Louise O’Keeffe is the Spirit of Mother Jones Award recipient for 2019

First Cork Person to receive the Spirit of Mother Jones Award.

Louise O’Keefe (right) following her appearance at last year’s festival – with Ann Piggot and Geraldine McCarthy of the Cork Mother Jones Committee

The Cork Mother Jones Committee is proud to announce that the 2019 Spirit of Mother Jones Award will be presented to Louise O’Keeffe.

 

Louise is the first Cork recipient of this International Award which is named after Cork born Mary Harris who became known around the world as Mother Jones.

 

Louise O’Keeffe describes herself as an ordinary West Cork woman and mother of two children. Yet this extraordinary woman fought a 15 year long battle to get civil redress for the sexual abuse she suffered at Dunderrow Primary School in Co Cork. Having failed to find justice in the Irish Courts she proceeded to take the Irish government to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

 

In 2014 the ECHR found in her favour.

 

According to James Nolan, spokesperson for the Cork Mother Jones Committee,

which presents this annual award

 

“Louise O’Keeffe is indeed an extraordinary woman, a fighter for justice who was determined to ensure justice for herself and the hundreds of people who suffered similar injustice in the schools of Ireland. In doing this she exposed the failure of the Irish authorities in spite of the Irish courts to ensure Irish children were protected from sexual abuse in Irish schools.

 

Louise spoke at the 2018 Spirit of Mother Jones summer school, her contribution was regarded by many of those attending as an inspirational talk in which she described in vivid detail her personal journey through the obstacles and the difficulties she faced in her long quest for justice.

 

Louise O’Keeffe is a worthy recipient of the 2019 Spirit of Mother Jones Award and the Cork Mother Jones Committee is extremely proud and happy that Louise is the first Cork person to receive this unique honour.

 

Mother Jones herself would have been proud of her fighting spirit.”

 

James Nolan stated,

 

In spite of the 2014 European Court Judgement, the Irish government moved to prevent victims from receiving compensation. After introducing a compensation scheme, they included a further obstacle which ensured victims could only receive compensation if they could prove their abuse occurred in the aftermath of a prior complaint made against their abuser.

 

This was virtually an impossible condition for young children to have acted on and every single applicant for the compensation scheme was rejected.

 

Earlier this July, more than 5 years after the European Court decision the independent assessor to review the scheme, retired High Court Judge Iarfhlaith O’Neill that this ridiculous obstacle imposed by the State represented “an inherent inversion of logic and was a fundamental unfairness to the applicants….it was inconsistent with the core reasoning of the judgement of the ECHR in the Louise O’Keeffe case.”

 

As a direct response to a public call from Louise O’Keeffe, the Taoiseach, Mr. Leo Varadkar apologised to victims in the Dail on Tuesday 9th July. Yet some 400 applicants continue to wait for justice.

 

 The award is presented annually to people who act and work in the spirit of Mother Jones and Louise O’Keeffe now joins a worthy list of past recipients.

 

 The 2019 Award will be presented to Ms O’Keeffe by James Nolan and the Cork Mother Jones Committee on Wednesday 31st July at 2pm approx following the official opening of the 2019 festival at the Maldron Hotel, in the Shandon Historic Quarter in Cork.

 

Note:

 

The Cork Spirit of Mother Jones Awards to date have been to;

 

2013,     Margaret Aspinall and Sue Roberts. (Hillsborough Family Support Group)

 

2014,     Gareth Peirce. Solicitor.

 

2015      Fr Peter McVerry. Campaigner for the homeless.

 

2016      Dave Hopper (RIP) General Secretary, Durham Miners’ Association.

 

2017      Ken Fleming. (International Transport Workers Federation.)

 

2018      Mary Manning (on behalf of the Dunnes Stores workers)

 

2019      Louise O’Keeffe.

One Woman’s Fight for Justice

 

Louise O'Keeffe

Louise O’Keeffe (Pic:: Courtpix)

Louise O’Keeffe describes herself as an ordinary West Cork woman and mother of two children. Yet this extraordinary woman took the Irish government to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which in January 2014 found in her favour in a landmark judgement.

Louise had fought a long 20 year battle through  the Irish courts to get civil redress for the sexual abuse which she suffered in Dunderrow Primary School in Co Cork in the early 1970s for which her school principal Leo Hickey was convicted.  In 1998, Mr Hickey was charged with 386 criminal offences of sexual abuse involving 21 former pupils. He pleaded guilty to 21 sample charges and was sent to prison for three years.

Louise was deemed ineligible for compensation from the Residential Institutions Redress Board and so began her long journey, with the aid of her solicitor Ernest Cantillon, through the High Court, (January 2006), and the Supreme Court, (December 2008), which both ruled that the State was not liable.

Four Courts

The Four Courts, Dublin, seat of the Supreme Court

Following the Supreme Court decision, the State Claims Agency (SCA) wrote to 135 other people around the country who had made similar claims and effectively threatened to pursue them for legal costs if they did not drop their claims immediately. Many did drop their claims through fear of exposure to large legal costs!

Undaunted, Louise bravely continued her fight and on June 16th 2009 (Application no 35810/09) took her case to the ECHR which in January 2014 found the Irish State to be in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights for its failure to put in place any mechanism of State control to protect Irish schoolchildren from sexual abuse in relation to the abuse Louise had endured in primary school.

ECHR

European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg

On the day of the ECHR decision, Louise stated “This is a great day for the children of Ireland”. Two days later the then Taoiseach Enda Kenny on 30th January 2014 apologised to her for the “horrendous experience she had to go through” and he stated that she was “a woman of extraordinary commitment”.

There has been ongoing controversy about the Government’s interpretation of the ECHR’s finding. Many commentators such as the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and University College Cork’s Child Law Clinic suggest that the Government’s redress scheme is overly restrictive in its interpretation of the ECHR O’Keeffe finding. This appears to have now made it almost impossible for victims to qualify for redress as the State requires that a prior complaint of abuse must have existed in the school before the claimant was abused.

The Minister for Education appointed Justice Iarfhlaith O’Neill as an independent assessor to examine appeals where the State Claims Agency decided claims were ineligible. Justice O’Neill has sought an explanation from the Minister as to whether the rejection by the adversarial SCA, of many claims on the grounds of evidence of prior complaint was consistent with the ECHR O’Keeffe judgement. Very few cases have been settled under the State scheme to date.

Louise O’Keeffe will tell the story of her fight for justice at the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival on Thursday afternoon 2nd August at 2.30 pm at the Cathedral Visitor Centre. All are welcome.