St John Ambulance ‘closing ranks’ in abuse inquiry, Dáil hears

Confidence expressed by Minister that review will result in truth being uncovered

Voluntary paramedic organisation St John Ambulance has been accused in the Dáil of "closing ranks," in response to an independent investigation into historical child sex abuse in the organisation.

Child law expert Dr Geoffrey Shannon is currently conducting a review into allegations of historical child sexual abuse in the organisation.

Sinn Féin TD Chris Andrews sharply criticised St John Ambulance's approach to the review, claiming the organisation was "closing ranks" in response to the controversy.

Mr Andrews questioned the level of engagement the organisation had with Dr Shannon’s review, and criticised the lack of publicity for the work.

The review was commissioned following reports by The Irish Times last year, which revealed several men had allegedly been sexually abused in the 1990s by a former senior figure in St John Ambulance. The alleged abuser, a man now in his 80s, was a senior figure in the organisation until at least 2000.

A number of further alleged victims have since come forward disclosing past child sex abuse by the same former senior figure, as well as abuse at the hands of other alleged perpetrators.

In recent weeks Dr Shannon has been conducting interviews with abuse survivors as part of the work, with a report expected to be finished early next year.

The stories of survivors abused as children in the organisation were “harrowing,” Mr Andrews told the Dáil, in a late sitting in the early hours of Friday.

There was a need for “more than just speeches,” to ensure that “those who have carried out these horrific sexual abuses are held to account, and also those who remain silent,” he said. “Survivors of sexual abuse should not have to face such barriers in the pursuit of justice,” he added.

The organisation was “indirectly” receiving thousands of euro in State funds, in fees for first-aid cover from sporting and community groups, who were provided with State funding, he said. Mr Andrews called for sporting and community groups “to withdraw from using St John Ambulance at events until this review is carried out”.

In response, Minister for Children Roderic O'Gorman said he had "absolute confidence" in Dr Shannon "to get to the bottom of this".

“I also think if Professor Shannon believes he’s not getting the cooperation he needs he will say that. He’s not going to allow himself be messed around by any organisation,” Mr O’Gorman said.

“If we get a situation where this organisation is not cooperating, this will be called out ... If Geoffrey Shannon comes to me or my department and says there is a real problem there, I will be happy to engage on that point,” he said.

Mr O’Gorman encouraged “anyone who has any knowledge within St John Ambulance to come forward” and contact Dr Shannon. He would seek to have the report published by the organisation once it was completed, he said.

In a statement, St John Ambulance said its board had commissioned the independent review, which would also evaluate current safeguarding practices.

Members of the organisation and its board were “fully cooperating with Dr Shannon, which includes the ongoing sharing of records, as he determines throughout the review process,” it said.