Order of Malta volunteers accused of abuse ‘should be suspended’

Internal review recommends that organisation ‘reinforce’ the need to report abuse to statutory authorities

Volunteers in the Order of Malta should be suspended from duty if they are accused of alleged abuse, an internal review of the first aid organisation’s child protection policies has recommended.

The internal review found the organisation needed to “reinforce timely and mandatory reporting” of child protection concerns or allegations to statutory authorities, as well as internally to its chief executive and board.

The organisation has been dealing with a child abuse controversy related to a former Co Kildare volunteer, Scott Browne (32), who was jailed for nine and a half years for sexually abusing two 15-year-old boys in separate incidents in 2018.

Another volunteer from Kildare, Jordan Murphy (22), was jailed for five and a half years in May 2022 for aiding and abetting Browne. The organisation’s board commissioned the internal review following the conclusion of his trial.


The review was to include an examination of child protection standards, as well the handling of two prior complaints made about Browne allegedly sexually assaulting other young men in the ambulance corps.

Despite the previous complaints about Browne, reported in 2015 and late 2017, he was not suspended as a volunteer until after gardaí opened an investigation into the abuse of the two 15-year-olds in May 2018.

The internal review was carried out by the organisation’s chief executive, John Byrne; his predecessor Peadar Ward; and an external figure, former Garda assistant commissioner Fintan Fanning.

It recommended that the organisation suspend any volunteer who is subject to an allegation and carry out a “prompt fact-finding investigation” as a preliminary response.

The organisation’s current policy states the immediate suspension of a member is permitted “where there is a risk to others,” a spokeswoman said.

In a letter to the organisation’s members on Tuesday evening, the Order of Malta said the review recommended it “reinforce” existing child protection policies, to ensure their importance is “clearly understood and followed by each member of the organisation”.

The correspondence, seen by The Irish Times, said the review recommended the organisation “fortify definitive reporting lines to ensure compliance and appropriate safeguarding frameworks are up to date”.

The review said obligations on members to “speak up” across the organisation needed to be improved, as well as ongoing training enhanced.

It also said an external child protection expert should be appointed “to undertake a robust examination” of all the recommended changes, as well as to address “any other issues” they felt required attention. The expert should draw up a “final action plan” for the board on the child protection reforms, it said.

There were tensions over the status of the review prior to a decision by a senior figure appointed by the religious order’s headquarters in Rome, FJ McCarthy, to disband the Irish organisation’s board last November and replace it with an executive steering group.

One member of the board, Prof Declan Downey, told the Charities Regulator afterwards he was “no longer confident” that “grave matters” about the handling of sexual abuse complaints “will ever come to light”, following the decision to disband the board.

In a November 21st letter, Prof Downey said that despite previous requests, a copy of the review had not been shared with the board, but instead sent to officials of the order in Rome for scrutiny.

When asked if the review had been shared with the new executive steering group, a spokeswoman for the organisation said it had been “brought to the attention” of the group.

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is a reporter with The Irish Times