The Irish media have been universally welcoming yesterday’s verdict from the European Court of Human Rights on the case taken by Louise O’Keeffe.
Louise suffered abuse as a child in school and originally took a case against the Irish state for its failure to adequately protect her.
She lost the case and appealed unsuccessfully in both the High Court and Supreme Court in Ireland.
Undeterred, she took the case to Europe and the helpful and achingly politically correct judges there ruled in her favour that this was a breach of her human rights and the state should compensate her accordingly (Louise had previously been awarded €300,000 from her abuser in a civil action and £53,000 from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Tribunal).
This raises two issues for me.
Firstly I think Europe should just bugger off and mind their damn business.
While I’m generally in favour of the European project, I think the bureaucrats in Europe should occupy themselves with the business of pan-European issues and leave individual states to govern themselves.
Secondly, once again, we have a case of the past being measured by the standards of today.
Of course no child should suffer abuse at the hands of professionals charged with their care but it’s difficult to see how the state is culpable on this occasion.
Up until recently, the state did not involve itself in the administration of schools.
This was left, rightly or wrongly in the hands of the religious orders. Whether the state should have administered schools directly is not the issue here.
In the Ireland of the early seventies the Catholic Church played a pivotal role in education and health care and was the moral authority in society as a whole.
It was expedient for the state to leave the running of the majority of its schools to the religious orders and they had the structures in place to do this through the school boards.
There was an inherent trust in the Church and a sense of innocence or perhaps naivety characterised the time.
In the Ireland of today, we have lost that innocence, having witnessed the abuse scandals that undermined the very foundations of the Church. There is an acceptance that that evil exists in our society, that children need to be actively protected and that it is the state’s responsibility to do so where they are under their care.
Yet this is a relatively modern belief.
If all the children who were pushed up chimneys or sent out to work or left to care for themselves in the past petitioned the European Court of Human Rights, I’m sure they would also have successful outcomes.
It’s simply impossible to judge the past from the vantage point of the present, particularly when it concerns something as fluid and mutable as rights.