Brendan Smyth may have abused more than 200 children

Inquiry in North hears notorious paedophile priest abused children for decades

The Historical Institutional Abuse (HIA) inquiry in the North heard on Monday that paedophile priest Brendan Smyth admitted that he could have sexually abused more than 200 children during his period in the religious life.

Junior counsel for the inquiry Joseph Aiken said that new information had emerged from its investigations about Smyth including how after his arrest he told a doctor in 1994 that more than 200 children may have been abused by him.

Mr Aiken said that Smyth admitted that over his years in the religious life that he could have sexually abused 50-100 children” and that “number could even be double or perhaps even more”. The abuse is believed to have run from the late 1940s to the early 1990s.

Mr Aiken said that Smyth was convicted of 117 cases of indecent assault against 41 children in the North and South. There were 74 convictions against 20 children in the Republic and 43 convictions against 21 children in Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland convictions were between 1964 and 1984 and the Southern convictions between 1967 and 1993.


Mr Aiken referred to how Smyth also spent time in Wales, Scotland and the United States where he faced allegations of “similar abuse” and that there were many more allegations against Smyth, some of which he accepted.

“The reality is that it will never be properly known how many lives his compulsive offending blighted,” said Mr Aiken in opening the inquiry module focusing on sexual abuse carried out by Smyth in Northern Ireland care homes.

Mr Aiken referred to a comment of the British philosopher John Stuart Mill, often attributed in modified form to Edmund Burke, “Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends than that good men should look on and do nothing.”

Mr Aiken said that the inquiry must consider from the evidence against Smyth whether the policy of the Catholic Church was to protect the Catholic institutions rather than the children they were meant to serve,

He said the inquiry would hear about “systemic failings” of the Catholic Church which may have “caused, facilitated or failed to prevent his abuse”.

Mr Aiken said that the HIA must consider whether this was a “story of a “litany of missed opportunities” to deal with Smyth by a number of individuals in “positions of considerable trust, power and influence”.

The inquiry also heard how suspicions against Smyth, who was ordained in 1951, went back to the late 1940s when he was a clerical student in Rome. It also heard that prior to his becoming a priest there were some concerns expressed about whether he was suitable for ordination.

This week the inquiry will hear evidence from the retired Archbishop of Armagh, Cardinal Sean Brady who as far back as 1975 heard allegations of sexual abuse against Smyth and also from Father William Fitzgerald of the Norbertine Order, of which Smyth was a member.

The inquiry is particularly examining how Smyth carried out sexual abuse at three care homes, Rubane House Boys Home, run by the De La Salle Order in Kircubbin, Co Down, and homes on the Ormeau and Ravenhill roads in Belfast run by the Sisters of Nazareth.

Smyth, who died in prison of a heart attack in 1997, was arrested in 1991 over allegations of abuse in the North. He evaded facing court by staying at the Norbertine Kilnacrott Abbey in Co Cavan. His case led to the collapse of the Fianna Fáil-Labour coalition Government in 1994 over delays in his extradition from the Republic to Northern Ireland.

He served three years in prison in the North and upon release was extradited to the Republic. He was serving a 12-year sentence when he died in prison.

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times