St John Ambulance seeks State funding to hire child-protection officer

Organisation is criticised over lengthy delay filling safeguarding role following child-abuse scandal

St John Ambulance has sought funding from the Government to hire a full-time safeguarding officer, a position the first aid organisation committed to establish nearly a year ago in the wake of a major historical child sex-abuse scandal.

A report by Mr Justice Geoffrey Shannon, published last March, found the 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 first aid organisation’s Old Kilmainham division in Dublin, between the early 1960s and late 1990s. St John Ambulance had failed to act against the man for years, despite a “significant degree of organisational awareness” of the risk he posed to children, the report said.

The independent report made a number of recommendations for reform, including that the voluntary organisation hire a full-time safeguarding officer.


In a February 15th letter, Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman told survivors that St John Ambulance had previously provided assurances last autumn “that a candidate for the role has been identified by the organisation”.

The Minister said an update provided by the organisation in November had said it was in the “final stages of an extensive recruitment initiative and that significant progress had been made on this appointment”.

However, Mr O’Gorman said in a January 4th meeting with department officials, the organisation had “requested financial assistance” to fund the appointment of the safeguarding officer. Due to the “delay” to date in the organisation filling the key post, he said he had approved the request for funding from his department.

It is understood the State funding to the organisation to fill the position amounts to a grant of around €100,000. It is expected a service agreement will be signed with the funding, which would give the department greater oversight of the voluntary organisation.

Mick Finnegan, one of the survivors sexually abused as a child in St John Ambulance, said he was “angry and extremely upset” at the lengthy delay in the organisation hiring a safeguarding officer. “For a year they have claimed they were appointing someone to this role as soon as possible, and now it turns out they have no money for it,” he said.

Mr Finnegan said when it came to the cost of defending legal claims taken by survivors seeking compensation it seemed the organisation had “plenty of money”.

The most recent financial accounts for the organisation show it reported having assets of €1.2 million in 2021.

Last September Mr O’Gorman told an Oireachtas committee he would not have confidence in current child-protection standards in the organisation until a professional safeguarding officer was in place.

The organisation previously said it hoped to have the position filled in the second half of last year. In a further update at the end of 2023 the board of the organisation said it was working to finalise the appointment “in the coming weeks”.

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Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is acting Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times