Three members of the board of St John Ambulance are to step down, in the wake of a highly critical report on historical child sex abuse in the first-aid organisation, Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman has told the Seanad.
A major report, by Dr Geoffrey Shannon SC, found the organisation had failed to act on concerns children were being abused 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.
[ ‘I lost everything, nobody believed me’: The full story of abuse allegations at St John Ambulance ]
Speaking in the Seanad on Wednesday, Mr O’Gorman said the actions of St John Ambulance “fell far short” of its obligations in responding to allegations of child sexual abuse reported to the organisation.
The Minister said it was “extremely regrettable” that it required an independent review and consistent campaigning from survivors, “to bring about an acceptance for the requirement for change” internally.
John Hughes, commissioner of St John Ambulance, had written to Mr O’Gorman in recent days to outline that the voluntary body accepted the report’s findings and recommendations in full, he said.
“In addition to this, three members of the current board of St John Ambulance have indicated their intention to resign”, the Minister said.
He added he would urge Garda Commissioner Drew Harris and the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) “to consider in detail” the findings of Dr Shannon’s report.
In a 24th March letter to the Minister, St John Ambulance said those stepping down were chair of the board David Strahan, Richard Ensor and Charles O’Reilly.
“These are the three-longest serving board members, who agreed to stay in their roles in order to assist with the delivery of the Dr Shannon report,” the letter said.
The correspondence, seen by The Irish Times, said the three board members were fully committed to reforms.
“As such, they believe that having overseen the publication of the report and the response document, now is the right time for the board to be refreshed,” it said
Mr O’Gorman said officials from his department and Tusla, the child and family agency, had recently met with representatives of the board of St John Ambulance to discuss the report.
He said his department would continue to work with the organisation “to seek the full implementation” of all recommended reforms.
Survivors of abuse in St John Ambulance and both Opposition and Government politicians have called for the entire board of the organisation to step down, in the fallout of the report.
Fine Gael Senator Mary Seery-Kearney said the fact St John Ambulance continued to robustly defend legal claims for compensation from survivors was “shameful”.
“Until such time as they have a very clear bill of health, they do not deserve to be [providing first aid] at any sporting event,” she told the Seanad.
There was “no excuse” for any organisation working with children not to seek to “root out” whether historical abuse had occurred in its ranks in the past, she said.
In response to the report last week, St John Ambulance issued an “unreserved apology” to survivors, accepting its structures had “facilitated” the grooming and abuse of children in the past.
The report had 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.
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.
The review was commissioned in early 2021, following reporting by The Irish Times detailing historical child sex abuse in the organisation.
The Tusla helpline for anyone affected by abuse in St John Ambulance can be contacted on 045 839375