St John Ambulance structures ‘facilitated’ child abuse, says Shannon report

Published date17 March 2023
One by one, more men came forward with their stories of how they alleged they had been sexually abused as children in St John Ambulance

A major report, published yesterday, has found the voluntary first aid organisation failed to investigate concerns and suspicions children were at risk of abuse, in part to protect its reputation.

More than 15 men are alleged to have been sexually abused as children by one former senior figure in the organisation, who held a position of authority for decades.

The independent report by Dr Geoffrey Shannon SC, one of the country's leading child law experts, has found there was a "deep organisational awareness" at the time that children were potentially at risk from the man.

The report said a past culture of deference to rank meant senior officers could operate with "impunity", which Dr Shannon said "may have unwittingly facilitated predatory activities".

There was a failure to investigate the suspected sexual abuse and grooming of children for decades, despite "well established" awareness of "specific threats to child safety" posed by the former senior figure by the early 1990s.

St John Ambulance "could have, and should have, investigated suspicions and complaints of serious misconduct and victimisation", the report said.


The inquiry was commissioned in response to reporting by The Irish Times, that revealed several men had allegedly been sexually abused by the former senior figure in the organisation's Old Kilmainham division in south inner city Dublin.

The man, now in his late 80s, was a member of the organisation from the 1950s until about 2000, leaving after one survivor reported the alleged abuse in the late 1990s.

Tusla has deemed child sex abuse allegations made against the man to be "founded" following a statutory investigation by the child and family agency in recent years.

After more than a year and a half of work, Dr Shannon, a former Government rapporteur on child protection, sent a scathing report to the board of St John Ambulance last November.

The report found a desire in St John Ambulance to protect its reputation led to a "paralysis" in responding to serious complaints. This fear of taking action created an "organisational dysfunctionality in the management of suspected or known risks" to children, Dr Shannon wrote.

The historical abuse allegations largely related to the former senior figure who was involved in running the Old Kilmainham division.

Dr Shannon's report found there was a "culture of impunity from accountability" in the now-shut division, which had operated "with an unusually high degree of autonomy".

The organisation, which traces its history back to treating wounded during the 1916 Easter Rising, is best known for providing first aid at sporting matches and events.

The former senior figure is alleged to have groomed youth members - known as cadets - by bringing them on unofficial weekend trips away, supplying alcohol and providing teenage boys with part-time work.

The abuse is alleged to have often started under the guise of conducting first aid demonstrations on boys, which the report said was used as a "shield against potential scrutiny".

For Mick Finnegan (40), the abuse began in the mid-1990s when he...

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