I’m writing this unsure if I’ll ever post it, it’ll certainly never appear on Facebook, but I’m trying to get my thoughts in order. Recently I’ve developed an obsession, a quiet one but one which is occupying way too much of my evenings. At least every hour I check in with a particular website looking for an update.
So what’s the website and why am I so obsessed?
It’s the website of an American investigative journalist who also has a mission, or more correctly a number of missions, to address serious wrongdoings in sport. He’s been hugely successful and highlighted many different wrongs in American football and American swimming, resulting in prosecutions and court procedures. In the past few years he has also turned his attention to George Gibney.
Who is Gibney? He’s one of Irelands most notorious paedophiles. He was charged in the early 1990s with twenty seven charges of abusing young swimmers, but got off on a technicality. He also happens to be the person I wrote to when I wrote, ‘To the one who stole my childhood.’
After he ‘got off’ he left Ireland and after a brief spell in Scotland went to the United States where he is believed to be living in Florida. This journalist has made it a mission of his to find out why Gibney was allowed to enter the US when he had charges issued against him, and been allowed to stay there when more victims have since come forward? He will not rest until Gibney is deported and forced to return to Ireland to face the new charges.
Of course most reading would be outraged to think he has escaped justice and would be fully supportive of this journalist.
But most are not me.
I was one of the ‘youngest’ to press charges against Gibney. I reported what he had done to me in 1992, the charges were eleven years old. As most abuse cases are not reported for up to twenty years this was a relatively short period of time, yet the High Court ruled it was too long for him to provide an adequate defence. So he got off.
My second child was only a few weeks old when I heard the courts decision. My heart broke a little and it took many years to recover. A journalist, Johnny Waterson, took our story and with our full co operation named Gibney and published his photo. When I asked the journalist, ‘What if he sues?’ He told me, ‘Let him, then he’ll have to prove he isn’t a child abuser.’ I can never express my gratitude to this journalist for his courage and compassion at that time.
The fall out was enormous and for months the case dominated our newspapers, television and radio. It was a very difficult time, sitting in my car driving my older child to school while listening to everyone discussing my story and others. A story I mostly kept secret. A story that hurt my family so much and which I was struggling to recover from at the time.
This was ‘Before.’ Before people in Ireland even knew what abuse meant. Before the scandals of the church broke. Before it was realised how huge a problem historical child abuse was in this country. Before people who came forward were believed.
However, because we spoke up swimmers in other clubs also came forward to tell their stories and two other coaches were subsequently jailed.
There were many who have said Gibney’s victims never got our day in court or compensation. And they are right, we didn’t. The swimming organisation which didn’t protect us had no obligation to pay out as he’d not been convicted, despite an inquiry vindicating our stories. Nor did they ever say ‘Sorry.’
However, people also say we never got justice, but I’m not so sure about that.
Okay, we never got a chance to stand in a court and let everyone know what he did… but everyone now knows and believes us.
We never got the chance to celebrate knowing he was in jail… but in reality he would probably only be sentenced to a few years and then he’d be free.
In fact if he had gone to court he’d be out by now. He’d be sharing the same sky I live under. This country is so small there is every chance that one day I, or a member of my family would meet him, face to face.
So while this journalist and many others bay for blood I do not. I am content to know he lives in exile, far, far away. I can remain calm when on occasions I think I smell his after shave in a shopping centre, or think a stranger coming towards me looks like him. He can never return to this country as things stand and his reputation has followed him to the United States. Journalists harass him and neighbourhood watch keep an eye on him.
Justice comes in many forms.
I’ve learned to live with the way things are for the past thirty years, I’d not like to imagine what it would be like if it changed… if he did come back here and go to court… if I’d to read about the case every day and relive it all day and night.
So maybe my obsession is understandable as I read the latest tweets,
‘Ireland & United States are getting much closer to a joint reckoning for the freedom of rapist former Irish Olympic swim coach George Gibney to hide in plain sight in Colorado, California, and Florida.’
Or, ‘Time to bring this Gibney nightmare to an end.’
Because in reality this nightmare has gone on for decades and bringing him back to Ireland will not make it end for those of us who were brave enough to speak up but were let down by our court of Justice.
I’ve had enough of him and his legacy and despite knowing that new victims have come forward I selfishly hope this journalist is unsuccessful, but I fear it’s only a matter of time.
Until then I’ll continue to live the life of freedom from Gibney I currently enjoy, while keeping one eye on the efforts of that journalist with the best of intentions.
Update… yesterday Gibney was spoken about yet again in the Dail. Maureen O Sullivan spoke of the lack of justice for those of us who spoke up 25 years ago in a very different world and despite the years I felt tears rise as the hurt of our voices being silenced by our ‘justice ‘ system was remembered.
Then Simon Coveny our deputy leader replied reminding her and me that there was no criminal conviction and therefore we had to be careful what we say.
And all over again we are silenced. And all over again I screamed ‘he raped and abused me don’t tell me I can’t say it happened. ‘
If, as they say there is new evidence I hurt for that victim but I am not convinced they will find justice in Irelands court system.