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Dublin: 13°C Sunday 14 August 2022

'I reported the teacher who abused me but he was left teaching for three years afterwards'

Damian O’Farrell was married with children when he learned that the man who repeatedly abused him when he was 12 was still teaching children.

DAMIAN O’FARRELL WAS sexually abused by a teacher when he was 12 years old.

He did not report the abuse at the time. Or at any time in the next 17 years. However, in 1994 – when he was married with children – he learned that the same man who repeatedly abused him was still teaching children in a school in Ireland.

The now-independent Dublin councillor spoke to about his story on the week that the Dáil discussed how other victims of child sex abuse in State-schools have yet to receive redress.

Speaking about his own experience, O’Farrell said he decided, in 1994, to tell the Christian Brothers who patronised the school.

I had young kids at the time and I felt I should be doing more for other kids when I found out this guy was still teaching.

O’Farrell organised a meeting with a member of the Christian Brothers who told him that he would alert the school in question.

The abuser was now in a different school to the one where he had abused O’Farrell and he was no longer a Christian Brother.

This man told O’Farrell that he didn’t know what school his abuser was now in but that he’d find out and alert the relevant authorities.

“Myself and my wife met him and he was lovely.

I wrote this letter, I didn’t type it. I trusted this guy. He seemed like a very nice fellow. I said I’d leave it with him and that I’d be here if he needed me to back him up.

Eighteen months later, when nobody had contacted him about his statement, he began to question what was happening.

“I would have thought that they’d need me as a witness so I rang up [the Brother he previously dealt with] in March 1996 and he told me he was finishing up in his position but that he’d told the school and that [his predecessor] knew everything about it.”

O’Farrell was, for the first time, told the name of the man’s new school so he called out to the chairman of its board of management, a priest.

O’Farrell said that ‘the blood drained from the priest’s face’ when he told him about his statement. He was then advised to go to the gardaí, where he was told to no longer communicate with the school.

The garda investigation went on for another year and the case went to the DPP. He [the abuser] was still in the class, he was still teaching.

“The DPP refused to prosecute because there was only one victim and it was a long time ago and they didn’t have enough evidence and he was denying it.”

At this point O’Farrell started looking for other victims.

He called to the houses of people who were in his school, told them he had concerns about the management of their school when they were in it and asked if they had any concerns.

“People who were abused knew what I was talking about and if they weren’t, I hadn’t defamed anyone.

It was the most humiliating thing I’ve ever done, my knees were shaking. It was just dreadful.

“We got a name after a week, the third house, I gave that name to the gardaí and gave the contact details.

“They interviewed him and he [the abuser] was then charged in autumn 1997.

The school would have found out in autumn 1994 and in autumn 1997 he was charged and suspended. So he was teaching in the school for those three years.

However, O’Farrell later learned that the Brother he originally reported the abuse to “didn’t ring, he didn’t write, he called out to see [the priest who was chairman of the board] and told him it was an anonymous complaint and the victim didn’t want to be contacted”.

“It was all lies and then he left the school. I went to the school afterwards, I was really annoyed with them… they told me the full story about the anonymity and that they were made fools of as well.

I felt some sympathies for them but I did feel that they should have been more forceful on behalf of the kids that they were in charge of to try and get in touch with me through the brother.

O’Farrell said, “The school should have went looking, they should have went back to the Brother and said, ‘We need that guy, we need him, we can’t do anything without him but they didn’t’.”

O’Farrell also said that after the conviction he contacted the Catholic Schools Primary Association, the National Parents Council, Micheál Martin (the Minister for Education at the time) and other TDs in his area.

“The Minister acknowledged it but nobody from the Department of Education got in touch with me, called out to me and there were huge learnings [to be had].

I was never debriefed, nobody ever asked me, nobody cared. I had loads of knowledge but nobody cared and eventually you’re like a balloon and you just burst.

‘You can’t let the brother down’ 

Speaking about the abuse he suffered at the hands of the man who was convicted, O’Farrell said:

“It was all fondling, taking down my trousers and fondling my penis and my balls and all that.

“It was done in a stationary office. It was after school in the summer holidays. He would bring a few guys down to school to do jobs or at the weekend or whatever.

“The first few times it happened, I didn’t want to go back down to the school.

I’d be saying to my Mam, ‘I don’t really want to go down’ and she’d say ‘Aw you will, you’ll go down. You can’t let the Brother down.’

“So I thought if I got one of my friends to come down with me I’d be safe but sure that was only a kid’s logic. Within two minutes he’d have us separated. ‘You go down and get the paint or go down to the shop to get sweets’ or ‘Paint that wall and I’ll be back to you in two hours and make sure you have it all done.’

“That’s what he did and he did that several times, trousers down and the whole lot.

“I would find it more a humiliation rather than sexual, you’re there with all your bits hanging out.

“I would have felt like somebody in the school in my head, I was athletic and smart, and this was a humiliation.

“I was quiet though and my parents would have been quite subservient, they weren’t educated. My dad used to work at Clerys and he used to visit him in there.”


Never named 

Even though the man who abused O’Farrell when he was 12 was finally convicted in 1998, he received a fully suspended sentence and the judge ordered for his identity to remain anonymous.

This was four years after O’Farrell had found out he was still teaching, reported it and later found other victims to make a case against him when he discovered nothing had changed following his original report.

At that time, O’Farrell was still angry that his statement hadn’t been given to the school.

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“I went to see the Brothers one more time after the conviction … I wanted to know why the school was told the complaint was anonymous.

One of them said you needn’t think there’s a crock of gold in here for you. I never mentioned money at this stage so the next day I said ‘fuck them’ and got a lawyer and I sued them, but it took nine years.

A settlement was made in 2007.

“This guy was teaching for three years and they didn’t do anything about it and it’s not good enough and nobody knows, parents still don’t know, but in court I said for his name not to be used.”

A court report from the 1998 conviction quotes O’Farrell as saying: “I do not want the sympathy I feel for your family confused with sympathy for you. I hold you in total contempt.”

Today he says, “He pleaded guilty. I said for the sake of his family I didn’t want his name to be made public.

I was put under a bit of pressure from a few people who knew him and I was young, I didn’t know these guys were so recidivist. You feel sorry – that’s just how people are.

Asked if he regrets keeping him anonymous, he said, “I do, big time.”

“Because I didn’t ask for his name to be published or for him to go to jail it never really kicked off. I was quite private at the time.”

O’Farrell said, “The next day after he was convicted he was back working.” However, he is no longer in the teaching profession.

“He was convicted again last year but he’s never been in jail.”

About a year after the first conviction of his own abuse, O’Farrell spotted him walking around a corner close to his home.

I saw him and I was terrified. I hid in a hedge, I was terrified of him.

“I’ve seen him now a few times and I see him as a sad individual now. He’s not in power anymore, I am, and I feel that, but I would never walk up to him, it’s not my way.

“To this day, he’s never apologised to me.”

‘Another kick’

This week the government argued that the State’s responsibility to people who were sexually abused by their teachers can’t be established through a conviction and that only allowing redress for victims who secured convictions would be seeking to treat one group differently from people in similar circumstances who don’t have a conviction.

Speaking about the victims of sex abuse who are still seeking redress even though their perpetrators have been convicted, O’Farrell said:

Because of their convictions, they’ve removed people from the schools. They’ve removed teachers from the education system and stopped those people coming into contact with children and they should be rewarded for that.

“They’ve done a great service but they don’t get any reward, they just get another kick.”

O’Farrell also acknowledged that he at least received a settlement from the Christian Brothers, but that these men who have fought hard, secured convictions and campaigned have yet to receive any redress.

“At the moment I would say the State is worse than the religious orders, and how bad is that?”

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