St John Ambulance commissions review into historical abuse

Geoffrey Shannon to report on organisation’s handling of child sex abuse allegations

An independent review has been commissioned into the handling of historical child sex abuse allegations in St John Ambulance.

St John Ambulance has asked Dr Geoffrey Shannon, a leading child protection expert, to undertake the independent review, which is expected to take a number of months.

An investigation by The Irish Times last August revealed three men had been sexually abused by a senior figure involved in St John Ambulance in the 1990s. The abuse allegations made against the individual had been deemed founded by Tusla, the child and family agency.

The abuser, now in his 80s, was a senior figure in the Old Kilmainham division, and a member of the organisation from the 1950s until at least 2000, leaving under pressure to resign.


Two further alleged victims have since come forward claiming they were also sexually abused as children by the same man.

Two of the five survivors, who spoke to The Irish Times, said they had reported the alleged abuse to other senior figures in the voluntary paramedic organisation at the time.

The organisation asked Dr Shannon last December if he would consider undertaking the independent review into the historical abuse. The organisation's commissioner John Hughes, and board member David Strahan, met Dr Shannon to discuss the proposed review.

It is understood Dr Shannon had requested a number of changes to the proposed terms of reference, to ensure the review is sufficiently independent and robust. The finalised scope of the review was signed off in recent days.

The review will examine how the organisation handled any complaints when they were reported at the time, as well as when one survivor reported the abuse again in 2013.

It will seek to establish if there were any other reports made to the organisation about the perpetrator, either in writing or verbally to senior figures. It will examine whether the organisation received any reports of abuse or grooming about other individuals.

The investigation will also look at current child protection practices in the organisation. The work will include a review of files, interviews with current and former members of the organisation, and confidential meetings with survivors.

Dr Shannon served as the Government’s special rapporteur on child protection from 2006-2019, producing annual reports flagging concerns or failings in the area of child protection.

He was one of the lead authors of a damning review into deaths of 196 children in State care between 2000 and 2010. He also conducted a review into the use of emergency powers by Garda to remove children from their parents, which was highly critical of poor co-operation between gardaí and Tusla.

Previously, Minister for Children Roderic O'Gorman told Senator Lynn Ruane he would give consideration to a scoping inquiry into the past abuse in St John Ambulance.

In a meeting with Mr O’Gorman last December, the organisation committed to beginning an external review into the historical abuse, according to minutes of the meeting obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

The voluntary organisation said it took the matter “very seriously”, and to its knowledge “all assaults related to one volunteer”, minutes stated.

“A look back of records did not elicit any other knowledge of complaints. The general view amongst staff and volunteers was that, in the past, there was no knowledge of sexual abuse in the organisation,” the meeting heard.

It is understood Department of Children officials had privately expressed frustration in recent weeks at the organisation’s delay in signing off on the independent review.

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is a reporter with The Irish Times