase its supervision of the implementation of the O’Keeffe judgment, under what is known as the ‘enhanced’ supervision procedure.

“The commission is of the view that the lack of coherence in the State’s approach to survivors of sexual abuse in schools shows a discriminatory and arbitrary approach to survivors,” IHREC said in a statement.

“Currently, as domestic law stands, the Supreme Court’s decision in O’Keeffe v Hickey [2009] remains the law in Ireland today and, accordingly, the State is not vicariously liable for historical child sexual abuse suffered in schools,” it added.

The commission also argues that any survivors seeking to begin proceedings in respect of historical sexual abuse would face “significant difficulties” in establishing that their claim is not statute-barred.

Victims ‘deprived of remedy’

Commissioner Blackwell said: “For the ECtHR process to have any credibility, both in Ireland and Europe, in light of Ireland’s persistent failure to implement the judgment, it is crucial that this case is urgently transferred to enhanced supervision, if victims’ rights are to be vindicated.”

She said that the Government’s position on the issue had deprived those who had suffered sexual abuse as children within the school system of an effective remedy.

IHREC has made several attempts to raise the issue under rule 9, which allows national human-rights bodies to make submissions to the Committee of Ministers about the execution of ECtHR judgments.

The Committee of Ministers is the decision-making body of the 46-member council and is charged with ensuring that member states comply with the court’s judgments.

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