No law changes being considered following St John Ambulance abuse scandal

New allegations former senior figure targeted young boys in the first aid organisation as far back as early 1960s

The Department of Children is not considering any “legislative change” to give the State child protection agency further powers to audit youth organisations, in the fallout of a major child sex abuse scandal in St John Ambulance.

A scathing independent report recently found the first aid organisation for years had failed to intervene, despite significant knowledge of the risk a former senior figure posed to children.

The alleged abuser, a former senior figure in the Old Kilmainham division in Dublin, is alleged to have sexually abused more than 16 boys between the early 1960s and late 1990s.

The report, by Dr Geoffrey Shannon SC, found the organisation’s structure and culture “facilitated” potential grooming of children, and “failed to intervene or investigate despite evidence of potential risks”.


It also criticised current standards in the voluntary organisation, such as failures in its Garda vetting system and the handling of several contemporary child protection cases.

Tusla, the child and family agency, came under fire in the wake of the report over previous assurances it had provided about current policies and standards in St John Ambulance.

In response, Tusla said it did not have powers to audit how youth organisations were implementing child protection policies, apart from reviewing the policies on paper.

In a meeting with the agency on March 22rd, Lara Hynes, department assistant secretary general, said officials were “not currently considering any legislative change” on foot of the Shannon report.

Tusla told the meeting it was working on a new policy covering institutional or “organisational abuse”, according to minutes released to The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act.

Separately, further abuse allegations have been made against the former senior officer in St John Ambulance dating back to the early 1960s.

The latest claims suggest the man allegedly targeted young boys in the voluntary organisation nearly a decade earlier than previously known.

Despite there being a “significant degree” of awareness about the risks he posed during the 1990s, the senior figure only left the organisation about 2000, after one survivor reported being sexually abused by the man.

In the wake of the report’s findings in March around a dozen further survivors came forward to report alleged abuse in the first aid organisation.

One former youth member, who did not wish to be named publicly, told The Irish Times he was targeted by the former senior figure in the early 1960s.

The man said he was about 11 years old when he joined the organisation in 1959, in a unit run by the alleged perpetrator.

On one occasion as a cadet the man said he and another boy had to stay in the senior figure’s home overnight, before travelling down to Cork for a first aid competition the next morning.

“Sometime during the night he came in, he lay on the bed beside us” he said. The man alleged that after climbing into bed beside them the volunteer began to masturbate.

“I didn’t know what it was and I was afraid, I was totally naive as well,” he said. The former youth member said at the time he jumped up out of the bed and said he wanted to go home.

“He never physically did anything to me . . . I kept away from him, I never told my parents,” he said.

Tusla has previously deemed allegations the former senior figure sexually abused two children in the mid-1990s to be “founded”, following an investigation in recent years.

In response to the Shannon report, St John Ambulance apologised to survivors of abuse and committed to introduce a series of reforms of its current child protection policies.

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is a reporter with The Irish Times