LOUISE O’Keeffe will be the first Cork person to receive the Spirit of Mother Jones Award at a festival in Shandon next week.
West Cork woman O’Keeffe campaigned for 15 years to get civil redress for the sexual abuse she suffered at Dunderrow Primary School for which her school principal Leo Hickey was convicted.
She was deemed ineligible for compensation from the Residential Institutions Redress Board. She also fought this through the High Court and Supreme Court to no avail.
She continued her fight and in June 2009 took her case to the European Court of Human Rights.
In January 2014, the court found the Irish State to be in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights for its failure to put in place a mechanism to protect Irish schoolchildren from sexual abuse.
The Award has been presented to people who are deemed to act “in the spirit” of Shandon-born US labour rights organiser, Mary Harris, who has become known across the globe as Mother Jones.
Previous winners include Margaret Aspinall and Sue Roberts of the Hillsborough Family Support Group (2013); Guildford Four solicitor Gareth Peirce (2014); Fr Peter McVerry (2015); Durham Miners’ Association general secretary Dave Hopper (2016); Ken Fleming of Transport Workers Federation (2017) and anti-apartheid striker Mary Manning (2018).
James Nolan, spokesperson for the Cork Mother Jones Committee, said Ms O’Keeffe’s story and legacy is deserving of the 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."
The 2019 Award will be presented to Ms O’Keeffe on Wednesday, July 31, at 2pm following the festival's opening ceremony at the Maldron Hotel in Shandon.