Long history of sex-abuse complaints in swimming

The mother was horrified. What her young teenage daughter had told her has become a modern parental nightmare

The mother was horrified. What her young teenage daughter had told her has become a modern parental nightmare. Her swimming coach had sexually assaulted her. It started with what might be termed a grope: the coach wanted to measure her pectoral muscles. But it didn't stop there.

It was late 1992. The club was connected to a Dublin secondary school. The horrified mother wrote a letter of alarmed complaint to the club. Following an investigation, the club told her there was no foundation for her daughter's complaints. The mother accepted the club's assurances.

But almost a year later the headmaster of the school where the club swimming pool was situated dispatched a missive to the coach, Derry O'Rourke.

"I have been made aware of certain complaints about your behaviour in the pool/changing room area in the past. Investigations are in progress. If these investigations prove to be of a serious nature, there could be serious consequences for the school.


"Pending the outcome of these investigations, it is my duty to tell you that you are suspended from work on full pay until further notice. You are not to enter the school premises as coach, lifeguard or parent until further notice from me."

A week later the secretary of the swimming club wrote to Garda Commissioner Patrick Culligan stating the situation surrounding O'Rourke.

The letter stated: "There was only one instance in the past 22 years of coaching to this committee's knowledge of a complaint by a family regarding their daughter which might have been construed as sexual, which was investigated by three committee members, who gave unanimous agreement that the complaint was mistaken and the incident without foundation."

Last December Derry O'Rourke pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting the young girl whose complaint had been investigated by the three committee members and discovered to be without foundation.

Sadly for some children who joined swimming clubs for fun and healthy exercise, Derry O'Rourke was not the only poolside paedophile stalking youngsters. In swimming circles, the case of another highly respected coach is now an eight-year-long scandal. It concerns George Gibney who, like O'Rourke, scaled the heights and coached the Irish Olympic team.

In December 1990 another coach was contacted by a swimmer trained by Gibney. The swimmer told the coach that Gibney had abused him. The coach decided to act and "approached an IASA [Irish Amateur Swimming Association, the sport's controlling body] executive member at the pool.

"I said I wanted advice and explained that I had heard a number of allegations concerning George. `I know where you heard them . . . [the victim was named],' said the official . . .

"A short time later I requested a meeting with Frank McCann as president of the Leinster branch. I met him outside the Aisling Hotel in Dublin. I had also heard rumours of other things, and had personal experience of a swimmer suffering from an eating disorder and who was threatening to take her life.

"He said that he `hoped to f. . . that it did not break while he was president'. He said that I could do nothing and neither could he. He also said I should back off and leave it alone."

The young swimmer the coach was talking about subsequently made a number of unsuccessful attempts to take her life. She was one of Gibney's victims. Last August McCann was convicted and jailed for murdering his wife and 18-month-old niece.

However, once the school where Gibney held his swimming lessons became aware of the allegations against him, they suspended him, in marked contrast to the attitude of the swimming association. In a furious letter to the IASA, one parent, Aidan O'Toole, father of Irish European silver medallist Gary O'Toole, gave an indication of parental feelings.

"Within the last 14 days," Mr O'Toole wrote in July 1993, "Mr Gibney has been charged with 27 offences. I would also like to remind you that Mr Gibney was in charge of a course held in Newpark [school] last December organised by the Leinster branch of the IASA. At this stage some of the officers knew about the pending charges."

The case against Gibney was discontinued. But he was later exposed when his victims, in sworn affidavits, told their stories in the Sunday Tribune. Gibney did not sue: he fled the country.

Not once has the IASA issued a statement in support of sex-abuse victims of swimming coaches. None has been contacted by the IASA to verify the authenticity of their claims. Not one official apology has been received from by any of the children who alleged that Gibney abused them.

No internal investigation has been initiated by the IASA to substantiate the claims. No significant change in procedure has taken place to ensure that children are protected in the sport. No effort has been made to provide counselling for victims who might need it - and many do.

No impact study has been initiated despite the fact that the majority of the approximately 6,000 members of the IASA are children.

Yesterday the Minister for Sport, Dr McDaid, told the Irish Amateur Swimming Association that he wanted to meet them . . . urgently and at the earliest possible date.

Last year the taxpayer, via the Government, gave the IASA £230,000.

Last August the former president of the Leinster branch of the IASA, Frank McCann, was convicted and jailed for murdering his wife and 18 month old niece.