Opening Seanad Speech – Kenneally Commission of Investigation


A Cathaoirleach, I am glad to be here today to discuss this important matter. First, I want to thank members of the Business Committee for agreeing to give time to this this issue in the House today; namely, the Order for the establishment of a Commission of Investigation into the response to allegations or complaints of child sexual abuse by Bill Kenneally, and related matters.


As Members will be aware, I have written to the Cathaoirleach to respectfully ask that all Members exercise a particular level of restraint in the debate today. It is important to remember that there are criminal proceedings currently in train in respect of issues which are potentially related to an element of the Commission’s work.


Nothing should be said here today that might, in any way, jeopardise the rights of those who have come forward and made complaints more recently to have their cases fully prosecuted. Similarly, nothing should be said here today that would jeopardise the right of anyone to a fair trial. It is imperative that we protect and respect these fundamental Constitutional rights.


Before Members today is the Order to Establish the Commission, with the Terms of Reference scheduled. Members will also have seen the Statement of Reasons for the establishment of the Commission. It is important before going into any depth in relation to the Order and the Terms of Reference, that I give a brief outline of how we have reached this important point.


On 23rd November 2016, the then Tánaiste, Frances Fitzgerald, met with the survivors of sexual abuse committed by Bill Kenneally. These men; fathers, husbands, brothers and sons, had courageously come forward with their evidence of the horrific abuse inflicted on them during their childhood. Their evidence led to a conviction against Bill Kenneally and a sentence of 14 years imprisonment.


Following the meeting, the Tánaiste commenced discussions with officials and sought the advice of the Attorney General. The Attorney advised that, while it would be difficult to establish a Commission of Investigation, given a number of legal and procedural difficulties, it would not be impossible. However, extreme care would have to be taken so as its work would not impact on any subsequent criminal proceedings.


In May 2017, Government committed to setting up a Commission of Investigation into the response to allegations of abuse committed by Bill Kenneally. Since I became Minister for Justice and Equality later that year, I, along with my officials, have worked with the Attorney General’s office to draft an appropriate set of Terms of Reference that, as far as possible, would not affect adversely any pending or ongoing criminal proceedings or further investigations.


It should be noted that, relatively recently, a further 99 criminal charges have been brought against Bill Kenneally in respect of other complainants. An Garda Síochána is also investigating further allegations by new complainants.


The Terms of Reference which are scheduled to the Order are drafted, primarily, from information provided to the then Tánaiste, Frances Fitzgerald, by survivors of abuse committed by Bill Kenneally. A particular mention should go to Mr Jason Clancy, who provided very detailed information in relation to the response by the State to the allegations in the 1980s against Bill Kenneally, which forms the basis for the Commission of Investigation.


In April 2018, once a draft of the Terms of Reference had been prepared in consultation with the Office of the Attorney General, I met with the survivors and their legal representative and offered them an opportunity to comment on the draft Terms. They made a number of suggestions which I considered, along with my officials, and a version encompassing a number of the proposed changes was then sent to the Attorney General for further advice.


Once approved by the Attorney General, the final version of the Terms of Reference were sent to the survivors, via their solicitor, who informed my Department that they approved of the Terms of Reference as now drafted.


Turning to the substance of the Terms of Reference, the Sole Member will first be asked to investigate the extent of the knowledge within An Garda Síochána during a particular time-period, 1985 to 1992, of the allegations against Mr. Kenneally. If information emerges indicating that Gardaí were informed of the allegations against Mr. Kenneally, either before or after those particular years, then the Commission is empowered to investigate that information further.


Members will note that the Terms contain references to An Garda Síochána, the South Eastern Health Board, Basketball Ireland, the Waterford Catholic diocese and unnamed “political figures”. While the allegations made by Mr. Clancy and others are primarily against An Garda Síochána, it may be necessary for the Commission to investigate the acts or omissions of those other organisations, if it can be shown that An Garda Síochána passed information to them in relation to any offences allegedly being committed by Bill Kenneally.


I would like to inform Members that, once the documents were laid before both Houses, my Department made contact with the named organisations, providing them with copies of the Terms of Reference and informing them that the Commission would be in contact with them in due course.


I am happy to appoint retired Circuit Court Judge Mr Barry Hickson as the Sole Member of the Commission of Investigation. A well-respected and experienced jurist, I am sure that Judge Hickson will carry out the work of the Commission in a professional, expedient manner. I would like to inform the House that both the Attorney General and Judge Hickson have estimated that it will take the Commission up to a year to report, given the potential number of witnesses to be called and the various allegations that have been made.


Colleagues should also note that the Commission may be required to pause its work, if requested by the DPP, where a concern exists that the matter being discussed at the Commission might interfere with any aspect of an ongoing criminal prosecution against Mr. Kenneally. The DPP will be monitoring proceedings and has agreed to contact my Department should any difficulties arise.


I appreciate, Cathaoirleach, that we are tight for time so I would like to pause my comments here and will offer further information to the House, regarding detailed arrangements for the Commission of Investigation, following statements from other Members.