Johnny Watterson: I do not buy the apology around paedophile John McClean

The dogs in the street knew yet his criminal career spanned three decades

"I am filled with zeal for the Lord God of Hosts." Well, it doesn't look like that from here. Feel free to be offended. Your prophet. Your words. The Carmelite Order, present in Ireland since the second half of the 13th century.

In their printed apology following the sentencing of former teacher and rugby coach John McClean for sexually abusing 23 boys from as young as 11-years-old there is a line that reads: "Terenure College and the Carmelite Order failed in their duty to protect them and for this we are truly sorry."

I believe the sentiment of Éanna Ó hÓbáin, the Terenure College principal and Michael Troy, the Prior Provincial of the Carmelite Order, is honourable and believe their apology is heartfelt and believe that they are truly and deeply sorry for the devastation caused to the boys and their families directly affected. But overall, I don't buy it.

I don’t buy it because McClean’s was an old play book. It was dog-eared and tatty. It has been used for decades, the same moves, the same excuses, the same seamy old reasons for doing nothing, the same blind eyes, the same foggy memories and the same spasms from self-protecting institutions unable or unwilling to act.


It’s the same old hoary chestnut. Boy makes complaint and nobody listens. Then they do listen. You think that might be the end of the matter, the end of McClean’s teaching career in Terenure. You think that because the complaint leads to the school principal of the time meeting the molested children’s parents the game is up.

The "dogs in the street" knew about McClean said a survivor, Damien Hetherington, who was abused in first year. But Leinster Rugby didn't know when he coached the Leinster schools in 1995 and the IRFU didn't know when he was made assistant to the Irish Schools side that toured Australia the same year. UCD didn't know when he was recruited as director of rugby after being told to leave Terenure in 1996.

They didn’t know despite McClean’s abusive career that galloped along at pace through the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. The carnage, as set out by the survivors, who finally put him in prison took place between 1973 and 1990. They didn’t know.

So back at the college. They sideline McClean from the costume department, where he used to fit the children for the school plays. This, in 1979, is six years into his criminal career. The Garda were unable to establish whether the former principal confronted McClean about abusing the boys or if he admitted to it. The former principal was unable to provide an account.

George Gibney

Just over a decade later swimmer Gary O'Toole would stand in a room in Dublin's Ashling Hotel with Chalkie White and the husband of a female swimmer, who Olympic coach George Gibney had sexually abused.

They would explicitly tell the Leinster Branch that Gibney was a predatory paedophile and needed to be taken out of swimming. The branch refused to remove Gibney. They specifically refused to remove him from holding a juvenile swimming gala the following month.

O’Toole wrote the following day to the parent body, the IASA to discuss “extremely disturbing information I have come across”. They declined to meet with their star swimmer. Even with the bald facts presented to them, no-one in the sport wanted to listen. The institutional playbook.

So, the Garda obtain McClean's file from the Carmelite Order. Not a single complaint of evidential value. However, Fr Robert Kelly, Provincial of the Carmelites at the time tells the Garda there had been an allegation and he had acted on it.

The court heard that after several meetings with McClean, the prized rugby coach was told he would not be returning after the summer break. Instead, he gets a job in UCD, where his area of influence extends to schoolboys’ dreams of getting into his rugby programme.

There remain simple, confusing questions. How was McClean allowed to remain so long in Terenure College? A complaint was made in 1979 and they didn’t ask him to leave until the mid-1990s?

What were Terenure thinking when they saw he had gained an influential post in the university? What, if any, was Terenure’s connection with UCD? Were there club connections, recommendations?

The IRFU, the Leinster branch and UCD rugby club all say they have not received any complaints of abuse against McClean. In a statement issued they said: “The crimes committed by John McClean are abhorrent and the devastation that his actions caused to so many people is unforgiveable.”

But is that good enough for a university ranked within the top 1 per cent of higher education institutions worldwide? Is it good enough from one of the top rugby clubs in Europe or good enough from Irish rugby's governing body?

“The dogs in the street knew,” said the survivor. “The dogs in the street.” Do we choose not to believe him? Again. Do we choose to re-victimise him by denying what he says is true?

In failing to protect children from McClean the Carmelite Order enabled him. In failing to address McClean quickly, they empowered him. In failing to remove him they emboldened him. That’s how a paedophile asked to leave a school can fill with zeal and step into a university job. That’s the way it is. I’m not buying it.