Irish State must protect schoolchildren from sexual abuse and wider abuses of their rights
In an article in the Irish Times it is reported that the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has sent a Submission to the Council of Europe asking that the Louise O’Keeffe case be reconsidered to see whether the state is interpreting it correctly.
In the submission to the Council of Europe, IHREC says that Ireland has not complied fully with the European Court ruling in the Louise O’Keeffe case. IHREC says that the steps taken by Ireland have deprived abuse victims of access to an effective remedy.
Not only has the state deprived other alleged victims of access to an effective remedy, but they have ignored the wider implications of the case. Atheist Ireland had raised this issue in a Submission to the Council of Europe on the O’Keeffe case.
The judgement has the potential to lead to widespread change in the Irish Education system if it is implemented fully. The requirement that the Government must protect children in schools from sexual abuse, should also require the government to protect children in schools from all breaches of human rights.
The case thus has wider implications for the protection of Convention rights in relation to Article 2 of Protocol 1 (the right to education), Article 3 (the right to protection from abuse), Article 8 (the right to private and family life), Article 9 (freedom of conscience), Article 10 (freedom of expression) and Article 14 (freedom from discrimination).
This change could for the first time in our history ensure that the State protects and guarantees Convention rights in the education system in practice and in law, instead of ceding control to private patron bodies such as the Catholic Church.
The then Tanaiste, Eamon Gilmore recognised this when he stated in the Dail in January 2013 that:
“As the Deputy knows, the Supreme Court handed down a judgment on this case, I think, in 2009, certainly some time before we came into office. That was the legal position at the time. The Deputy raised the issue about the State accepting liability for current and future cases in terms of what happens in our schools. There are very significant implications in the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights. We have had a system in this country of schools operating under a system of patronage. My understanding of the Supreme Court judgment in 2009 was that it accepted that system of patronage and, therefore, ultimate liability did not rest with the State.
The judgment of the European Court of Human Rights has very serious implications for the relationship between the State and the patronage of our schools. As the Deputy knows, the Minister for Education and Skills has already undertaken a process of considering the whole issue of patronage of our schools. That issue will now be given an added significance by the judgment in this case. That is one of the issues. The Deputy raised the situation in terms of current and future responsibility by the State. That is among the issues that Government will have to consider arising from this judgment. The implications of it are profound for the patronage system of schools and for the relationship between the State and patrons of schools.”
Despite the above recognition that the judgement in the O’Keeffe case will have profound implications, the State has done nothing to ensure that Convention rights are protected in the education system. Protecting the Convention rights of all parents and children is not a priority for the State. The State is aware that our education system breaches the Convention rights of minorities, but they will not move to amend law and policy to ensure that they are protected.
The Irish State had the opportunity here to put matters right through our legal system. Instead they have decided to ignore the human rights of minorities, and continue to cede control of the education system to, in the main, the Catholic Church.