In tonight's Finné, Martin Ridge tells the story of how he uncovered the clerical sex abuse in Donegal
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"The victims were like prisoners. And it was the abusers who were protected."
When Martin Ridge moved to Donegal, he thought he was settling down to a quiet last few years in his job as a Garda Síochána. However, the biggest case of his career was still to come when he uncovered a secret that rocked the nation.
Nowadays, the clerical sex abuse scandal is something that most Irish people know about all too well. It is a black spot in our history that we learned about much too late. The scandal has done irrevocable damage to the church and people's relationship with the church.
In the Nineties, however, the church was still very much in its prime. It still held huge power and authority within the country and the idea that the church could do no wrong was well and truly alive.
In the next episode of TG4's documentary series, Finné, we follow the unravelling of the case that ultimately led to the nation's disillusionment with the church. Through the words of Martin Ridge himself and the words of one of the sex abuse victims, we hear about the takedown of Eugene Greene, a priest, and Denis McGinley, a teacher, who both abused huge numbers of children in the Raphoe diocese in Donegal.
Perhaps as a perfect example of the protection that this predator thought his title would give him, when Eugene Greene was blackmailed in 1997 for €5000 by Conal Melly, one of his former victims, Greene went straight to the police.
In the documentary, Martin Ridge talks about how he thought this would be an open-and-shut case; a clear case of baseless blackmail. As a formality, he set up an interview with Martin Gallagher who would have been an altar boy around the same time as the Conal Melly. He soon found out that Melly was not the only victim and, silent for far too long, Martin Gallagher was ready to speak.
As the weeks went on, more and more victims come forward with stories of how Eugene Greene sexually abused them. Greene would force the children to meet him at night, he would take them out under the pretence of teaching them to drive, and he would do it over and over again. But something else emerged too - he was not the only abuser.
Denis McGinley, a teacher at the local school, had been abusing the boys in his class on a daily basis. Every day, often up to three times a day, he would abuse and molest the children under his care, often in front of the rest of the class. Martin Ridge found out that McGinley was part of an international paedophile ring.
So how did these men get away with it for so long? Surely people must have noticed? Surely at least some children told their parents?
Well, they did. Over the years, there were numerous complaints raised against both Greene and McGinley but they had the church on their side and the church was not willing to risk a scandal.
When the mother of one of McGinley's students complained about him to John McGlynn, the local parish priest, McGlynn told her: "If a scandal breaks, you'll have to leave the area."
When a family complained that their son had been abused by Eugene Greene, he was sent away for "treatment". He wrote the family a letter, commending their way of dealing with the issue and asking for their forgiveness. He then returned and abused three more children in that family.
Even with the church's protection, it's hard to comprehend how they got away with it for so long but it must be remembered how priests were looked at in those days. They were the voices of authority, of protection, of reason, of God. The idea that they would willingly do something so awful was almost incomprehensible. As Martin Gallagher says:
"These are the people who made us trust them and they betrayed us badly and completely."
You can hear the rest of this story and how the predators were eventually brought to justice tonight at 9:30pm on TG4.
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