Belfast Telegraph

Mary McAleese's brother calls for 'gentlemen' of St Colman's Newry to reveal what they know of Fr Finnegan abuse

By Jonathan Bell

The brother or Mary McAleese has joined with growing calls for the Secretary of State to establish an independent inquiry into child sex abuse at a Northern Ireland school appealing to the "gentlemen" who knew of the abuse going on at the school to speak out saying they could still offer comfort to those who suffered abuse.

The Northern Ireland Office, however, rejected the call for an inquiry, saying it was for a restored Northern Ireland Executive to decide on if there needed to be an investigation.

Former Irish president McAleese, in an emotional interview with RTE, revealed how her younger brother Clem Leneghan, was abused by the paedophile priest throughout his time at St Colman’s College in Newry.

Mr Leneghan, a film and TV production safety consultant now based in England, was not sexually abused but said he was subjected to psychological and physical abuse during his time at the school.

Disgraced cleric Finnegan, who was a teacher and later president at St Colman’s College for 11 years before moving to Clonduff as parish priest in 1988, died in 2002. He has been linked to a string of abuse allegations against children, including sexual and physical attacks.

Mr Leneghan said he did not want to comment on his experiences at the hands of the priest as "I do not wish my story to take the spotlight away from where it belongs – which is on the need for truth and justice for the many victims of Finnegan’s lifetime of criminal sexual abuse of children."

He called for Karen Bradley to "lose no time" in opening an inquiry into how the priest was allowed to abuse for so long at the school and called on those who knew of the activities and failed to act to speak out.

"While Finnegan himself can no longer be called to account in the courts, I know that other, adults – both in St Colman’s and more broadly within the Dromore Diocese – knew of his activities and failed to act.

"Gentlemen, you know who you are. On behalf of all victims of abuse, of whatever form, I call on you now to come forward and tell what you know to the PSNI.

"Please, do it today. If you can find the courage to speak then you may, even now, help bring some healing to those who continue to suffer for the crimes of Malachy Finnegan. If you choose to continue in your silence, history will not be kind to your memory."

Clem Leneghan (49) first told of his torment at the school in a recent letter to the Belfast Telegraph.

“Malachy Finnegan was a sadist," he wrote.

“Throughout my seven years as a pupil at St Colman’s in the 1980s, something rotten was allowed to fester at the core of that school — I saw it every day.”

Speaking to RTE's Sean O'Rourke programme Mary McAleese, said the abuse in the school was widely known. She had always felt her brothers could tell her anything, but that a climate of fear meant her youngest sibling felt unable to be open about his time at the school in the 1980s.

“My baby brother, the youngest of nine children, was seriously physically, sadistically abused by Malachy Finnegan,” she said.

Ms McAleese described her brother as “wonderful, beautiful”, adding: “As you can imagine, as the youngest of a family, (he was) so incredibly loved by all of us.”

She also said a public inquiry was needed.

“We know now that the first, the very first complaints, go back to the 1970s — not the 1990s at all, but go back to the 1970s which means there is a body of information that was well known to people that were in a position to do something about it — but didn’t,” she added.

Former Bishop of Dromore John McAreavey resigned from his post on March 1 after coming under fire for celebrating mass with Finnegan in 2000, as well as officiating over his funeral in 2002, despite knowing he had abused children.

The diocesan spokesperson also stood down amid the furore, which followed a financial settlement reached by the Catholic Church with one of Finnegan’s victims in October.

St Colman’s College has said the school will cooperate fully with any investigation.

In a statement, the Northern Ireland Office added: "This Government has always been very clear in its outright condemnation of any form of abuse of children. The Secretary of State urges anyone with information relating to the abuse of children or young people to contact the PSNI.

"The issues at play here are devolved, and it should be for a restored Executive to decide on the right way forward. That is why it remains the UK Government's overriding priority to see devolution restored."

Belfast Telegraph Digital

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