Bill Kenneally case ‘one of the most serious’ inquiries into paedophilia in Ireland

Senior garda gives evidence to commission about investigation into jailed former sports coach (72)

A garda who led investigations into child sexual abuse claims against Bill Kenneally has agreed with the chair of an inquiry that it was “one of the most serious cases of paedophilia” uncovered in Ireland.

Chief Supt Anthony Pettit also said it was the most serious case of widespread abuse he had investigated and one of the largest in the State.

Former High Court judge Michael White, who is chair of a State-established commission of investigation, said the boys who encountered Kenneally, a former sports coach, were defenceless and would warn younger children about him.

Kenneally (72) is serving prison sentences of more than 18 years for abusing 15 boys between 1979 and 1990.


Responding to questions from lawyers representing some of Kenneally’s victims, Chief Supt Pettit said there was no evidence to support prosecuting any individual over withholding information in relation to claims against Kenneally.

‘Huge distinction’

The garda, who led two investigations into abuse claims against Kenneally, said there was a “huge distinction” between a moral duty to report claims of abuse and finding someone had committed a criminal offence by not alerting the authorities.

“I think there were certainly people who were turning a blind eye to it [Kenneally’s abuse] and who should have come forward,” he said.

However, he said his team found no evidence, “or certainly no evidence that would hold up in a criminal case”, to charge anyone with perverting the course of justice.

The Government established the commission of investigation in 2018 to examine the response of State and other agencies to allegations against Kenneally. Some victims have alleged there was past collusion between gardaí, the Catholic Diocese of Waterford and Lismore, the former South Eastern Health Board and unnamed political figures that prevented him from being arrested and charged years earlier.

Pleaded guilty

Kenneally, of Laragh, Summerville Road, Waterford, pleaded guilty in 2016 to 10 sample charges of sexually abusing 10 teenage boys in the Waterford area between 1984 and 1987.

It emerged during the case that two senior Waterford gardaí were informed in 1987 that Kenneally had abused another boy but no formal complaint was made at that stage. The commission conducted its hearings in private until last week due to the involvement of vulnerable witnesses and to prevent prejudicing further criminal proceedings that were initiated against Kenneally in 2019.

He pleaded guilty on the sixth day of his trial last May to 13 sample charges among 266 alleged offences involving five boys in Waterford, Cork and Kilkenny between 1978 and 1993. A further 4½ years were added to the 14-year term previously imposed on him.

Chief Supt Pettit, who now has responsibility for Waterford/Kilkenny/Carlow divisions, told the inquiry that 29 boys, and possibly more, had been abused by Kenneally. He said his team had “never encountered” anybody who wanted to pursue Kenneally through the courts prior to December 2012, when Jason Clancy filed a complaint about being abused as a teenager on dates between 1984 and 1988.

He said the investigators then found “a number of people who had some knowledge” about Kenneally’s abuse.

Perverting course of justice

In response to questions from barrister Barra McGrory, for some of the victims, Chief Supt Pettit said he did not believe the “evidential threshold’ had been met to recommend that Kenneally’s cousin, former Fianna Fáil TD Brendan Kenneally, or anyone else, should have been charged with perverting the course of justice.

The commission heard claims that Brendan Kenneally was made aware of allegations against his cousin in 2002. Chief Supt Pettit said the evidence appears to be that a family approached Brendan Kenneally in 2002 to inform him of the abuse, but the family indicated they did not wish to go to gardaí at the time.

He said he was not aware of anyone who wanted to report abuse to An Garda Síochána who was prevented from doing so by any individual.

Chief Supt Pettit agreed with solicitor Ray Motherway, for two other victims, that unidentified gardaí had inadequately responded in 1985 to a then 14-year-old who said he had tried to report abuse by Kenneally.

The victim said he attended Waterford Garda station and was told to return with his parents but he never went back. Chief Supt Pettit concurred with Mr McGrory that Kenneally’s abuse of children was “systemic” over decades.

The inquiry continues.

Ellen O'Riordan

Ellen O'Riordan

Ellen O'Riordan is an Irish Times reporter