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Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Commission hears Bill Kenneally carried out ‘ritualistic and sadistic’ child abuse

The actions of convicted child abuser Bill Kenneally were “not run-of-the-mill child abuse” but rather were “bizarre, ritualistic, and sadistic” and indicative of psychopathy, a commission of investigation into the case has found.

The commission, overseen by former High Court Judge Michael White and which seeks to investigate the actions or inactions of State agencies in Waterford at the time the abuse perpetrated by Kenneally took place, was meeting in public for a second week in Dublin, with the whole day comprising expert testimony from child sexual abuse expert Kieran McGrath.

Kenneally, who was first convicted in 2016, is currently serving a 19-year sentence for the indecent assault of 15 boys in Waterford between the years 1979 and 1980.

Mr McGrath, who has been working in the field since the early 1980s and was heavily involved with the creation of Ireland’s first two child sexual abuse units at that time, expressed deep professional reservations regarding the contemporary actions of professionals who were made aware of the abuse being carried out by Kenneally.

Supt Cashman

Much of that criticism was directed at former acting chief superintendent Sean Cashman, who oversaw a 1987 investigation into Kenneally, one which led to no further action being taken against the abuser. Supt Cashman himself previously gave evidence before the commission in private session in 2021.

Mr McGrath referred to the fact that Kenneally had walked into a Waterford Garda Station in December 1987 and said “I know why I’m here lads”, and that Supt Cashman had formed the view that Kenneally was indeed sexually abusing boys yet didn’t caution Kenneally and declined to escalate the situation, as “one of the most extraordinary things about these cases”.

“How is it possible that apparently when things were so clear that things that should have happened didn’t?” Mr McGrath asked, in reference to the fact that guidelines regarding how child sexual abuse (CSA) should be handled existed from July 1987, yet were not applied to the case of Kenneally.

He acknowledged that in the early 1980s that there had been “very little awareness” across Ireland as a whole of the issue of CSA, but that reports of such abuse had increased exponentially over the decade and that the July 1987 guidelines were far more comprehensive than anything that had gone before.

He said that Supt Cashman had used his discretion in a scenario where only specific guidelines should have been followed. “Any complaint made by a child must be taken seriously. It should have been reported directly to the director for community care. Superintendent Cashman did not do that,” he said.

“There were a number of very important steps he could have taken that he did not take,” Mr McGrath added. “One cannot go on a solo run with something as complex as child sexual abuse.” 

Supt Cashman, who — when approached in 1987 by the father of one of Kenneally’s victims who did not wish his child to make a complaint — himself approached Kenneally’s uncle with a view to getting Kenneally to attend a Garda station, has previously insisted that there was “no cover-up” in the case, and that the gardaí had resolved the investigation to the greatest extent possible at the time.

Mr McGrath said that Supt Cashman had been “satisfied that what he did was the right thing”. “I have to say I disagree with that. He could have started a preliminary inquiry,” he said, adding that the fact that the matter was not escalated “in my opinion is not satisfactory”.

Of Supt Cashman, he said that “his decisions do not stand up to scrutiny”.

Allegations in the 80s

The commission heard that one victim had obtained notes under freedom of information regarding how he had been seen by a doctor within the South Eastern Health Board in October 1987 and throughout the summer of 1988, and that those notes detail his allegations of abuse by Bill Kenneally.

The notes detail the boy’s allegations that he had been “brought into a house and tied up” at Halloween in 1986. Mr McGrath replied that those allegations “should have immediately triggered a report to the director of community care” under the 1987 guidelines.

“All relevant parties should have been invited to discuss that. There were strong indications that a crime had been committed. I think that’s very important information,” he said.

Of the fact Supt Cashman had been aware that the victims were being tied up, and that handcuffs were being used, Mr McGrath said: “That is not run-of-the-mill child abuse, that is bizarre, ritualistic, sadistic.” 

Of the fact one victim, who walked into a Garda station in 1985 and alleged that Kenneally had abused him, was not dealt with because he didn’t have an adult with him, Mr McGrath said that the unnamed Garda in question “should have been conscious of ordinary policing, where you hear someone reporting a crime, it’s a sexual crime, and he’s a child”.

“He did have the opportunity to say, ‘well, what else can I do here?’. At least talk to the young person, find out more about it, because this is a serious crime,” he said.


He said that the “level of callousness and narcissism” displayed by Kenneally “shows a trace of psychopathy”.

Mr McGrath said that despite his decades of experience of instances of CSA, “what’s described in the accounts of the survivors is absolutely shocking”. “Even for me, I found it tough going,” he said.

“I was very, very moved by reading the transcripts of the survivors in this case, even though I’ve been doing this for 40 years. It was gruelling to read those accounts,” he said.

He said that the vast majority of survivors of Kenneally had “felt completely trapped” and described Kenneally’s use of polaroid photos of explicit sexual acts involving the victims, often pictures they were asked to smile for to indicate they were happy at the time, as “very very calculated”.

“He had an immediate threat that he could use towards very young and immature boys, that was not an accident,” he said, adding that those photos often happened in the “most appalling of circumstances”.

He said he is of the opinion that because Kenneally suffered no consequences for so long he had convinced himself “he could basically get away with it”, and that had the abuse come to light in late 1987 or early 1988 then Kenneally’s victims “would have been free from the consequences” — such as addiction problems — of his abuse.

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