March 2010

Profile of paedophile Father Brendan Smyth

The head of the Catholic church in Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady, is under pressure after confirming he was at meetings when two alleged victims of a paedophile priest signed an oath of silence.

The image of serial child abuser Fr Brendan Smyth leering into a camera lens as he prepared to face justice for his crimes is seared in the memory of anyone in Ireland who saw it.

Smyth was at the centre of one of the first paedophile priest scandals to rock the Catholic Church on the island.

His abuse of children spanned decades and continents and his conviction finally lifted the lid on a litany of clerical sex abuse scandals in Ireland.

Notorious paedophile Fr Brendan Smyth began his heinous crimes in the 1940s and continued unimpeded over the following years regularly being moved by his superiors when allegations or suspicions surfaced.

The Belfast-born priest, who was a member of the Norbertine Order, targeted vulnerable children living in orphanages and boarding schools and even molested youngsters in their family homes while their parents were in another room.

His favoured tactic was to befriend his victims’ families and gain their trust. Once he had adopted the persona of a “friendly uncle”, he was able to bring them away on trips and abuse them, sometimes in his car, other times at an hotel, a cinema, a boathouse and an abbey.

During his time as a priest in the Falls Road area of west Belfast he targeted four children from the same family. It was their courage in reporting the abuse to the RUC that would eventually lead to his first conviction.

In 1991 he was arrested and released on bail before spending the next three years evading the police, staying south of the border at his order’s Kilnacrott Abbey.

The RUC issued an extradition warrant for Smyth in 1993, although it would lie in the office of the Attorney General in Dublin for the next seven months.

Smyth, having come under pressure from his superiors, eventually turned himself over to the authorities in Northern Ireland. However the disastrous handling of the extradition warrant debacle led to the collapse of the coalition government of Fianna Fail and Labour led by Albert Reynolds.

A year later Smyth was convicted in a Belfast court of 43 charges of sexually assaulting children in Northern Ireland and was sentenced to four years. He was later found guilty on another 26 charges and was handed down a three-year sentence to run concurrently.

Upon his release from Magilligan Prison in Co Londonderry, he was immediately arrested and extradited to the South where he pleaded guilty to 74 charges of sexually assaulting 20 victims over a 35-year-period. Just one month into his 12-year sentence, Smyth died of a heart attack at the Curragh Prison in Co Kildare.