AN INQUIRY EXAMINING allegations of a cover-up in the case of a convicted child abuser in Waterford has heard details of an alleged phone call between a monsignor and a former Fianna Fáil TD which aimed to “suppress accusations” emerging into the public domain.
The Commission of Investigation, which formed in 2018 but had only taken place in private until now, is querying whether various agencies and organisations prevented Bill Keneally getting charged at an earlier stage.
The former sports coach and Fianna Fáil tallyman is currently serving two sentences for sexually abusing 15 boys in periods stretching from 1979 to 1990.
It’s examining allegations of collusion between An Garda Síochána, the Diocese of Waterford and Lismore, the former South Eastern Health Board, Basketball Ireland and unnamed “political figures”.
A number of survivors of Kenneally’s abuse allege that there was collusion which prevented the sex offender, who was jailed in 2016, from being arrested and charged at a much earlier stage.
First public hearing
In its first public hearing Monday in Dublin’s Law Library, the Commission of Investigation heard claims that the now deceased John Shine, a monsignor within the diocese of Waterford and Lismore, had phoned a retired politician after an article emerged publicising details about his nephew Bill Kenneally.
It was alleged that Shine asked Donie Ormonde, who was a TD and senator for Fianna Fáil in the 1980s and 1990s, to keep details of the case “away from the public”.
The information was relayed to the commission by Damien Tiernan, a former RTÉ south-east correspondent, who told today’s hearing that Ormonde had met him in March 2016 in a carpark by the Tower Hotel in Waterford city to discuss Kenneally.
Additionally, the broadcaster revealed details of a conversation between him and a senior garda who investigated Kenneally for child abuse in 1987, with the inspector allegedly asking the journalist to not ask him about the monsignor as the two had been “friends for over 40 years”.
Tiernan also alleged that the phone call between Ormonde and Shine took place following an April 2013 article in the Irish Times which reported details of historical abuse of children by a sports coach.
He said “the best way” to describe it was that Shine had sought help to get the “accusations suppressed” in case more details emerged.
“Donie Ormonde related to me that he had spoken to Monsignor Shine who had phoned him to keep some of the matters that were coming out away from the public,” Tiernan told the commission overseen by Mr Justice Michael White.
According to Tiernan, who the inquiry heard had drafted a document compiling four notebooks of information about the case, Ormonde had described the Kenneally family as “powerful” in the region due to their political and business connections.
Today’s hearing did not hear evidence of any wrongdoing by Ormonde on foot of the request from Shine.
Tiernan said Ormonde “didn’t have a good thing to say about Monsignor Shine” and he viewed the phone call in a “negative” way.
Tiernan, who now works with local radio station WLR FM, said one victim of Kenneally’s had likened them to the Kennedys for their influence locally.
A number of Bill Kenneally’s relatives were politicians on the local and national level, with an Oireachtas presence stretching back to the 1950s.
Mr Justice White outlined that he believed Tiernan’s research into the case could assist the commission in its work on now deceased individuals such as Shine, adding that he wanted to try to confirm when the late Catholic Church official would have first learned of his nephew’s abuse and assaults of children.
He noted a previous claim by Tiernan that former TD and government minister Brendan Kenneally believed Shine was aware of the abuse as far back as 2002. Brendan Kenneally is Bill Kenneally’s cousin.
But Tiernan also told the inquiry that one former investigating garda, Anthony Petitt, who is now the chief superintendent of the Waterford and Carlow-Kilkenny division, believes Shine became aware in 1987 and “was interviewed” at that time.
Mr Justice White noted that Brendan Kenneally, who served as a TD for Waterford for 17 years until 2011, is yet to give evidence, leaving the question of when Shine knew “up in the air at the moment”.
“Did he get information about it in 1987? Did he have a responsibility to let the health board or the gardaí know about it . . . Was there a responsibility for Monsignor Shine to contact the health board about a child protection issue?,” the retired High Court judge said, adding that he has to abide by fair procedures where an allegation is made and a person can’t defend themselves.
Prime Time documentary
The inquiry was shown a Prime Time investigation broadcast on 3 May 2016 called ‘The Lost Boys’, which Tiernan presented for RTÉ.
The programme, made in the weeks after Kenneally was first convicted of abusing children, carried interviews with several of his victims.
It also featured two gardaí who had quizzed the accountant on allegations of abuse in 1987, then acting chief superintendent Sean Cashman and inspector PJ Hayes.
Tiernan recalled that before he and his producer started recording the interview with Hayes, the garda allegedly told him that “he didn’t want any questions about Monsignor Shine, [and] to leave him out of this as we’re friends for over 40 years”.
Tiernan added: “I knew Shine said mass most Sundays in Tramore and PJ Hayes collected the offerings at those.”
Both PJ Hayes and John Shine are now deceased.
The journalist recounted meeting with Shine on 29 March 2016 in Tramore as he researched the Prime Time documentary. Information and allegations about Shine did not feature in the report which made it to air.
“I remember that he didn’t really want to talk too much about his nephew Bill Kenneally. He said he had been very good to his parents, that he had showed a kindness that will never be seen and took very good care of his mother when she was unwell,” Tiernan said.
Tiernan added that Shine had told him he “would rather present Bill as a good family man” and that it “puzzled” the monsignor there was interest in his nephew.
When asked to give his opinion on his roughly eight-minute interview with Shine, Tiernan said he “came away with the impression that he knew a lot more”.
“He was specifically saying things that I couldn’t dispute but that were not relevant. I’d ask specific questions and he’d say, ‘He was good to his mother,’” he said.
“So I got the impression that was trying to impress on me that he was a particular character who did good things . . . I can’t say he told me lies on that particular character reference. From what I subsequently found out, he did tell me lies on what he did know in the past.”
Tiernan added that Shine was “brought in for questioning” by gardaí in 2013, following the Irish Times article, but “denied any knowledge of his nephew’s activities”.
He said he later spoke to former TD and senator Brendan Kenneally, cousin of Bill Kenneally, who allegedly told him that Shine had learned of the abuse in 2002.
Brendan Kenneally allegedly told Tiernan for a Sunday Independent article that he had sought medical help for his cousin after learning of the abuse.
Formed in 2019
The Commission was formed in 2019 following a campaign by survivors into the handling of complaints of sexual abuse against the former basketball coach Bill Kenneally.
Last May, Kenneally received a four-and-a-half-year sentence for abusing five boys on unknown dates between December 1979 and March 1990.
The 72-year-old accountant, from Laragh, Summerville Avenue, Waterford, had already been serving a 14-year sentence for abusing 10 boys from 1984 to 1987.
The commission is now able to hold its sittings in public as there are no ongoing criminal cases against Kenneally.