Monday, May 06, 2024

St John Ambulance under financial pressure over ‘negative publicity’ from abuse scandal

St John Ambulance told the Department of Children privately it could not afford to hire a child protection manager as its finances had taken a hit from the “negative publicity” that followed a historical child sex abuse scandal.

A report by Mr Justice Geoffrey Shannon found the first aid organisation’s past culture had “facilitated” the grooming of children and that it “failed to intervene” on knowledge about boys being at risk of abuse for years in the 1990s.

More than 16 boys were allegedly sexually abused by one former senior figure in the organisation’s Old Kilmainham division in Dublin between the early 1960s and late 1990s.

The voluntary organisation failed to act against the man for years despite a “significant degree of organisational awareness” of the risk he posed to children, said the report, which was published in March of last year and recommended that the organisation overhaul its hierarchical culture and hire a professional child protection officer.

Despite the organisation repeatedly providing assurances last year that it was close to hiring someone for the role, it has still not done so. At the start of this year, the organisation sought funding from the department for the position.

John Hughes, St John Ambulance commissioner, told department officials it had found a “well-qualified candidate” but that “funding the post is presenting challenges”. 

The organisation could not offer the job to the candidate as a result, according to the minutes of a January 4th meeting with department officials. Mr Hughes said filling the position was “difficult” as the organisation could not offer remote work.

Finding individuals willing to join the organisation’s board was also a challenge, with the abuse controversy affecting the number of people who “wanted to be associated” with it, the minutes state. 

Department records show the organisation stated its income was primarily drawn from fundraising. 

Richard Ensor, interim chairman of its board, said it was having “difficulty in obtaining funding due to the negative publicity received”.

A spokesman for the organisation said its financial position had been “impacted” as a result of having to cover the cost of the independent review into past abuse.

In a February 15th letter, Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman told the Oireachtas committee on children he had decided that the department would fund the child protection officer post. 

Mr O’Gorman said due to the delay to date in the organisation filling the role, he had approved €100,000 in State funding to cover the cost.