The Department of Children has said its officials were giving “urgent consideration” to shortcomings in current child protection standards at St John Ambulance on foot of a highly critical independent report into the first aid organisation.
The report, by Dr Geoffrey Shannon SC, found the organisation had failed to act on concerns children were being abused in the past for years in order to try to protect its reputation.
It found there had been a failure to intervene despite significant knowledge of risks posed by a former senior figure in its Old Kilmainham division, who is now accused of molesting more than 15 boys between the late 1960s and 1990s.
Eleven people have contacted a helpline set up last Thursday by Tusla, the child and family agency, for survivors of abuse in St John Ambulance.
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The report also heavily criticised failings in St John Ambulance’s current child protection practices and policies, following a review of several cases of alleged child abuse in recent years.
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A culture resistant to change posed an “ongoing threat” to the first aid organisation being able to keep children safe in the present day, the report said.
A spokesman for the Department of Children said it was giving “urgent consideration” to the findings of Dr Shannon’s report.
Officials are in discussions with Tusla to look at what actions need to be taken based on the criticisms and concerns raised by Dr Shannon.
The department was focused on “immediately” addressing any shortcomings in current child protection policy in the organisation, the spokesman said.
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Anyone with ongoing concerns about safeguarding in St John Ambulance, or children at risk in the organisation, should report them to Tusla “as a matter of urgency”, he said.
The State agency has written to St John Ambulance seeking a meeting with the voluntary body this week to discuss the findings of the Shannon report.
Caoilfhionn Gallagher KC, the Government’s special rapporteur on child protection, is also expected to meet with the organisation’s board later this week.
The Oireachtas committee on children on Tuesday discussed plans to invite Tusla and St John Ambulance to a hearing to take questions on the controversy, with a decision expected in the coming days.
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In response to the report, St John Ambulance issued an “unreserved apology” to survivors, accepting its structures had “facilitated” the grooming and abuse of children in the past.
The inquiry had been commissioned in early 2021 following reporting by The Irish Times that revealed several men had been sexually abused by a former senior figure in St John Ambulance during the 1990s.
The Tusla helpline for anyone affected by abuse in St John Ambulance can be contacted on 045 839375