Reprinted with permission below is an article from the Sunday Times of London, Irish edition, on Bart Nolan, who died last week at 88 after decades of fighting the Irish swimming establishment to expose and bring to justice George Gibney, the most notorious at-large sexual abuser in global sports.
The author is Times columnist Justine McCarthy, whose book Deep Deception: Ireland’s Swimming Scandals, is the investigative foundation of all things Gibney. Concussion Inc. has been conversing with McCarthy for many years about Gibney and his movements in the United States since the 1990s. (See our October 31, 2012, interview at https://concussioninc.net/?p=6245.)
As we recognize Nolan’s important role — something several Irish readers had long been urging us to do — and McCarthy’s reflection on his legacy in a range of watchdog efforts, Irish legislator Maureen O’Sullivan awaits further information from the U.S. Center for SafeSport. Earlier this year this new U.S. Olympic Committee agency opened an investigation of Gibney at O’Sullivan’s request, with the specific task of trying to acquire a 1995 report on him by the police in the Denver suburb of Arvada, Colorado.
The Sunday Times website is thesundaytimes.ie. The column below is at the subscribers-only link https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/justine-mccarthy-when-a-hero-like-bart-nolan-dies-state-watchdogs-such-as-gsoc-must-step-up-qhnr26qft.
Bart has died. You would need to have known him to understand how unexpected that feels, even though he had been sick lately and heading towards his 89th birthday. Throughout his decades fighting for young swimmers who were sexually abused by their coaches, his admirers thought him unputdownable.
At his funeral mass on Thursday in Dublin’s City Quay, around the corner from where he lived as a child, Fr Tom Clowe said Bart Nolan, deep-sea docker and familiar protester outside the gates of Leinster House, was “a man of great courage [who] grew up in a place where loneliness was not part of life because people had friends and neighbours and great values that built this country to be what it is today”.
The absence at his funeral of those who held sway over the sport of swimming when Bart took it on was accentuated by the quiet weeping of former child swimmers and now elderly parents who had come to bury him with praise that could only ever be inadequate. Time and again the campaigner was threatened with being sued before being escorted away, with his homemade placard, from outside Swim Ireland’s annual meetings. Four of the sport’s once most powerful figures — George Gibney, Derry O’Rourke, Ger Doyle and Ronald Bennett, who included three national coaches — had preyed on their protégés. A fifth, Frank McCann, murdered his wife and his foster daughter to protect his secret: he had fathered the child of a vulnerable swimmer with special needs.
Bart vowed to make Ireland’s pools safer for future generations. In his eulogy Bart Nolan Jr said his father was “the proverbial accidental hero”. I think not; it was his destiny to be heroic. He was born bolshie and afraid of nobody. As Bart’s coffin was shouldered from the gloomy church into an oblivious city, boisterous with lunch-hour throngs, one question remained: who will mind us now?
In our shiny modern Ireland, the multifarious state agencies set up to protect us engender sparse confidence. These bodies were forced into existence by the courage of individuals who did the doughty, subversive graft but, instead of protecting the citizenry, they consistently seem to protect the establishment.
The Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (Gsoc) is an example. After nearly seven years of investigation, it has concluded there is no evidence that gardai tried to pin the 1996 murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier on Ian Bailey. This is patently not so. Some witnesses, albeit of dubious credibility in Marie Farrell’s case, have said they were encouraged to give false testimony against the English journalist. Evidential exhibits, including a farmyard-style gate, have gone missing from garda custody and pages were removed from the investigation record book. While all this falls far short of proving there was an attempt to frame Bailey, it could certainly be construed as evidence, unless a plausible explanation is forthcoming. Gsoc has not provided that, thus failing the public interest and perpetuating distrust in the institutional state.
In the case of Shane O’Farrell, a majority of TDs voted in the Dail on May 14 to establish a commission of investigation into the hit-and-run death of the 23-year-old Co Monaghan student in August 2011. That tragic event has been overshadowed by questions about garda conduct since it emerged that the driver of the car, Zigimantas Gridziuska, had convictions for theft, drugs, criminal damage and road traffic offences and was out on bail pending trial on other charges. He was wanted on both sides of the Irish border and had been in the car when it was stopped by gardai shortly before it killed O’Farrell.
After six years investigating, Gsoc has said there is no evidence of criminal conduct by gardai. Once again, it has failed to provide answers to disturbing questions about how the country is policed.
Disquieting too is the case of Dara Quigley, a journalist and blogger with mental health and addiction problems, who was filmed by a garda after she ran naked in a Dublin street. The officer shared the footage on a WhatsApp group, from where it was uploaded to Facebook by someone else and viewed more than 100,000 times.
Quigley ended her life five days later. Under the Garda Siochana Act 2005, it is illegal for a garda to share information obtained in the course of work which “is likely to have a harmful effect”. Lasts week Gsoc said the garda will not be prosecuted. There may be a persuasive reason for this decision but we have yet to hear it.
Despite this dismal track record, Gsoc is not the sole or even the principal culprit for its inadequacies. That distinction belongs to politicians. Forced to create state watchdogs by citizens who genuinely care about justice, politicians design them without teeth and, therefore, what we get are watchdogs that bark but have no bite.
Consider the Standards in Public Office (Sipo) Commission, which was created in 2001 to protect citizens against political corruption and unethical behaviour in the wake of details of payments to politicians emerging from the McCracken, Mahon and Moriarty tribunals. In December 2015, an RTE Investigates programme broadcast undercover footage of two county councillors apparently seeking favours in return for help with a commercial planning matter which, unknown to them, was fictitious.
John O’Donnell, from Donegal, said he had the discussion in his capacity as a businessman, not as a councillor. Hugh McElvaney, from Monaghan, said he knew it was a sting and decided to play along. Three years after RTE’s exposé, both are still members of their respective councils.
The High Court’s quashing of Sipo’s instruction to Amnesty International last November that it refund a €137,000 donation from the Open Society Foundations crystallises the inbuilt fault lines in the state’s regulatory machinery. Sipo made the order against one of the foremost campaigners against the constitutional abortion ban on the eve of the calling of a referendum, thereby intervening in an electoral issue when it should have been militating against interference.
Designing state watchdogs to fail is a doomed exercise, because there will always be a Bart Nolan or a Nan Joyce, the campaigner for Travellers’ rights who also died last week. Neither could tolerate elitism, prejudice or injustice. Giving state watchdogs the teeth they need would be the most fitting tribute to their memory.
Chronological links to our series, which began January 27, 2015, under the headline “Why Is George Gibney — No. 1 At-Large Pedophile in Global Sports — Living in Florida? And Who Sponsored His Green Card?”: https://concussioninc.net/?p=10942