Any delay in release of abuse report into St John Ambulance ‘unacceptable’ - survivors

At least eight men have alleged abuse at hands of former senior figure in first aid organisation

Any delay in the publication of an independent report into historical child sex abuse in St John Ambulance by the board of the first aid organisation would be “unacceptable”, survivors and Opposition politicians have said.

Child law expert Dr Geoffrey Shannon is in the final stages of an inquiry into past abuse in the organisation, which is expected to be completed within a matter of weeks.

The report was commissioned by St John Ambulance following an investigation by The Irish Times that revealed several men had allegedly been sexually abused by a former senior figure in the organisation in the 1990s.

Mick Finnegan (39), one of the first survivors to come forward publicly, said it would be “unacceptable” for the organisation to refuse to publish the report, or delay releasing it for weeks or months. “Myself and the survivors are worried that they would try to bury this report,” he told The Irish Times.

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Any attempt to heavily redact the report prior to publishing it would be viewed as an effective cover-up of its findings, he said.

Mr Finnegan alleged he had been abused as a young teenager by the former senior figure in the mid-1990s, and reported the abuse to officers in the organisation at the time.

“I lost so much coming forward, I lost the relationship with my family, nobody believed me. I ended up homeless… Even now I still struggle, all I wanted was support,” he said.

He has spent 24 years – more than half of his life – looking for St John Ambulance to be held accountable. “This report wouldn’t have happened if the first survivors didn’t come out publicly and share our stories… We just want the truth,” he said.

The alleged perpetrator, now aged in his 80s, was part of the Old Kilmainham division in Dublin and a member of the organisation from the 1950s until about 2000. At least eight men to date have alleged they were molested by the man in St John Ambulance.

The sexual abuse is alleged to have happened while on first aid duties, in the back of ambulances, in the man’s home, as well as on weekend trips organised for groups of youth members by the individual, where alcohol would be supplied.

Several survivors recalled how the alleged abuse would begin under the guise of first aid training, where the man would demonstrate how to take a person’s pulse at the femoral artery along the upper thigh and groin.

Sinn Féin TD Chris Andrews, who has raised the matter in the Dáil, said when the report was completed and issued to the organisation it should be published without delay. It would be “unacceptable” to hold up releasing the report or redact any of Dr Shannon’s work, he said.

The organisation should not be allowed to use any legal excuse to try to withhold the report, he said. “It has to be published in full as a matter of urgency. I’ve no doubt that when it is published, more people will come forward,” the Dublin Bay South TD said.

Nearly two years on from the first media report detailing the abuse allegations, survivors continue to come forward.

Speaking to The Irish Times this week, an eighth alleged victim claimed he had also been sexually abused as a child by the former senior figure in the late 1970s. “I was a lonely kid with no friends, to say I would have been vulnerable would have been putting it mildly,” he said.

The alleged victim, who did not wish to be named publicly, alleged he was molested by the man in an ambulance during first aid duty at Mondello Park racing track.

The complainant said he had been about 13 years old and claimed the accused had supplied him with alcohol beforehand. He alleged the former senior figure had been accompanied by an “accomplice” during the incident, who had been a younger adult volunteer.

“I couldn’t go home and tell my parents… Kids weren’t listened to in those days,” he said. “I buried it for over 40 years… I find I’ve been an observer in my own life, I’ve never been able to enjoy things,” he said.

Looking back now the man said the accused’s inappropriate behaviour had been “blatant”. At the time it appeared local units were run as the “personal kingdoms” of senior officers, with little central oversight or accountability, he said.

Some former volunteers who have provided evidence to Dr Shannon’s inquiry have disclosed there was a cloud of suspicion hanging over the former senior figure during his time in the organisation. In one case a man came forward to report that when he was a youth member his unit leader advised him to stay away from the alleged perpetrator during first aid duties.

In a statement, St John Ambulance said its board “remains committed to publishing the report for public consumption after the obligatory legal scrutiny is conducted”.

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is a reporter with The Irish Times