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Former Terenure College rugby coach jailed for eight years for sexual abuse of 23 children

John McClean abused the boys between 1973 and 1990.

 John McClean pictured earlier this month.
John McClean pictured earlier this month.

Updated Feb 18th 2021, 4:30 PM

A FORMER RUGBY coach and teacher at a Dublin private school who abused 23 students has been jailed for eight years.

John McClean (76) abused the boys between 1973 and 1990 while he worked for Terenure College. He left the school in 1996 after certain allegations were made and took up a role coaching rugby with UCD.

McClean of Casimir Avenue, Harold’s Cross, Dublin, pleaded guilty to 27 charges of indecently assaulting the males at Terenure College in Dublin on dates between 1973 and 1990. Further charges were taken into consideration.

The accused had denied all offences when interviewed by gardaí and three trial dates were fixed before he finally pleaded guilty in November 2020. He has no previous convictions.

Passing sentence today at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court, Judge Pauline Codd said she wanted to “sincerely laud” the victims. She said they had “found their voices” and that their voices were not given free expression in the “cultural and educational climate” of the time.”

Judge Codd said a theme running through many of the offences was giving the children “so-called choices”. She said McClean “utilised and preyed upon their psychological vulnerabilities”.

“The effects of sexual abuse have cast a shadow over the adult lives of those affected,” Judge Codd said.

Judge Codd said the offences were aggravated significantly by the “sheer scale and duration of the offending conduct”. She said the offending conduct was marked by “mind-blowing and brazen arrogance”.

She said McClean is now aged 76, having been between 28 and 45 years old at the times of the offences. She said he has undergone treatment for cancer, suffers from Addison’s disease and has a history of lung-damage from TB.

Judge Codd sentenced McClean to 11 years imprisonment, but suspended the final three years of the sentence on condition that he keep the peace and be of good behaviour for two years post-release.

Speaking on the steps of the court after the sentence was passed, Damien Hetherington (59), one of the victims in the case, said he supposed he felt closure, “but it has taken me forty-seven years”.

“The dogs on the street were barking about this particular individual for the thirty years he was there, but he was still left there,” Mr Hetherington said.

Referring to how McClean was conducting himself in court, Mr Hetherington said “he couldn’t look at any of us in the eye, he had his head down all the time. Anyway he is gone now to where he should have been 25 years ago.”

When asked what he would say to other victims of sexual abuse, Mr Hetherington said he would say to “never give up”.

“I would never have thought 47 years later I would be standing here,” he said.

“But I would encourage any more victims to please come forward. It is never too late. This has been a scar on this country for god knows how long.

“Come forward and get it done, you will be surprised how good you feel,” he said.

At a previous sentencing hearing, Inspector Jason Miley told Paul Murray SC, prosecuting, that McClean was an English teacher at Terenure College between 1966 and 1996. He also worked as a rugby coach in the school.

McClean assaulted several of the victims under the guise of fitting them for costumes for plays he produced in the school. He was removed from his role with the school plays in 1979 after certain allegations of abuse were made against him.

He was then appointed first-year “form master” in the early 1980′s and had his own office. Many of the subsequent indecent assaults committed by McClean occurred in this office when he brought boys there after they had gotten into trouble in class.

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The court heard that some of the victims believed they were either not selected for or dropped from the school rugby team as punishment for challenging him over his sexual abuse of them.

Inspector Miley said that in 1996 the father of one of the victims informed Father Robert Kelly, the then Provincial of the Carmelite Order in Ireland, about the allegation his son had made against McClean.

He said Fr Kelly had a number of meetings over the summer break with McClean during which it was made clear McClean would not be returning to Terenure College. McClean was granted a three-year career break and became a rugby coach at UCD.

Inspector Miley agreed with Sean Guerin SC, defending, that Fr Kelly had a note of one of the meetings with McClean in 1996 during which McClean admitted to the allegation.

Fr Kelly told gardaí when providing these notes to them during this investigation that he had no recollection of this, but if it was in the notes then “it was true”.

One victim said in his victim impact statement that McClean was “evil personified” and that he had “crossed paths with the devil at Terenure College”.

Another victim said in his impact statement that he hoped a landmark will be built on the grounds of Terenure College as an acknowledgement of the past. He said such a gesture would go some way to healing the victims and their family members.

A third victim suggested that parents of the victims should have their school fees refunded to them in full.

Mr Guerin said his client has instructed him to give an “unreserved and unconditional apology”. He said his client was “ashamed” of what he did and that no victim bares any responsibility for any of the offences or any of the harm done by him.

About the author:

Brion Hoban

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