The Board of Governors of St. Paul’s Primary School in Irvinestown has said it is “deeply appalled” by allegations of child sexual abuse by its former principal more than 30 years ago.

Almost 20 alleged victims of John McElholm have contacted The Impartial Reporter in the past six months to claim the former Fermanagh GAA chairman sexually abused them in his office, and in some cases at the Lakeland Forum, before sending them back to class.

It’s is claimed the allegations were “an open secret” in Irvinestown though the Clogher Diocese and Department for Education say they were unaware of such claims.

The revelations prompted a meeting of the school’s Board of Governors on August 15 in which it reviewed recent articles published in this newspaper.

Now in a statement published in Irvinestown’s parish bulletin a spokesperson for the Board said members were “deeply appalled and saddened by the content of this article and the matters published therein have come as a great shock to us”.

“Our thoughts and concerns are for those affected and their families,” the statement added.

“Abuse of children is a horrific crime and where it is carried out by those in positions of trust, it is deplorable.

“The historic nature of these awful events and the years of silence of the victims underlines the agony of their experiences. We would encourage anyone with an information to bring it to the PSNI,” said the statement.

The Board of Governors then underlined the school’s strict child protection and safeguarding guidance, policies and procedures as issued by the Department of Education, the Education Authority and the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools.

“Inspections over the last decades formally attest to the integrity of the current safeguarding provision at St. Paul’s Primary School. These policies are embedded in our daily operations and the school safeguarding team also monitors and reviews safeguarding arrangements within the school on a regular basis including the presentation of termly and annual child protection/safeguarding reports to the Board of Governors.

“Updated child protection training is provided to all staff on a regular basis and our designated and deputy designated teacher for child protection, the principal, chair of governors and designated governor for child protection attend training delivered by the EA child protection support service in accordance with Department of Education requirements.

“All members of the board of Governors also receive safeguarding training. We wish to express our commitment to maintaining those high standards now and into the future,” said the statement.

The Board of Governors also reiterated its support for and confidence in all the current members of staff and the pupils of St. Paul’s “as, together we continue to wholeheartedly commit ourselves to the spiritual, moral, personal, educational and social development of our pupils and the fostering of Christian values for life in an inclusive, enriching environment.”