LET’S TALK ABOUT… St John’s Ambulance scandal

St John’s Ambulance scandal highlights systemic way abuse allegations are buried

Last Thursday, March 16th, a report was (finally) published detailing the results of an investigation into sexual abuse at St John’s Ambulance service (SJA). Originally commissioned back in 2021, the report had allegedly already been completed in November 2022, and is only now being published weeks after survivors and political officials publicly called on SJA to honour their commitment of putting it out at the start of the year.

The report reveals SJA failed to investigate concerns over children being sexually abused within the organisation for decades. It found serious lapses in the Garda vetting system, as well as a lack of child protection measures. It stated there was a “well established” and “significant degree of organisational awareness” to “specific threats of child safety” for years, but no action was ever taken.

The findings are nothing short of horrific, as anyone who’s glimpsed over them for a moment, or heard even a snippet of survivors’ accounts, can attest. And unfortunately, they’re not completely surprising given how devastatingly often we’ve seen organisations where children are left under the care of a supposedly trusted adult (priest, sports coach, etc.) being infiltrated by heinous individuals who abuse their position of power to hurt innocent kids.

We as a society have come to understand that these types of positions are the ones these types of people seek, ones that give them authority over and access to their victims. And this is all the more reason for organisations involving children to have rigorous vetting processes, appropriate safeguards, and proper protocols for allegations put in place – which makes SJA’s blatant failure to do so and pervasive denial of that same failure wholly unacceptable.

One of the report’s vocal whistleblowers is Mick Finnegan, who, now aged 40, has long been campaigning for the abuse he suffered from the ages of twelve to fifteen to be recognised and dealt with. He was the first person to publicly raise concerns about SJA after a report by Tusla in 2020 upheld his complaints, and has spoken out not just about the abuse he went through, but also SJA’s failure to take action, despite being made aware of the allegations decades ago.

Finnegan describes SJA’s failure to act as “the bit (he) can’t get (his) head around”, but as the report suggests, the reasoning behind their inaction is likely just as simple as the organisation attempting to avoid being sued and trying to protect its own reputation. The system in place, not just within SJA then, but within so many organisations to this day, is one which prioritises the larger organisation’s welfare over their ethical duty to protect from abuse and follow up on allegations. This is what allows incidences of abuse to so routinely be buried, for survivors to get no semblance of justice, and for perpetrators to continue harming others and maintain their positions within such organisations, keeping the cycle spinning forever.

Finnegan also spoke about going to the Gardaí in his teens to report the attacks, and that after he raised the issue, fifteen other men came forward, but in the end, the DPP decided not to prosecute. He said that “the process was so difficult, and this is why people can’t go through it. They shut you down and shut you up. You’re up against a system and they will just nearly break you”.

His experience with the Gardaí is not an uncommon one. Though we have societally become less hush-hush about such things over the past few decades, to this day, the legal process of reporting abuse remains one that puts survivors through an inordinate amount of scrutiny, and forces them to embark on an arduous journey littered with lengthy, procedural obstacles, forcing them to continuously relive and recall what are no doubt some of the most traumatising moments of their life – all without the guarantee of ever seeing any retribution for the crimes committed against them.

The internal systems organisations set up to deal with allegations and perpetrators proving to be more in service of the organisation itself than the survivors is one problem to contend with. When coupled with our actual legal system being just as systemically prone to wearing down accusers and making it as difficult as possible for justice to be had, this leads to us seeing abuse allegations routinely being shoved under the rug – and the stories coming from survivors of the SJA scandal is a clear example of this.

Another thing Finnegan has highlighted is the impact the lengthy process involved in publishing last week’s report has had on his entire life and all of his personal relationships, and so I hope that in the wake of the report’s publishing, some semblance of long-awaited vindication is being felt by the survivors. But if we want to avoid repeating history, the systemic factors that routinely lead to abuse allegations being buried need to be properly addressed once and for all, so that this doesn’t keep happening to more innocent victims.

Tubridy’s resignation heralds new era, but is it too little, too late late?

I was eight years old when Ryan Tubridy took over from Pat Kenny as Late Late Show presenter, so I’m probably not the best qualified to weigh in on the ongoing debate his recent resignation has sparked over which of the three hosts (the first being Gay Byrne) did the best job, and whose ‘era’ of the talk show was superior; apart from a few fuzzy memories of earlier toy shows and clips I’ve seen over the years, nearly all my recollections of watching the Late Late come from Tubridy’s run, so I really don’t have the credentials.

Comparing the presenters and what the show was like under each of their helms is, of course, inevitable for a show as long-running and iconic within the country’s domestic entertainment scene as the Late Late. And while many people have different opinions on the topic, it would seem that a large contingent of viewers place Tubridy’s era on the lower end of the list when ranking him against his predecessors.

There is a sentiment going around that the show has dipped in quality and relevance, and that this slide coincides with Tubridy’s run, many comparing the show’s dwindling resonance with the Irish public to the stellar ratings and engaging television of Gay Byrne’s era, with controversial and topical debates regarding sex, religion and politics consistently drawing people in each week.

I can see where this sentiment is coming from and I do think the Late Late Show has lost a bit of its magnetism and relevance. However, even though I’ve not seen enough of the first two presenters’ episodes to give fair comment on their different impacts, I still wouldn’t put all the blame on Tubs.

Whatever there is to be said about people finding Tubridy’s interview style unengaging, frankly, the Late Late Show is overdue an overall refresher – and I doubt how much of a difference a new person in the chair would make if unaccompanied by an overhaul of the show itself.

The show needs not just a new host but a new format, and a heightened focus on hot-button issues that the public is actually interested in. It should also use some of the momentum of Ireland’s growing popularity on the international entertainment scene to draw in better guests. Whoever replaces Tubs will still be competing for people’s attention over Netflix, YouTube, and any of the million other TV channels available (a problem Byrne didn’t had to worry about, to be fair), so the show needs to move with the times if it is to regain popularity.

Perhaps when the show launches its new host, we will indeed see this play out… I just hope it’s not too little, too late late.