The Supreme Court decided today that Louise O’Keeffe will not have to pay the State’s legal costs after losing a legal action for damages as a result of sexual abuse by a teacher.
Louise O’Keeffe was eight years old in 1973 when she was sexually assaulted by her headmaster, Leo Hickey, who inflicted appalling damage on her. This abuser was subsequently convicted, in 1998, of 21 sample abuse charges involving 21 girls, from a total of 380 charges. In other words, Leo Hickey is a mass rapist and child abuser.
That same year, Louise O’Keeffe instituted proceedings against the State and also against her abuser, Hickey, whose salary was paid by the State. The government contested the case on the grounds that it had no liability. Hickey, though paid from public funds, was employed by the local bishop because the school was run by the Catholic diocese. The State won and Louise O’Keeffe was faced with a huge legal bill. I don’t know why Louise didn’t sue the bishop as well, but this detail turned out to be crucial.
Strangely, though the State denied all liability in this matter, it was agreeing at the very same time to underwrite the costs of the Catholic church in regard to children abused in residential institutions.
The logic of this was that, since the State had placed these children in the hands of the sex abusers, the State bore some responsibility. Oddly enough, the State had responsibility for the children it placed in residential confinement, but not to children such as Louise O’Keeffe, brutally sexually abused by a man actually in the pay of the State.
Sadly, the other victims of Hickey’s crimes now seem to have no remedy because, in waiting for Louise’s test case to be decided, too much time passed. It appears that a case against the diocese would be statute barred, unless the diocese decided to make a Christian gesture and compensate Hickey’s victims as a gesture of human compassion and kindness. Going on the evidence so far, Christian compassion and kindness don’t seem to be areas the Catholic church has much expertise in.
We ended up carrying all of the responsibility for the residential institutions, as it turned out, since Bertie Ahern was in such a magnanimous mood towards his former employers, the Mercy nuns, one of whose members conducted the negotiations.
The cost to the taxpayer of this agreement is now somewhere in the order of €1,200 million, while the Catholic church’s contribution was limited to €128 million, in a secret agreement reached between Dr Michael Woods and the clergy. Furthermore, the church’s cash contribution is nowhere near the agreed €128 million, because much of this figure was offset against the value of church-owned lands previously transferred to State ownership. Lands whose monetary value could never be realised by the State. In other words, you and I and every other taxpayer are down €1.2 billion to bail out an abusing institution, much like we bailed out the banks, except that the banks have muttered some sort of grudging apologies and some of the bankers have resigned.
Not so the State, I’m afraid. The good news for Louise O’Keeffe comes on the same day that the Children’s ombudsman, Emily Logan, has announced suspension of the investigation into the child abuse audit by the Department of Health and the HSE. This was intended to establish exactly how the Catholic dioceses were dealing with child abuse issues.
Here’s what he Ombudsman’s office has said:
Since the investigation commenced four months ago, the HSE has failed to provide any of the documentation requested by the Ombudsman for Children. Despite a public statement and private assurances of its cooperation, the HSE has not engaged with the investigation by the Ombudsman for Children’s Office.
The Health Service Executive, it seems, tried to conduct all correspondence with the Ombudsman’s office through senior counsel, costing thousands a day, and Ms Logan quite properly told them to get stuffed.
One of the problems with the original child protection audit was that the bishops refused to complete all of the sections on the questionnaire.
So there you have it. A lot of denial is going on.
The State denies responsibility for child victims like Louise O’Keeffe because such people have no power and because no clergy were in need of protection with the taxpayer’s money.
The bishops refuse to fill out a simple form.
The Health Service Executive refuses to cooperate with the Ombudsman for children.
On the other hand, there was a big, big yes!! when Sister Helena O’Donoghue came looking for €1.2 Billion of your money to cover the clergy’s exposure as a result of abusing thousands of children in their slave-labour camps. Could that have been because Bertie used to work for Helena as a book-keeper?