The sentencing earlier this week of Waterford sports coach, Bill Kenneally to four and a half years for indecent assaults on five boys in the city closes yet another chapter in a sordid story of sexual abuse.
Kenneally’s decision to plead guilty to 13 sample charges of indecent assault against the five boys – all aged 13 to 15 at the time of their abuse between 1979 and 1990 – came late , six days into a trial where all five were subjected to what one described as “a gruelling cross-examination”.
“It was one of the worse experiences of my life – having to explain to a jury what ‘hog-tied’ meant and all sorts of descriptions of stuff and then being cross-examined where he tried to make a liar of me, but I turned that on him,” a now 56-year-old survivor of the Waterford abuser told The Irish Times this week.
An accountant, Kenneally (72) from Laragh, Summerville Avenue in Waterford, was well known locally as a tallyman for the Kenneally political dynasty.His grandfather William, uncle Billy and cousin Brendan served between them for more than 40 years in Dáil Éireann between 1951 and 2011.
He was also well known in sporting circles locally on Suirside, including as a coach in underage basketball, and it was his continued involvement in the sport that ultimately led to his uncovering and prosecution as one of the country’s most notorious serial child sex abusers.
I had no idea the ramifications that were going to follow that day I walked into Ballybricken Barracks to make my complaint— Jason Clancy, abuse victim
Kenneally’s downfall began in 2012 when one of his victims, Jason Clancy noticed that Kenneally, who had begun abusing him when he was 14, was still listed as having an involvement in Waterford Vikings basketball club, so he went to gardaí to tell what had happened him more than 30 years earlier.
“I had no idea the ramifications that were going to follow that day I walked into Ballybricken Barracks to make my complaint. My life and my family’s life has been turned upside down and there has been huge stress, but I knew children were at risk and I had to do something,” Clancy said this week.
He gave a detailed account of the nature of the abuse he had suffered at Kenneally’s hands, and he also gave gardaí the names of other boys he had believed had been abused by Kenneally at around the same time that he was abused.
Clancy made his formal statement of complaint in December 2012 and although Kenneally wasn’t arrested for questioning until May 2013, the Garda investigation led to Kenneally being charged with sexually assaulting 10 boys and ultimately pleading guilty to 10 sample counts from more than 70 charges.
Kenneally’s guilty pleas were welcomed by Clancy and his fellow survivors as it saved them from having to testify. They also welcomed the sentence imposed by Judge Eugene O’Kelly at Waterford Circuit Criminal Court, who imposed 10 consecutive 17-month jail terms.
The cumulative penalty of 14 years and two months was merited, said Judge O’Kelly, because of the many aggravating factors, including Kenneally’s predatory behaviour whereby he gained the boys’ trust and his strategy to make them feel powerless by taking photos of them naked.
But if Clancy and his nine fellow survivors welcomed the sentence, the hearing wasn’t without a shock.
They learned from Kenneally’s defence counsel, Michael Counihan SC, in his plea for mitigation that gardaí knew about Kenneally’s abuse as far back as 1987.
Counihan told how, after a boy identified only as “W” reported being abused by Kenneally, gardaí contacted Kenneally’s uncle, a former TD and Mayor of Waterford Billy Kenneally, who arranged for his nephew to go to Waterford Garda station on December 30th, 1987, to meet senior officers.
...he knew Kenneally was the culprit, but he could do nothing because the boy’s family didn’t want to make any formal statement of complaint
Counihan said that during a 90-minute meeting with Supt Seán Cashman and now deceased Insp PJ Hayes, Kenneally made a verbal admission about his activity with the boy (W), but the boy’s family opted not to make a formal complaint for personal reasons.
Now long retired, Cashman told a subsequent RTÉ Prime Time Investigates broadcast on May 3rd, 2016, that while he knew Kenneally was the culprit, he could do nothing because the boy’s family didn’t want to make any formal statement of complaint.
Commission of investigation
“The irony about this investigation is that the best help I got to try and put Kenneally where he belonged – before the courts – was from his uncle. I got absolutely no help from the injured party,” Cashman told RTÉ.
Clancy and his fellow survivors began asking questions and pressing for an inquiry into what exactly the gardaí and other state agencies, such as the South Eastern Health Board, knew about Kenneally’s abuse.
After a long and arduous campaign, they finally got their reward in May 2017.
Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan announced the setting up of a Commission of Investigation into Allegations of Child Sexual Abuse against Bill Kenneally and later published the terms of reference, including establishing the full extent of complaints against Kenneally between 1985 and 1992.
The Commission was tasked with ascertaining the Garda response to any allegations and whether gardaí notified the South Eastern Health Board and the Irish Basketball Association, whether either body took any action and whether any members of the clergy were aware of the allegations.
The commission, initially chaired by retired Circuit Court judge Barry Hickson but now chaired by Central Criminal Court Judge Mr Justice Michael White, began hearing submissions in 2019 and is expected to continue hearing from witnesses into the summer and the autumn.
As I was leaving the witness box after giving my victim impact statement, I turned to him and said, ‘I have decisions to make as I walk out of here a free man, you don’t’— 56-year-old Kenneally victim
While the setting up of the commission of investigation can be traced back to Clancy’s decision to make a complaint about Kenneally in 2012, Clancy’s resolve to report his abuser also had another consequence: it prompted another group of Kenneally’s victims to come forward.
Another five men emerged in 2016 to make formal complaints against Kenneally. Although he tried to stop the prosecution proceeding by taking a judicial review in 2018, he was unsuccessful. All five men had their day in court this week when he finally admitted he had abused them.
For the 56-year-old survivor, Kenneally’s belated apology, handed to him on a piece of paper before it was read out in Dublin Circuit Criminal Court, rang hollow. He left Kenneally in no doubt how he felt about what his abuser had subjected to him more than 40 years ago when he was just 12 years old.
“As I was leaving the witness box after giving my victim impact statement, I turned to him and said, ‘I have decisions to make as I walk out of here a free man, you don’t’ – he didn’t hear me, so I shouted at him ‘You don’t.’ I apologised to Judge Martin Nolan but he nodded to me as if he understood,” he said.
Satisfied with the four and a half year sentence imposed to run consecutively with Keneally’s existing 14-year sentence, the man said in his victim impact statement how the abuse had ruined his marriage and led to addiction, and how he was only saved from ending his life by a friend contacting the police.
“I have been in prison for 40 years in my head because of Billy Kenneally. God only knows what I have lost out on in life. There is no price for what was stolen from me: my youth and my potential as a man in life, all sent to chaos for what happened to me. Who knows, I could have become someone else other than a survivor,” he said.
For another of Kenneally’s victims, the sentence was almost immaterial. Abused once as a 14-year-old in 1985, the day afterwards he went into Waterford Garda station to report it but the garda wouldn’t take a statement because he was a minor on his own and there was never any follow-up.
“Four years was more than I expected he would get,” said the 52-year-old.
“The sentence was just the cream on top – for me, just hearing him plead guilty in reply to Charge 99 that he assaulted me... he could fidget all he wanted in the dock but just hearing him say ‘guilty’, a huge weight lifted off me.”