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Bill Kenneally case 'one of the most serious cases of paedophilia ever in Ireland', judge says

‘The children knew about it and older children were warning young children about the danger,’ Mr Justice Michael White said.

A RETIRED HIGH Court judge overseeing an inquiry into an alleged child abuse cover-up has described it as “one of the most serious cases of paedophilia ever in Ireland”, spanning a “period of abuse of 23 years”. 

It followed new information from a garda review of the case which found that there are at least 29 people who were sexually abused by sports coach Bill Kenneally, but with potential for more victims beyond that figure.

“In terms of the seriousness of the abuse, the spread of it, the number of victims . . . it has to be one of the most serious cases of paedophilia ever in Ireland,” Mr Justice Michael White told today’s hearing.

He added that the commission has received direct evidence alleging that Kenneally’s earliest abuse of children was when he was age 20 in 1970 – nine years earlier than Kenneally’s conviction from a criminal trial earlier recording his abuse of a boy in 1979.

There were people “who weren’t victims and perhaps didn’t have first-hand knowledge”, but who were still “wary of being in Mr Kenneally’s company”, the judge said.

“The children knew about it and older children were warning young children about the danger from Mr Kenneally,” he said.


Last May, Kenneally received a four-and-a-half-year sentence for abusing five boys on unknown dates between December 1979 and March 1990. He was aged between his 20s and 40s when carrying out the abuse.

The 72-year-old accountant, from Laragh, Summerville Avenue, Waterford, had already been serving a 14-year sentence for abusing 10 boys from 1984 to 1987.

The commission, sitting in the Law Library in Dublin, is examining allegations of collusion between An Garda Síochána, the Diocese of Waterford and Lismore, the former South Eastern Health Board, Basketball Ireland, and unnamed “political figures”.

Survivors of Kenneally’s abuse believe Kenneally could have been arrested and charged at a far earlier stage.

As part of its work, the inquiry is examining separate garda investigations in 1987 and 2012.

Gardaí have confirmed they were aware of the abuse in 1987 but decided not to proceed with any charge following discussions with the sports coach.

Former acting chief superintendent Sean Cashman, who oversaw the 1987 investigation, has previously insisted that there was “no cover-up” and that gardaí did the best they could do at the time, instead receiving assurances from Kenneally that he would seek medical help.

‘Changed man’

Addressing aspects of the case today with the chief garda of the Waterford and Carlow-Kilkenny division, Anthony Pettit, Mr Justice White said Kenneally “effectively walked out of the garda station assuring Mr Cashman he was a changed man” but then “committed the worst of the abuse” following this.

Pettit agreed with the judge’s description of the case, calling it the “most serious case of widespread abuse” he has seen in his over three decades as a garda.

While he was aware of other widespread abuse cases, he believed the number of victims was as “large” as any other seen.

Mr Justice White said evidence showed that, following his conversation with Cashman and the now deceased inspector PJ Hayes, Kenneally continued to abuse up to four boys.

Sean Cashman Sean Cashman in an interview with RTÉ Prime Time in 2016

One of these victims was subjected to some of the “worst abuses”, and faced assaults several times weekly at its height.

“[The victim] gave evidence that he felt the consequences of 87/88 were that Mr Kenneally became more cautious,” the judge said, adding that the intensity of the abuse saw him assaulted “over two, three times a week in winter, sometimes less in summer.”

Quoting from Kenneally’s 2016 trial sentencing by Circuit Criminal Court judge Eugene O’Kelly, Mr Justice White said Kenneally left his victims “powerless and degraded”, having “groomed” them through “money and gifts”, before moving on to blackmail them and take photographs of them with a polaroid camera.

The latest sitting of the inquiry, which was established in 2018 but only opened to the public last week, saw evidence around how different authorities handled disclosures and information about Kenneally over the decades.

Mr Justice White said that a doctor for the former South Eastern Health Board had previously told the commission that they had posted a late 1980s report on the child abuser to their superiors at the time, detailing their findings

However, according to an internal investigation carried out by Pettit, this was “never received” and was never followed up.

Brendan Kenneally

Pettit defended how gardaí approached information related to Bill Kenneally’s cousin, former Fianna Fáil TD Brendan Kenneally.

Under cross-examination by Barra McGrory, barrister for one group of victims, Pettit was asked whether gardaí should have done more with information about when Brendan Kenneally knew of his cousin’s abusing.

Brendan Kenneally was approached by a victim’s wife in 2002 and, according to a statement the woman gave gardaí in 2016, the former TD told her he had already been “dealing” with gardaí on his cousin’s abuse of children.

McGrory said there was a “contradiction” as the woman’s statement appeared to show that Brendan Kenneally knew about his cousin earlier than claimed.

Asked why gardaí didn’t do more with the information, Pettit said that if Brendan Kenneally had in “some way convinced” any victims not to go to gardaí, then “I think we’re in an issue, but it appears clear that the victims didn’t want to go the gardaí”.

When asked by the barrister whether he was “suspicious of Brendan Kenneally in terms of withholding information”, Pettit said that phrasing was “too strong” and added that gardaí should have been informed in 2002.

“I have to careful here because I’m viewing this in hindsight 20 years on, but yes, he should have come forward,” Pettit said.

McGrory said there was a “remarkable similarity” between how Kenneally was handled in 1987 and 2002, with family members in both cases seeking medical help for his paedophilia.

He asked Pettit why there weren’t investigations conducted into anyone for “perverting the course of justice”, claiming that “members of a well connected family” knew of “serious criminal activity of one of their member” but made “no effort” to tell anybody in any authority about it.

Responding, Pettit said that under the law, he could not see “where they committed a criminal offence” in the case.

“Morally, should they have come forward? That’s a different question,” Pettit said.

Interjecting, Seamus Clarke, barrister for An Garda Síochána, said that the relevant legislation covering perversion of the course of justice “excludes” cases related to sexual abuse cases.

Inspector interview

The inspector who interviewed Brendan Kenneally about his 2002 knowledge, as part of the garda investigation which led to his cousin’s 2016 conviction, was asked about evidence appearing to show that he knew about the abuse earlier than he disclosed.

McGrory claimed that statements from Brendan Kenneally “don’t stack up and are inconsistent”.

Inspector Siobhan Keating said that she was dealing with the man “as a witness” and wanted him to “corroborate” that a meeting had taken place in 2002 to discuss his relative’s abuse of children.

Following further cross-examination, Keating said: “Maybe he was trying to protect himself from what he knew all along, but it’s not for me to challenge him on that and accuse him of wrong doing.”

Brendan Kenneally is due to give evidence later this week.

The commission also agreed to hear evidence from the wife of the victim who met with Brendan Kenneally.

‘Human error’

Gardaí admitted to “human error” causing a lengthy delay to the taking of a statement from one victim.

The inquiry heard that the victim, who was living abroad, phoned Waterford Garda Station in the summer of 2016 to come forward but was allegedly told they have “enough victims” at that point.

Arrangements were to be made for him to be formally interviewed but this did not happen until a report for RTÉ by broadcaster Damien Tiernan highlighting the case.

The delay caused distress to the victim, his barrister Ray Motherway told the hearing.

An internal review was carried out into the issue by former superintendent Anthony Lonergan, who said the 18-month delay was caused by “human error” as the note which was to be sent to the incident room for the case could not be found.

Motherway asked Keating about “the ball being dropped” for dealing with the man, which the guard defended.

“From all the victims I had looked for over the years, I didn’t know there was anybody still outstanding,” she said.

Keating added that she had gone to some lengths to trace victims, including successfully tracking one down by “searching through”.

“You’re asking me to cast blame on other guards, I can only account for myself,” she said.

The inquiry heard the victim’s evidence formed part of the criminal trial which helped secure a four-and-a-half year sentence for Kenneally earlier this year. 

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