Recent coverage in Ireland of the trial of Bill Kenneally, an accountant who was also a sports coach, for the sexual abuse of boys between 1984 and 1987, has brought to the fore many common themes which the current abuse related inquiries will be interested in. Mr Kenneally pleaded guilty to sample counts of abuse. His victim described how he had been warned not to speak of the abuse as his abuser was from a powerful political family. The use of a position of authority (here as a local businessman) to engineer access to victims and enforce their silence by threats and power is something which the IICSA has already said it will consider in its inquiry in England & Wales.
Mr Kenneally had been spoken to by the Garda (Irish police) in 1987 following an informal complaint and he agreed to stop his behaviour but nothing further was done to investigate him, to locate further victims, to promote safeguarding of children or to prosecute. The need to reassess how an organisation has acted in the past when presented with suspicions or complaints is also something which will be considered by the IICSA. Reviewing past responses and explaining how approaches have changed now and in the future is essential in both preparing for participation in the IICSA and also in addressing how an organisation ensures child safety is at the core of its work.
The role of a sports coach is essential to provide support and encouragement to young people but all sports related organisations must ensure proper child protection policies and procedures are in place and effective. Coaches, trainers and managers have access to potentially vulnerable people and so their training and monitoring is critical as well as ensuring a proper response should the worst have happened and there is disclosure of abuse.
Written by Fintan Canavan, partner