The famous Irish poet, Cathal O Searcaigh a staple of second level school syllabuses – has been accused of the “sexual exploitation and grooming” of 16 year old Nepalese boys who he befriended and assisted financially in their education.

Allegations about the poet’s relationship with the young boys surfaced after the screening of Fairytale of Kathmandu, a documentary on Mr Searcaigh’s charitable work in Nepal made by a former friend of his.

The poet wrote a letter denouncing the accusations yesterday, saying: “If my gay lifestyle and relationships in Nepal have offended anyone, I am sorry.

“But to suggest that I in any way coerced or preyed upon these young men is untrue and distasteful. My relationships in Nepal have always been open and loving and above board.”

The letter has only provoked further outrage, with the Rape Crisis Network denouncing it as an attempt to “deliberately confuse allegations about sexual exploitation with his gay lifestyle.”

A spokeswoman for the network told the Irish Times: “To deliberately and intentionally confuse the sexual exploitation of boys in a poverty-stricken country with a ‘gay lifestyle’ is insulting to gay men and women, and a ploy to confuse matters.”

She continued: “Had his sexual exploitation involved 16-year-old girls, whom he befriended outside their place of education while providing much-needed money for their education to continue, the Rape Crisis Network would be issuing the same statement.”

Pressure is already growing on the Irish government to remove Mr Searcaigh’s poetry from the school syllabus.

Fine Gael education spokesman Brian Hayes recently challenged Mary Hanafin, minister for education, on the “appropriateness or otherwise” of having the work on the current syllabus.

The minister – who recently had to defend her actions in helping Mr Searcaigh secure a visa to Ireland for a Nepalese friend – said she was “shocked and appalled” by the allegations.

She said: “I accept the social, personal and health education course in particular aims to equip students with an awareness of their rights and responsibilities, and the values, knowledge and skills for ethical decision-making.

“I am also conscious of the need for positive role models for our young people,” she continued, adding that the issue was complex and had to be treated in a measured way.

Mr Searcaigh runs a variety of charity projects in Nepal, a country he visits for around three months a year.

In a statement he said: “It is with a heavy heart that I have read and listened to the media comment about the documentary ‘Fairytale of Katmandu’.

“I opened my life and work in Nepal to someone I considered a friend.

“I believe the filmmakers never had any intentions of showing the work I have being doing in Nepal for some 13 years now. I have undertaken projects to provide water, housing, education and business opportunities for the people of Nepal,” he added.

“I have considered deeply the opinions put forward by my critics and I can see how my actions could have been misinterpreted. It hurts me to think that I would be seen in this light.”

The allegations are now the subject of a police investigation in Ireland.