Further to an earlier post this morning in which the victims of convicted and jailed paedophile Bill Kenneally responded to claims Kenneally made, through an intermediary, to The Irish Times in an article supported by the Mary Raftery Journalism Fund…
On RTÉ One at 10.15pm.
Journalist Mick Peelo will present a Would You Believe documentary called Beyond Redemption?
An explanatory piece about the documentary on RTÉ’s website states:
“…this special, investigative Would You Believe? documentary lifts the lid on Ireland’s sex offenders to discover a number of unpalatable truths: most are not paedophiles, most are never caught or convicted and almost 40% of them are children under 18; most sexual abuse happens within families and is kept secret.”
“Demonising the few sex offenders who are convicted is understandable, perhaps, but takes the focus away from the majority, who continue to operate undetected. In fact, it endangers rather than protects our children and our society.”
“Like it or not, a more humane approach to sex offenders actually reduces further victims.”
In the documentary, Mr Peelo goes to Arbour Hill Prison where he talks to the prison’s Governor Liam Dowling and psychologist Dr Emma Regan about the prison’s sex offenders’ treatment programme. He also meets and interview sex offenders and people who work with them.
In addition, he travels to Canada where, over 20 years ago, a mennonite community took in a paedophile called Charles Taylor in which he took part in a Circle of Support.
“This Christian community built a Circle of Support and Accountability around a man the public had good reason to regard as a dangerous, serial predator, so that he wouldn’t reoffend. For the rest of his life, Taylor never did and those Circles of Support continue to help other offenders to re-build their lives in safety in a community setting.”
These “circles of support” are operating in Ireland, too.
In an article in today’s Irish Times, court reporter Conor Gallagher reported:
Nearly 50 people have volunteered to support and monitor convicted sex offenders in the community, as part of a Probation Service programme which has substantially reduced reoffending in other countries.
The Circles of Support and Accountability (COSA) programme, which was launched in Dublin last year, is designed to reintegrate medium to high-risk sex offenders into the community by including them in an informal social support circle of volunteers.
The model originated in a Canadian Mennonite community and has since been successful in Europe.
Studies suggest there has been a 70 per cent reduction in sexual reoffending by those who go through the programme.
…Last year, 45 volunteers were selected following a public recruitment campaign. Individual offenders were put in a group of between four and six volunteers.
… The programme is funded by the Probation Service, at a cost of €71,000 a year, but is run by PACE, an offender rehabilitation organisation headed by Lisa Cuthbert.
Further to this, on this morning’s Today with Seán O’Rourke on RTE One, Mr Peelo discussed his documentary.
Also present to discuss is was Cormac Walsh, who was abused by Michael Byrne, a former teacher and brass band leader, from Templerainey, Arklow, Co Wicklow, and former Toronto police officer Wendy Leaver, who is an advocate of the Circles of Support programme.
Mr Walsh and Ms Leaver – a retired detective of the Toronto Police Services and worked in its Sex Crimes Unit for 20 years – also feature in tonight’s documentary.
From the discussion on the Sean O’Rourke Show…
Sean O’Rourke: “Mick Peelo, can you first outline to us: how did this programme come about and when was that question first posed? Could the way we currently treat sex offenders be doing more harm than good?”
Mick Peelo: “Well, Would You Believe? is celebrating 25 years of making documentaries on RTE and I’ve been working on it for 24 of those 25 years. I’ve been privileged enough to do that. And I suppose in that I’ve made some of the most harrowing and difficult programmes about sexual abuse. But this one, this particular one tonight, is probably the most difficult I’ve ever had to make but, for me, it’s one of the most important. I suppose because it raises hard-hitting questions about offenders of sexual abuse. In a way, I suppose, it makes us sit back and think about how do we treat sex offenders and is the way we treat sex offenders demonising them, isolating them, having a negative impact. And, I suppose, I’ve been hearing back from, over the years, from people working with sex offenders, people who sexually harm, that ‘yes, you in the media are one, a serious problem’ is what they’re saying to me, so, basically, I suppose, I listen to that and listen to sex offenders and ask those questions.”
O’Rourke: “Yeah, it wouldn’t be unusual to see headlines about ‘sex beast’, ‘perv’, that’s the lingua franca of a lot of the coverage of these events now you’ve delved behind that and what have you found?”
Peelo: “Well, what I’ve found, I suppose, is that the people working with sex offenders, first of all, that are are understanding. My understanding of sex offenders has been challenging, has been challenged. My attitude to sex offenders has been challenged and I hope that this documentary tonight will do the same, to viewers out there. And, I suppose, what I found is, is I would have stereotyped sex offenders, I think I would have seen them as paedos and I would have seen them as the scumbags that people thought they were and are. And that language isn’t very helpful so you need to start re-looking at that language. And I suppose my empathy was always with the victims, it was never with offenders and I don’t really have much empathy with offenders. But I think what needs to happen is, I suppose, for a start, we need to change our language towards the whole issue of sex offenders, we in the media. We also, as people and a society, need to re-look at the way we treat sex offenders and how we respond to sex offenders in our communities. Because, actually, the way we are responding them – by demonising them endangers children and vulnerable adults…”
O’Rourke: “You say it makes them more likely to re-offend?”
Peelo: “Yes. It’s been proven that it does. But also, if you demonise someone and isolate them and dehumanise them, very often they’re driven underground and they can’t be managed. And if you can’t manage, and you can’t find them, you certainly can’t do anything about them. But, the most important thing I suppose, Sean, is that facts like 40% of the people who sexually abuse children are actually children themselves. They’re not paedophiles, they’re not monsters. And so therefore, we need to start re-thinking about this.”
O’Rourke: “And you also look at the where of where sexual abuse is taking place as well.”
Peelo: “Exactly. It’s taking place, a lot of it, is taking place within families and families do exactly what the Roman Catholic Church did in the past and I’ve covered that so many times. Families protect the institution, they cover up sexual abuse within families and it moves on somewhere else outside the family. And the perpetrator goes on and perpetrates more crimes.”
O’Rourke: “I’ll come to Wendy Leever, in Toronto, in a few minutes. But first, to bring you in, Cormac Walsh. You as I said, are a survivor of sexual abuse. What happened in your case. You were abused by a man in Wicklow, a former teacher and band leader.”
Cormac Walsh: “Yes, I was abused by Michael Byrne, from Arklow, for most of my teenage years. He groomed me, he lied to me, he deceived me, he made me think that what he was doing to me was for my own good, that he was helping me. But, all the time, he was abusing me and just satisfying his own deviant, sexual desires.”
O’Rourke: “And eventually, and it’s quite recently, that he went to jail for those crimes.”
Walsh: “He’s currently in Arbour Hill. And he’s serving, he’s due to be released next year some time.”
O’Rourke: “Right. He got, what was it? A seven-year sentence?”
Walsh: “He got an eight-year sentence, with four years suspended. He’s been there two and a half years, more than two and a half, and he’ll probably get out next spring sometime.”
O’Rourke: “That, I imagine, is a prospect you’re not looking forward to..”
Walsh: “Absolutely not, no. It’s a very big concern of mine.”
O’Rourke: “What do you think should happen to him when he’s released?”
Walsh: “Well, Michael Byrne, is a psychopathic monster, he’s beyond redemption – to take the title from the programme tonight. Michael Byrne doesn’t admit, he doesn’t admit his own guilt despite having, in the circuit court, admitting that he was guilty, despite in the High Court, last summer, when Justice Michael White asked him, ‘well, Mr Byrne, do you deny that you sexually abused Cormac Walsh?’ He said, ‘no, no, I did it all right but not the way Cormac Walsh said I did it’.”
O’Rourke: “You basically see this man as being, in fact, beyond redemption, you’ve made that clear.”
Walsh: “Well, I think at the end of the programme tonight, I mentioned about, if people ask for help, people can make mistakes and if people are sorry for their mistakes, they can be helped. The paedophiles that I’m referring to don’t even accept that they’ve done anything wrong.”
O’Rourke: “Ok, well, look. The programme goes to Canada as well. You’ve looked at a system that’s operating there and somebody who can shed some insights into it now is on the line, as I say, Wendy Leaver, good morning to you.
Wendy Leaver: “Good morning.”
O’Rourke: “Twenty years working with the Sex Crimes Unit there with police in Toronto and I imagine that what you just heard from Cormac there would reflect the views maybe that you had yourself certainly for a long time and also what victims you’ve had worked with would have been saying to you.”
Leaver: “Absolutely. What he has spoken about resonates with a lot of the cases I had when I was working in the Sex Crimes Unit.”
O’Rourke: “And what was your own attitude towards sex offenders and paedophiles?”
Leaver: “There was a concern, though all we would witness when they came out was the recidivism rates would go up and you would read the files that would come out of the judicial system that would most likely reoffend and our hands were tied. And they were, you couldn’t protect the victims and it was a major concern. My thoughts were the same as your guest just spoke of.”
O’Rourke: “And then you were invited to go along to something call the Circles or, at least to familiarise yourself with, Circles of Support. Now tell me about that and your own attitude, before you went along.”
Leaver: “Well I became involved at the end of 1996/1997. The Canadian government at that time came out with a new regulation, in relation to a peace bond that gave police officers the ability to take a look at sex offenders’ files coming out of the system and make a decision that, yes, this person is more likely to reoffend, therefore we’re going to take him before the court, when he comes out of the system, and have conditions put on him. I ended up in that situation because I was working with a sex crime and became involved with a gentleman, who’s now deceased, by the name of Ray Budjrayal who was a horrific paedophile. My concern was my job was basically just to approach him when he came out of the system, hand him the papers, let him know that we’d be taking him before the court. As a result of that, I was contacted by Hugh Kirkegaard, who was a minister, a religious minister with Corrections Canada, who had one of the first people to become involved in working with Circles of Support and he called me and said: would you be interested in attending a Circle of Support for Ray Budjrayal who’s out now. And I guess I was shocked and taken back and I thought ‘you’ve got to be kidding’. However, I did show up just to see exactly what was happening and I was sitting around in the church basement of the circle, which was introduced and, as the core member, which was Ray Budjrayal. And I was concerned because in my expertise, what I believed I had investigation in relation to paedophiles, and my concern was ‘these people have no idea who they are dealing with’, how manipulative these individuals are and how dangerous they are.
“Well, I didn’t leave, I stayed and what happened was, I began to realise that in all my years of experience, and working with paedophiles, that this team could be possibly the one situation that may work. That may keep victims safe, which was most important and also safely re-integrate this individual into the community.”
O’Rourke: “So, how did it work or how was it to operate, in practice?”
Leaver: “Well, basically, what happens is it is on a volunteer basis that the core members do come into the project. There will be interviews in the prison system before they are released. It is a community-based initiative and it operates basically on the restorative justice principle. So we take a look at individuals who served a prison sentence for a sexual offence that want to re-enter society safely. And know they are concerned with their offences and what has happened and what happens is they have to participate in the programme voluntarily and they’re not mandated by the courts system at all. The core member and [inaudible] trained and screened community volunteers, basically comprise this circle and they meet as a group and individually on a regular basis and the reason for that is, that person coming out of the system, they’ve been in there for any extended period of time, they need assistance in integrating and we found, within Canada, once they left through the doors, that was it, there’s no support. So the circles will facilitate basically an individuals’ practical needs – does he need to get ID, he needs access to medical services, maybe social assistance, employment, affordable housing? Also, which is very important is the circle does provide a consistent network of emotional support for this individual.”
O’Rourke: “And, Wendy, what happened in the case of Ray Budjrayal, this notorious, devious, manipulative individual?”
Leaver: “Well, basically, we had to find housing. He was in a motel for months because it was impossible to find any place that would take him. We worked very hard in finding him a living [inaudible]. He also had some developmental disabilities which made the situation worse but, every week, he would attend circle meetings. All the members of the circle would eventually meet with him on their own for coffee or just drop into his house to see how he’s doing, etc. He never reoffended and people can say ‘well, wow, you may not be aware’. Well, you know, as far as we know, he never reoffended.”
O’Rourke: “I’ll come back to you Cormac, just for your response to this in a moment. But Mick Peelo, apologies, there’s a bit of a difficulty with our line quality to Toronto, but we’ll try and fix that Wendy. Mick Peelo are there the beginnings of something like this happening quietly here now?”
Peelo: “Yes, yes. Circles of Support, because it’s been studied in Canada, it’s been studied all over Europe and it’s known to work – as a way of managing sex offenders successfully – the recidivism rate of reoffending for these people, they do no reoffend, 70-90%, it’s working. And in Dublin, they’re piloting this project at the moment. They have seven circles in the greater Dublin area and hoping to go nationwide next year. So, it’s working. There’s absolutely no doubt, it works.”
“And the main thing about this Sean is, the main point is, I know Cormac will say, ‘this guy is, Michael Byrne is beyond redemption’ but if you see, if you want no more victims of sexual abuse, we have to change the way we treat and respond to sex offenders.”
Walsh: “I hear exactly what you’re saying, Mick and Wendy and, with the greatest respect, I think the big difficulty is that we can’t trust these people because of their psychopathy, you always here that the paedophile, he was the pillar of the community, they are so manipulative, they simply can’t be trusted. They will say they want help and they can pretend all they like but, for example, Michael Byrne. Michael Byrne was convicted in 1971 of an act of gross indecency. Within months, he had started to groom me, to sexually abuse me over years. These people, it’s not…”
O’Rourke: “To go back to you, Wendy, is it a question of trusting them? Or is it a question of monitoring them? With some support?”
Walsh: “I agree with your guest because or my involvement, it’s not the idea of trusting them. It’s the idea of monitoring them. What we found in Canada is there were no conditions on them at that time, they didn’t have to report to the police. At least now, with the changes, there is the high-risk unit that they do have to report to. But the circle acts as another set of eyes and ears. And the police are part of the circle, the outer part of the circle..”
Walsh: “So should we have a circle of support for the bank robbers?”
Leaver: “You know what? Possibly there should be but I’m not too sure…”
Peelo: “The other thing, sorry to cut across you Wendy. But the other thing I think we got to realise is that most sexual, many child abusers are not actually paedophiles.”
Leaver: “That’s right.”
Peelo: “Our understanding of paedophilia is limited. I think we don’t understand paedophilia.”
Peelo: “A very small percentage of people who sexually harm children are paedophiles…”
Walsh: “That’s part of the problem…”
Peelo: “Very small. So Michael Byrne may be one of those people but you can’t treat the rest of them, the 97% the same way.”
Walsh: “Can I just talk about One in Four – they’ve got a programme that they’ve just started. It’s called the Phoenix programme and it’s designed to treat and help sex offenders. Eileen Finnegan who is the programme leader of that programme said last week and these are her quote ‘we don’t get many paedophiles in here’. The point I’m making is that it’s all very well to try and help the sex offenders but paedophiles – they’re a different breed.”
O’Rourke: “Yes, I mean, like, what is the breakdown. Is it sex offenders or is it paedophiles or what’s the..?”
Peelo: “It’s everything, Sean, it’s people who sexually harm. People who sexually harm children.
O’Rourke: “You’ve some observations, as well, that I think you make at the end tonight, Mick Peelo, about the Catholic Church’s treatment of its offenders who have been, if you like, put back in the care of orders or diocese or whatever. What conclusions have you drawn there?”
Peelo: “Well, I met. I started to meet, I mean, I’ve met some clerical offenders in relation to this documentary and from meeting them and from meeting people who’ve treated them, they’re telling me the Catholic Church’s treatment of those particular people is – they’re all tarred with the same brush, they’re all treated. There’s zero tolerance, is basically putting them in situations where the conditions they live under are arbitrary, they’re driven by public opinion, they feel isolated, they feel demonised, they don’t feel that they are, they feel that they are beyond redemption. Now, for a Catholic institution, to treat people in a way that they’re feeling they’re beyond redemption, seems to be an oxymoron.”
O’Rourke: “Do you think the thing has gone the other way completely?”
O’Rourke: “Because prior to this, there was a sense of ‘oh, you know, forgiveness and compassion and some counselling’ And a transfer of course…”
O’Rourke: “..was going to sort them out.”
Peelo: “Yeah, that’s the way it was. That was the way in the past, it was ‘forgive the sin, not the sinner’, no ‘forgive the sinner, not the sin’..”
O’Rourke: “It was treated as sin rather than a crime.”
Peelo: “Yeah and the, but also they didn’t hold the man to account and this system holds the man to account.”
O’Rourke: “Ok. I’ll give you the last word. You obviously, clearly believe, Cormac Walsh, that you’re going to take a lot of persuading.”
Walsh: “I am. I also don’t want people to think that I’m all out against these, about sex offenders per se. Anybody can make a mistake. I said at the end of the programme that if people are sorry for what they’ve done, and they asked for help and forgiveness, they can be helped but the real paedophiles can’t.”
Walsh: “Because they can’t be trusted.”
Listen back in full here
Earlier: Bill Kenneally’s Victims Respond