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Abuser inflicted reign of terror

PAEDOPHILE school principal Donal Dunne cunningly masqueraded as a pillar of rural Irish society to inflict horrendous sexual and physical abuse on children entrusted to his care over a 45-year teaching career.

Dunne, 78 and retired, who was handed a two-year prison sentence at Tullamore Circuit Court last Tuesday, cloaked himself in respectability through his associations with the Church, the GAA, Fianna Fáil and the local golf club. It was that carefully-quilted cover that enabled him to carry out his abuses.

A former Christian Brother who left the order in 1957, he began his teaching career at Scoil Marino in Dublin in 1940 and held posts at 10 schools in all, up to his retirement in 1985 from the Sacred Heart Convent Secondary School in Tullamore.

So far, prosecutions have been successfully brought in relation to abuses at two schools. Tuesday's sentence, however, does not spell the end of investigations into Donal Dunne and gardaí are now probing alleged abuses in at least four other schools at which he taught.

Innuendo may have followed him for most of his working life, but even on Tuesday as word filtered through to his home town of Portarlington and nearby village of Walsh Island, where Dunne spent three years as principal there was still a palpable air of shock that this was the same man who had seemed a truly honest and decent individual.

Apart from his outwardly respectable image, Dunne also held considerable political sway. He was a Fianna Fáil activist and his brother-in-law, Pat Gorman, now deceased, was a Fianna Fáil councillor for Laois/Offaly, and a high-ranking official with Bord na Mona whose employment effectively built and sustained Walsh Island for three decades.

It was understandable that the people of Walsh Island would bury the gruesome truth; an alarming cover-up by the Church and Department of Education saw to it that they had no alternative. After a prolonged campaign of sexual abuse against young boys at six schools, and counting, Dunne's decision at the age of 75 to prey on a 12-year-old boy from his own community led, within a year, to his trial and conviction. It prompted his victims of three decades earlier to come forward and make official complaints. What followed was the discovery of a trail of sexual offences leading right back to the 1940s that had shattered the innocence and lives of a legion of young boys.

Not only did Dunne destroy his victims' innocence but he regularly humiliated them. One boy was brought to the top of the class to read a lesson aloud. Dunne openly put his hand down the boy's pants and molested him, in front of the rest of the class.

Outside of school, he abused whichever boy was unfortunate enough to be the front-seat passenger when Dunne drove a packed car home from matches. Another was asked to collect an item from a nearby church and followed by Dunne, who lured his victim to the choir loft and proceeded to molest him there. Such was his frenzy that he ripped one boy's pants from waistline to ankles.

But Dunne was not just a sexual abuser. He was violent and unforgiving too, even to girls. One victim, who attended a co-educational school where Dunne worked, said: ``There was one girl who was very shy and soft-spoken. If he couldn't hear her, he would ask her to go over to the far side of the schoolyard to shout out the answer to the question. He was a GAA fanatic and on Monday mornings would expect girls to know every result in the county that weekend. If they failed to answer, they were dealt with severely.''

In the Ireland of the 1940s to the 70s, children who dared question authority were harshly dealt with. One victim naive enough to think that the Mother Superior at his school would listen to his complaint of sexual abuse found himself on suspension. When the boy returned to school, the abuses began again and he complained again. This time he was expelled.

In the severe cold outside Tullamore Court on Tuesday, victims hugged each other. But the wait for justice was long and in many cases debilitating. Some had waited for 50 years.

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Both the Church and Department of Education received formal complaints about Dunne in 1982, yet he was allowed to pursue his teaching career through to retirement.

Gardaí received official complaints in 1969. An investigation was initiated but was abandoned without explanation.

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