Irish Sex Abuse Chronicler Justine McCarthy: Concern That Swim Officials Who Participated in Cover-Up Remain in Power

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As I said in a post last month, those of us trying to get to the foggy bottom of the USA Swimming sex abuse outrages owe a profound debt to the work of Justine McCarthy, a writer for London’s Sunday Times. Her 2009 book, Deep Deception: Ireland’s Swimming Scandals, is the template for what is now clearly a problem across national borders. You can order the book from Amazon at

McCarthy graciously sat down today for the following email interview with Concussion Inc.

In a future post I’ll have links to some of the primary-source material referenced below, such as the audio of the RTE radio program in which the Irish Olympic Council’s lawyer attacked McCarthy for reporting the details of one of the George Gibney cases, and the full text of the Roderick Murphy report from the Irish swimming inquiry.


Let’s start with George Gibney, since he’s the figure through whom the story became global, in practice as well as theory. In your final character-disposal chapter of the revised edition of Deep Deception, you place Gibney in Florida, with a probable sighting in New York in late 2008. Do you know anything further regarding his whereabouts? Also, what is the update on the new charges filed against him in 2009?

McCARTHY: The latest news of Gibney’s whereabouts in summer 2012 was that he was still residing in Orange City, Florida (where he became a member of the Knights of Columbus), but I heard from a contact there (Evin Daly, chief executive One Child anti-child abuse organisation) that his condominium was for sale. Also, there was an unofficial reported sighting of Gibney in Dublin around April when, it’s thought, he may have returned to Ireland for a family wedding.

The girl who was raped by him in Florida in 1991 has repeatedly tried to kill herself, once while on the phone to me. The High Court civil case she took for damages against Swim Ireland and the Irish Olympic Council was struck out on the grounds that the proceedings were too old. The court awarded costs to the two organisations. The girl made an undisclosed out-of-court settlement with the insurers of her former solicitor (lawyer) who failed to progress the case. She appealed the size of the Olympic Council’s legal bill and it was cut this year by the High Court Taxing Master by two-thirds. The Minister for Sport, Leo Varadkar, had urgent meetings with the two sports organisations about their heartless pursuit of the girl for legal costs after the Olympic Council’s lawyer, Giles J Kennedy, attacked me on national radio nine months ago for reporting the details of it.

Those proceedings are now completed. To my knowledge there are no other proceedings before the Irish courts relating to Gibney. One survivor who attempted to make a formal complaint through a solicitor became so frustrated by the system she gave up. Another woman, who only began to confront what he did to her when she accidently encountered his colleague, Derry O’Rourke, in her local supermarket, is still too traumatised to take any legal action.


Before moving on to prospective policies and solutions, I wonder if you would expound on the value of simple apologies by the authorities to past victims — a kind of “truth and reconciliation report”? On ABC’s 20/20 in 2010, USA Swimming’s executive director, Chuck Wielgus, seemed almost offended when he was confronted on camera and asked if apologies were warranted (though he would soften that position in a damage-control open letter to the swimming community a couple of days later). This is one of several reasons why critics of the swim program here believe a housecleaning is in order rather than mere installation of an “athlete protection program” on paper. Your thoughts?

McCARTHY: For many of the women who sued in relation to abuse by Derry O’Rourke, obtaining a written apology or even acknowledgement of their suffering from the governing body was as important, if not more so, than getting a monetary cheque. Being believed is crucial for the recovery of abuse survivors. Formal acknowledgment is also essential for organisations that pursued policies of denial. Because it is standard for out-of-court settlements to include no-liability clauses, these apologies have struck a new departure; while they do not admit liability they acknowledge that people in their care were harmed by people in their employment. It exposes the farce of the non-liability clause.

Swim Ireland has now publicly and privately apologised to victims on a number of occasions and has rehabilitated itself in the public perception more swiftly than an organisation like the Olympic Council that continues to pursue the antediluvian policy of admit-nothing.


In Ireland, there appears to have been more man-on-boy molestation in proportion to man-on-girl acts. And that leads to an observation of mine that the USA Swimming abuse pattern, more so than Ireland’s, suggests an element of cultural entitlement — i.e., less of “the repressed pervert in our midst” and more of a feeling that this is what Svengali coaches do with their star female athletes. Indeed, in America we’re finding a second generation of abusers among coaches who grew up watching legendary figures in the sport model such behavior. Your own reporting weighs the ambiguous evidence on whether there was an actual “ring” of pedophiles who shared victims. I’d like you to go beyond that and comment on seeming cultural similarities and differences.

McCARTHY: I don’t agree with your hypothesis. The two most notorious coaches, Derry O’Rourke and George Gibney, targeted female swimmers (the exception being Gibney’s abuse of Chalkie White which is the only case in the public domain of abuse of a male by him). Frank McCann abused female swimmers and murdered his wife and foster daughter. Yes, Ger Doyle, the third national coach, did abuse only males, as did the priest, Ronald Bennett. The latter is fairly in keeping with the abuse scandal in the Catholic Church where many of the victims were males.

The sense of entitlement was a huge factor in Irish swimming. The Blazers, as sports authorities are derogatorily known, behaved like gods and were treated as such. They yielded enormous power in an individualist sport of highly ambitious and malleable young people entrusted to their care. Even officials lower down the pecking order bowed and scraped to these men.

The more I learn about what went on in Irish swimming, the more inclined I am to believe that there was a paedophile ring in operation. As I say in the book, this did not operate a membership list and monthly meetings but worked on a nod-and-wink basis with coaches recognising each other’s abusive instincts and tipping each other off in coded language about vulnerable prey.


An American-born British Olympian, Annabelle Cripps, who has changed her name to Katherine Starr, has started an organization over here called Safe 4 Athletes. One of the group’s main areas of advocacy is getting the review and dissemination of information on alleged abuses to be held to a more flexible administrative standard, “preponderance of the evidence,” rather than the criminal standard, “beyond a reasonable doubt.” The idea behind this is that putting perpetrators in prison is one thing, but keeping the environment safe for young athletes, especially female athletes, is an altogether different question. Has anything like this been proposed or implemented in Ireland?

McCARTHY: There’s been no debate here on anything like Katherine Starr’s proposal, though it’s urgently needed. The vast majority of victims never report and then, of those reported, only a tiny proportion are ever prosecuted because of the dearth of physical evidence and eye witnesses. This goes back to survivors’ need to be believed and vindicated. The main debates here about the legal aspect of these cases have concentrated on the statute of limitations (barring civil actions after the lapse of three years – not applicable to these cases any more because of a Supreme Court judgment on when the clock starts ticking (from the time the victim starts dealing with it) and on the need to change the law that allows accused persons to apply to court to have each complaint’s case heard in separate trials. “Pattern of evidence”, as presented by multiple victims, is often the only convincing evidence in these cases and that is negated by separate trials.


Besides the above, what is the most important piece of unrealized reform in Ireland?

McCARTHY: There is concern that swim officials who played secondary roles in the cover-up have remained in positions of influence. I think this was made possible by the restrictive terms of reference for the Murphy inquiry, which means nobody was named in the report (not even Gibney, O’Rourke, et al). The effect was to add to the secrecy and to allow individuals – such as Dr Moira O’Brien, the swimming association’s honorary doctor and a former president who was personally told about abuse and did nothing – to elude any accountability.

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Concussion Inc. - Author Irvin Muchnick