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Image / Editorial

‘Overwhelming thoughts are with victims and survivors’: Powerful reaction to RTÉ documentary

by Jennifer McShane
14th Nov 2019

In an extremely harrowing RTÉ investigates documentary, victims of sexual abuse at the hands of the leaders of scouting organisations have spoken of the life-altering effect the experience had on their childhoods and later adult lives. Anyone affected by the programme, know there is support: CARIThe Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, The Samaritans  are always available to help, understand and listen

In recent times, Scouting’s image has been tarnished by child sex abuse allegations and a failure over many years to implement a robust child protection policy. Scouting Ireland, the modern organisation, was founded when the two scouting traditions Scouting Association of Ireland and the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland joined together in 2003.

Last December, Scouting Ireland wrote to the Minister for Children Katherine Zappone stating that its ongoing review of historic complaints found evidence of “extensive prolonged and organised child sex abuse” and “Abuse at all levels” in both Scouting organisations.

Scouts Dishonour 

Scouts Dishonour’ looked at how Scouting Ireland’s predecessor organisations handled child sexual abuse allegations and how the organisation failed to alert the statutory authorities about suspected predators.

What was revealed was immensely disturbing; research found that in the 1970s and 1980s, former scout leader David O’Brien moved between the Scouting Association of Ireland and the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland. He was involved with at least five scout troops. By doing this, he was enabled to continue his abuse and evade justice while continuing to have access to children for years.

Paul O’Toole from Artane in Dublin was one of many young scouts sexually assaulted by David O’Brien. He joined the scouts in the early 1970s and O’Brien was his scout leader. Dave Smyth was aged 10 when he joined the Scouts where O’Brien was a leader, and also explained was forever traumatised by the abuse he suffered.

“You never put it behind you. When something like that happens to you, it changes your life forever.” 

And despite O’Brien allegedly abusing around 30 to 40 children over decades, last week he was sentenced to just six-and-a-half years in prison after confessing to abusing a number of boys while he was a leader in the Scouting Association of Ireland, and later at the Catholic Boys Scouts.

A number of other men were also revealed to have abused children in the documentary – some for decades without ever getting charged.

Colm Bracken also spoke out, and said he made plans to take his own life after living with the memories of abuse and began questioning why he was chosen as a victim during camping trips. His 10-year-old son saved him, he said.

“You blame yourself and then you say to yourself ‘why are you blaming yourself, it’s not your fault, you didn’t do anything’. It’s his fault. You look for reasons why it was you. Why were you picked?”


Those who suffered the abuse were understandably emotionally distraught, furious, and spoke of how this had robbed them of their innocence and childhood.

The effects of abuse have been ever-lasting for the now-adult survivors, one who said he only got the ccourage to tell someone in the last year.  They were not only abused, but they were also shamed and scared into silence.

Each said they decided to come forward to encourage other victims to do the same.

“Disturbing, powerful and necessary programming”

All abuse survivors on the programme were praised for their powerful words and bravery in speaking out in their continued fight for justice. Viewers also agreed that while it was extremely tough and distressing to watch, it was necessary and important that such programmes continue to be made.

Main photograph: @rte

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