A man who was sexually abused as a child by a senior member at St John Ambulance has called for “real accountability” from the organisation, as a Garda investigation into the alleged paedophile’s activities intensifies.
Mick Finnegan, who first reported sexual abuse against a named perpetrator to gardaí and the organisation more than 20 years ago, described as “unacceptable” its recent offer to pay for six counselling sessions to sex abuse victims.
An independent review into historical child sex abuse at St John Ambulance is currently underway and Mr Finnegan and other victims are due to be interviewed next month as part of this examination. Dr Geoffrey Shannon, former special rapporteur on child protection, has been commissioned to conduct the review.
As part of this process, St John Ambulance offered to pay for counselling.
Tusla, the State child and family agency, had also investigated several child abuse complaints against the suspect, now aged in his 80s, and determined the allegations to be founded.
An investigation led by the Garda National Protective Services Bureau (GNPSB), is also at an advanced stage.
Earlier this month, the former senior figure in St John Ambulance was interviewed by specialist gardaí at a Dublin station in relation to allegations he sexually abused a juvenile in the voluntary paramedic organisation in the 1990s.
At least five men have alleged they were abused by the individual while they were members.
The alleged abuser, now in his late 80s, was a senior figure in the organisation for more than 40 years.
He was previously investigated twice by gardaí but has never been charged.
Sources say it is “notoriously difficult” to lay criminal charges for historic sex abuse because of a lack of evidence but the abuses alleged by Mr Finnegan and other men is “credible in its entirety and the suspect continues to be pursued”.
Mr Finnegan, now 38 and originally from Crumlin, said his abuser was a senior officer involved with the Old Kilmainham division.
“I joined when I was 12,” he told the Sunday Independent. “The abuse began almost as soon as I joined.
"His modus operandi was to use first aid as a reason to touch and sexually assault me. It started off as touching and escalated over time.”
“It escalated to a point where he beat me up when I was 14, then pinned me to a bed, face down, and raped me.
"He beat me up and raped me because I was rejecting his advances. It was vile. I had said: ‘No, I don’t want you to do this to my anymore.’”
The first-year Trinity student, who is studying to become a social worker, quit the organisation in order to escape his attacker.
He reported it to gardaí as well as St John Ambulance. He also told his family.
“But nobody wanted to know,” Mr Finnegan said. “Nobody believed me or wanted to listen to me.
"This was 1999. It wasn’t 1950s Ireland. But no-one cared about kids in the inner city getting abused in a socially and economically-deprived area.”
He added: “I remember coming home after the rape and asking my mother for Sudacrem, because I was bleeding from my back package. But my family thought I was making it up.
"I wasn’t his only victim. There was one lad, he had groomed him to an extent that he believed they were in a relationship.
"My life unravelled. I ended up homeless as a teenager, sleeping rough on the streets. What happened to me robbed me of my relationship with my family.”
Mr Finnegan feels it is important to speak candidly about the physical and emotional impact of sexual abuse.
“I still live with it. I’ve had problems my entire life maintaining relationships,” he said.
"I still have sleepless nights and wake up in the middle of the night screaming. I suffer from panic attacks, PTSD, all of it. I had to have an operation on my back passage in the UK years later, because of the damage done, I had an abscess.
"That is the reality of the aftermath of sexual abuse and people need to understand that. It never ends.”
Mr Finnegan was the first person to go public about being sexually abused by the volunteer at St John Ambulance.
Since then, he has been contacted by seven other men who were abused by the same man: “I’m 38, I’m the youngest of all. There are eight of us, including me, that I’m aware of.
"It’s heartbreaking to see men in their 50s and 70s break down and cry over what happened. I’m sure there are many more who haven’t come forward.”
The alleged paedophile worked at St John Ambulance for two years after Mr Finnegan reported his abuse. He resigned in 2001 over an issue unconnected to his alleged assaults of children.
“I told St John Ambulance about his abuse. But they closed ranks. He remained there after I disclosed what happened to me.
"The sad and harsh reality is that the same people are in charge at now St John Ambulance as were there in 1999 when I first came forward.”
He wants a sea-change in the organisation and acknowledgment over what happened: “I want to see accountability. They know they covered up what was going on. Their silence was complicity. I want to see young people taking over the organisation.”
Mr Finnegan — who praised Trinity College disability service for enabling him to begin social work studies this year — is looking forward to providing a statement to Dr Shannon in the coming weeks.
He also fully supports the ongoing Garda probe, which is not investigating his abuse, but that of another victim. “It is great that specialist gardaí are involved. I would like gardai to relook at my case. One thing that has emerged now because of these investigations is that is wasn’t just one man, there were others too.”
Larry Shannon (58), a former long-time member of the voluntary paramedic organisation, was given a 12-month suspended sentence by a UK court in 2019 after pleading guilty to grooming a child he met online.
Shannon, who died in May, helped draft St John Ambulance’s child protection policy in the 1990s.
“It is almost unbelievable, that man drafting the child protection policy,” said Mr Finnegan. “But that’s the reality. It is very important that Geoffrey Shannon’s report is published. The organisation needs to be held to account. My abuser has lived a long and happy life. But the damage he’s done to me has robbed me of so much.”
St John’s Ambulance issued the following statement: ”The Board of St John Ambulance Ireland (SJAI) has commissioned an independent review to assess the handling of historical child sexual abuse within SJAI in response to allegations made against a former volunteer.
"The independent review, which is being led by child protection expert, Dr Geoffrey Shannon SC, will also evaluate the current safeguarding practices within SJAI and will ultimately inform areas of potential learning and further improvement. Members of SJAI and its Board are fully co-operating with the reviewer as he determines throughout the review process.”