Fit to Print?


Niall Meehan Dean Robert McCarthy

Dean Robert McCarthy

The Irish Times is refusing to publish on its news pages the fact that a ministerial scoping inquiry into abuse in day and boarding schools excludes Protestant participation. Academic Niall Meehan, who has pursued the issue with the education minister, sent the paper a letter, one of many the newspaper has refused to publish from him on this subject.

Meehan’s letter pointed out that the report in the IT said the government’s scoping inquiry into “historical sexual abuse in day and boarding schools run by religious orders […] is not limited to private fee-paying schools”. But he added that it is limited to Roman Catholic-ethos schools. No abuse victim in a Protestant-ethos school may participate in the inquiry’s “survivor engagement process”. That is sectarian, claimed Meehan.

Meehan wrote also that in 2016, Patrick O’Brien, a St Patrick’s Cathedral Dublin volunteer, treasurer of the Friends of St Patrick’s fundraising body, was convicted of sample charges of sexual abuse during the 1980s of choristers, pupils of St Patrick’s Cathedral Grammar School. In an unreported 1989 case, O’Brien was given a two-year suspended sentence for abusing one pupil. Though previously aware of O’Brien’s activities, cathedral and school authorities did not make parents aware of an abuser stalking the cathedral and its precincts. They failed in their duty of care.

Astonishingly, Niall Meehan went on, the 1989 victim saw O’Brien working in the cathedral in 2004 and contacted former classmates. Some who were abused had no knowledge of O’Brien’s conviction. Part of this subset of O’Brien’s victims contacted gardaí. That resulted in the 2016 conviction and custodial sentence. Unlike with Roman Catholic institutions, the Church of Ireland has not responded to a request for information on civil cases arising from this debacle.

Meehan went on to say that though deceased, the apparent failure of a duty of care by then Dean of St Patrick’s Victor Griffin and by Grammar School headmaster Brian Weir should be investigated. So too should the fact that in 2002 O’Brien admitted additional abuse to gardaí but was not prosecuted then. Twice, therefore, an abuser was effectively permitted to occasion more misery.

Meehan also pointed out that on May 25, the IT reported refusal by other Protestant-ethos schools to respond to the newspaper’s request for information on abuse in those schools. In 2012, it reported 1999–2012 St Patrick’s Dean Robert MacCarthy saying his church was “lucky that there was no inquiry into sexual abuse within the Church of Ireland – if there had been, I doubt if we would have been found to be blameless”.

Niall Meehan concluded saying that it is in the public interest and that of victims of abuse that this luck runs out and that the issue is publicised. The government inquiry’s sectarian terms of reference should be changed.

What is the Irish Times’s problem?

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