Survivors welcome ‘accountability’ of St John Ambulance abuse review

Dr Geoffrey Shannon to review handling of historical abuse claims in paramedic organisation

Mick Finnegan was about 14 when he was abused by a senior figure in St John Ambulance. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Mick Finnegan was about 14 when he was abused by a senior figure in St John Ambulance. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

Survivors have welcomed an independent review into the handling of historical child sex abuse cases in St John Ambulance, which they hope will bring “accountablity” for past failings.

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 voluntary paramedic organisation from the 1950s until at least 2000.

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

Mick Finnegan, one of the survivors, said he welcomed the “accountability” that would come with the review.

“I feel in shock, because it’s taken this long for this finally to happen. It is a shame that St John Ambulance didn’t want to engage with the survivors,” he said.

“This is finally coming to a head. It’s about ensuring that if a child was to come forward now, they wouldn’t be ignored,” he said.

Mr Finnegan, who was sexually abused by the perpetrator in the late 1990s, reported the matter to the voluntary organisation at the time. “The culture of the organisation was toxic, there was no safeguarding,” he said.

Review

Speaking on Tuesday, he said he hoped the review would be “a turning point in getting some closure in my life,” and might help put an end to the “sleepless nights, the panic attacks, the nightmares”.

Paul Mulholland, who was also abused by the perpetrator, said he was “delighted” to hear Dr Shannon had been appointed to investigate the matter.

“Any of the officers there now, who knew about it, or did nothing at the time, I really think they should step down,” he said.

Martin Hoey, another survivor, said the independent review was welcome, “but it’s something that should have been done many years ago”.

The three men, represented by Coleman Legal Partners, are also taking civil cases against St John Ambulance over the past abuse.

In a statement, St John Ambulance Ireland (SJAI) said the purpose of the review was “to seek assurances from an independent expert that past complaints were properly dealt with”.

“Members of SJAI will offer full cooperation with the reviewer as he determines throughout the review process,” it said.

Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman said he wished to commend those who had come forward to date “at immense personal cost in some cases”.

“I would like to encourage anybody who has knowledge of these matters to come forward and speak with Dr Shannon,” he said.

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.