Fears dozens of boys abused in Donegal by child sex ring
Published 20/07/2011 | 05:00
GARDAI have begun an investigation into an organised child sex ring amid claims dozens of young boys were abused for more than a decade by school caretaker Michael Ferry and other paedophiles.
The Irish Independent has learned officers in Co Donegal are now probing claims against at least four other suspected paedophiles linked to Ferry.
The 56-year-old raped four boys after being allowed back to his job at the Ard Scoil Mhuire Irish language summer school in Gweedore despite having a conviction for the sexual assault of a pupil.
Details of the garda inquiry emerged as Justice Minister Alan Shatter confirmed that gardai informed the then North Western Health Board of Ferry's first conviction and also expressed concerns to the school's owner.
A director of the school, Donal O Loinsigh, last night confirmed management were aware of Ferry's previous conviction when they gave him his job back.
In a statement, he claimed Ferry was not a member of staff, but was allowed do "odd jobs" at the school under supervision. "Everybody was informed. This was no secret. If he had to do something he was well-monitored," Mr O Loinsigh said.
Today the directors of the school rejected that Mr Ferry continued in his role as caretaker following his conviction and sentencing for sexual assault in 2002.
However, they admitted that while he was dismissed from the role following his arrest in 2001, Mr Ferry did conduct building work when the school was empty.
They also confirmed that he assisted in aspects of adult courses but not junior courses, in a statement.
The directors also expressed their deepest regret to the victims of Mr Ferry for “the pain, suffering and distress experienced by them by his criminal actions.”
The Irish Independent has learned concerns were expressed about Ferry's behaviour as far back as 1979 when he was a student priest. Ferry was expelled from a seminar because of a "lewd sex act".
He was first convicted in 2002 at Letterkenny District Court of sexually abusing a young boy at the school.
However, although placed on the sex offenders register, he escaped with a non-custodial sentence and a €500 fine. A representative of the school was in court for the hearing.
After returning to work, he continued abusing boys at the school premises.
Earlier this week, he was jailed for 14 years after pleading guilty to 38 sample charges of rape and molestation between 1990 and 2005. Although those charges only related to four victims, gardai fear Ferry may have abused as many as a dozen boys.
A source close to the inquiry said: "We believe there were many more victims who have not yet come forward. We are also investigating allegations relating to four other suspected abusers who are linked to Ferry.
"It appears -- from the allegations made so far -- a paedophile ring was being operated in this area.
"Ferry took pictures of his victims when they were being abused -- in cases like this, it is often to share with other paedophiles."
Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald last night said she had received a preliminary report from the Health Service Executive (HSE) and that it "raised serious questions".
The HSE said it was "reviewing" its involvement in relation to the case. Ferry, who lived alone in Carrickboyle, close to the school, showed no remorse when he was finally confronted with the allegations by gardai.
One victim, Derek Mulligan, who waived his right to anonymity, praised Mr Shatter for raising the issue with gardai yesterday. "I just can't understand how Ferry got his job back and then continued to abuse me and others," he said.
Mr Mulligan (24) also said he was "certain" other paedophiles abused children with Ferry. "It wasn't just him. There were other people too."
Mr Shatter said he had been informed by the Garda Commissioner that records showed on October 16, 2002, that the then health board were informed by the gardai, in accordance with the Children First guidelines, of Ferry's conviction and of where he was believed to be working.
The minister said it was the "clear recollection of gardai" that the owner of the school was in court for the criminal proceedings.
In addition, a garda subsequently spoke to the owner of the school about the conviction and expressed his concerns about Ferry continuing to work there. Mr Shatter said: "This makes it all the more necessary for those who chose to continue the employment of this person to explain themselves."