Former Terenure College rugby coach John McClean appeals against consecutive sentences for sexually abusing pupils

McClean (79) was convicted of sexually abusing 45 pupils at Dublin school between 1971 and 1993

The State has urged the Court of Appeal to consider whether allowing former Terenure College rugby coach John McClean to serve no additional jail time for abusing 22 additional victims, who came forward after the serial offender was first jailed in 2021, would have been “fair and just”.

McClean (79) was convicted of sexually abusing a total of 45 pupils – the highest number of complainants in a case before the Irish courts – over a period of more than 20 years. He has complained that the decision to impose consecutive sentences on him, totalling 12 years, was too severe.

However, counsel for the State on Monday told the Court of Appeal that any decision to make a second sentence imposed on him last year concurrent to a previous term “would not have been a reflection of [the victims’] suffering”.

McClean, of Casimir Avenue, Harold's Cross, Dublin, was sentenced by Judge Pauline Codd at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court in February 2021 for the abuse of 23 victims, before being further sentenced by Judge Martin Nolan in February 2023 for the abuse of 22 others.


When passing sentence, Judge Nolan said McClean’s four-year sentence will begin when his first sentence is served in February 2027. McClean will be approximately 84 years of age upon his release from prison.

The charges related to indecent assault and sexual assault committed between 1971 and 1993 when the appellant was a teacher at Terenure College, and all the complainants were pupils at the school.

Launching an appeal against the severity of the sentence imposed at the CCJ last year, Seán Guerin, SC, contended that the decision by Judge Martin Nolan in February 2023 to impose a consecutive four-year sentence was an error in principle.

He said that when the appellant was sentenced in relation to the first tranche of victims, the sentencing judge imposed sentences of four, three and four years, adding up to a total of 11, before suspending the final three years, arriving at a final sentence of eight years.

“That reflected the appropriate sentence for an elderly person for offending of this nature and gravity,” said Mr Guerin.

Mr Justice John Edwards interjected to say that the second tranche of offences that then came before the court almost doubled the number of victims, with 23 victims initially and then another 22.

“What would it say to those 22 who came forward and showed immense courage in coming forward if there were to be nothing additional? One has to be proportionate, but proportionality is a double-edged concept,” said Mr Justice Edwards, adding that it could not be contended that there should be no uplift to the sentence.

“But for a man of his age, an eight-year sentence is a considerable one, and the court could have marked that without going as far as it did,” said Mr Guerin.

Paul Murray SC, for the State, said that this was a unique case in Irish courts as he was not aware of any other case involving 45 victims in a period of over two decades, and he suggested that this had to be reflected in the sentencing approach by the courts. He said that 22 new people came forward after the first sentencing in 2021 and asked if it would have been fair and just to them if the new sentence had been run concurrently.

“It would not have been a reflection of their suffering, of their lifelong memories,” said Mr Murray.

Mr Justice George Birmingham said that the court would reserve judgment in the case, adjourning the matter for the Court of Appeal to listen to the DAR recording of the proceedings before Judge Codd and also to read the victim impact statements.

In January 2023, McClean affirmed guilty pleas to four counts of indecent assault relating to two boys during the 1980s, before going on the following month to plead guilty to a further 23 counts of abusing another 20 boys at the college between 1971 and 1992.

Most of the charges were of indecent assault, while two are of sexual assault which was carried out against a student in the 1990s. He had 96 previous convictions, all for indecent assault of young boys under the age of 18 who attended Terenure College.

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