Northern Ireland

Police set up dedicated team to investigate abuse allegations against Malachy Finegan

Fr Malachy Finnegan has been accused of a catalogue of sexual abuse
Fr Malachy Finnegan has been accused of a catalogue of sexual abuse

POLICE have set up a dedicated team to investigate abuse allegations against Co Down priest and school principal Malachy Finegan.

The news follows the resignation of Bishop of Dromore John McAreavey amid criticism of his actions from victims and parishioners.

Fr Finegan has been accused of a catalogue of sexual abuse against pupils at St Colman's College in Newry, where he was a teacher from 1967 to 1976 and president from 1976 to 1987.

Bishop McAreavey previously admitted he made an "error of judgement" by officiating at his 2002 funeral of the paedophile priest, whose actions he described as "abhorrent, inexcusable and indefensible".

He faced further calls to resign after it emerged he also celebrated Mass alongside Finegan in 2000.

Police have also faced questions over their response to abuse allegations, with five victims lodging a complaint with the Police Ombudsman.

In 1996 one victim informed officers in Newry of sexual abuse he had suffered, although he did not make a formal complaint.

Detective Superintendent Deirdre Bones of the PSNI Public Protection Branch said yesterday: "The PSNI has set up a dedicated team to investigate complaints of clerical and institutional abuse involving Fr Malachy Finnegan.

"I would appeal to anyone who has been the victim of physical or sexual abuse to report it to the Public Protection Branch in PSNI, who will deal with their reports sensitively and confidentially."

Claire McKeegan, a solicitor for KRW Law who is representing several of Finegan's victims, said they welcomed the move but it "does not go far enough",

"There is evidence that the Church were aware of Malachy Finegan's criminal acts when he was still alive and as such they had a duty to refer this information to the then RUC," she said.

"We have been instructed that in 1994 the then Bishop of Dromore, Francis Brooks, was advised of allegations of abuse and asked the current Bishop of Dromore to assist in a pastoral capacity.

"Section 5 of the Criminal Law Act 1967 requires such referrals to be made within reasonable time. We will be lodging a complaint to the PSNI in this regard on behalf of our clients."

A spokesman for the board of governors of St Colman's said yesterday it continues to condemn "in the strongest terms the abuse inflicted by Malachy Finegan and is devastated that any pupil who was entrusted to the care of St Colman's College should ever have suffered abuse".

"The school will co-operate fully with any inquiry into historic abuse by Malachy Finegan.

"With regard to Malachy Finegan's employment, the decision to reallocate priests at the time, including Malachy Finnegan, rested with the then Bishop, Francis Brooks.

"The Bishop of the Diocese was responsible for the appointment and removal of the school's president."

He added that the school's board has not yet been formally notified of Bishop McAreavey’s resignation.

The Catholic Council for Maintained Schools, meanwhile, confirmed that Dr McAreavey is no longer chairman of the body.

A spokesman said: "As a consequence of the resignation of Bishop John McAreavey, he automatically vacates his role as chairman and council member of CCMS with immediate effect."