The European Court of Human Rights on Tuesday found Ireland liable for sexual abuse suffered by a girl at the hands of the principal of a Catholic-run state primary school in the 1970s.
The case centred on the responsibility of the state for the abuse of then nine-year-old Louise O’Keeffe at Dunderrow National School in Cork in 1973.
“The Court found that it was an inherent obligation of a Government to protect children from ill-treatment, especially in a primary education context,” the Strasbourg-based court said in its ruling.
“That obligation had not been met,” it said.
O’Keeffe, now 49, said was “delighted” that the Irish state had been held accountable by the European court.
“I think it’s very important for the schoolchildren in our country. It’s the children in the schools that this case was fought for,” she told RTE national radio.
“It was fought for the protection of the boys and girls at a very young age who should simply be protected.”
But her lawyer Ernest J. Cantillon said the fact that the Irish state was “continuing to fight” O’Keeffe was worrying “because it signals an ongoing attempt to distance itself from responsibility”.
The case could lead to compensation claims from over 200 Irish victims abused by employees of the state, according to media reports in Ireland.
The majority of Irish children attend schools that are state-funded but privately managed by religious authorities, most of them Catholic.
The court found that the state had continued to entrust the management of primary education to such schools despite being aware of the sexual abuse of children by adults before the 1970s.
The judgement said the state had failed to “put in place any mechanism of effective state control against the risks of such abuse occurring”.
O’Keeffe was awarded 30,000 euros ($41,000) in damages and 85,000 euros to cover her legal costs.
Ireland has been rocked by a series of official investigations in recent years that have lifted the lid on decades of sexual, physical and emotional abuse in institutions run by the Catholic Church.