The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Dr. Katherine Zappone, today welcomed the publication by Scouting Ireland of its learning review of historical sexual abuse in scouting.
Minister Zappone commented:
“First and foremost my thoughts today are with the adults who, as children, suffered so gravely through their involvement with Scouting. The report lays bare the horrors of what happened when sex offenders gained positions of power and became untouchable. This is the 1980s and the 1990s in Ireland. It is not the deep and distant past. Many of the children who were abused have carried this burden with them into their adult lives. I know the publication of this report will be difficult for them. My hope is that they will welcome the public acknowledgement of how those that were meant to protect them, instead abused them, and facilitated the abuse. I note and welcome the organisational apology issued by Scouting Ireland today.”
The learning review, commissioned by Scouting Ireland, was undertaken by Mr Ian Elliott and is a component of a wider progress report on safeguarding and governance issues submitted by Scouting Ireland to Minister Zappone in October 2019.
A copy of Mr Elliot’s review was provided to Minister Zappone by Scouting Ireland on Thursday 7th May, along with the organisation’s response. The Minister welcomes that Scouting Ireland is committed to implementing in full the recommendations from Mr. Elliott’s Learning Review. She notes that they have responded to each of Mr Elliott’s 12 recommendations setting out actions they have already taken, and actions they intend to take, with regard to each issue.
The Minister met with Mr Elliott this week and was pleased to hear that, notwithstanding the seriousness of the findings, he was very positive about the current governance arrangements in Scouting Ireland, with a Board that is strong and well-functioning, and with robust safeguarding in place.
The Minister stated:
“The focus in the future must be to ensure that the proper and appropriate safeguarding and governance arrangements that are now in place in Scouting Ireland, are maintained and enhanced with the greatest of vigilance, to ensure that no such failings can ever happen again. Nothing is more important. The public, parents, and Scouting Ireland staff and volunteers must have that assurance that these children are safe from harm and able to thrive and grow in a supportive and dynamic context as they enjoy the many benefits of participating in scouting.”
Minister Zappone has previously taken a number of actions in response to allegations of poor safeguarding policies and practice in Scouting Ireland. These included the suspension of funding pending the appointment of a new Board, the appointment of Ms Jillian Van Turnhout to conduct a review of governance, which was completed in June 2018, and the requirement for regular updates on governance reforms by Scouting Ireland to her Department.
In addition, Minister Zappone appointed Ms Brigid McManus to conduct a follow-up review in early 2020. This was published last week and confirmed that all of Ms Van Turnhout’s recommendations had been satisfactorily implemented, while outlining a small number of matters for follow up. This positive view of the current state of governance and safeguarding in Scouting Ireland was echoed by Mr Elliot in his discussion with Minister Zappone. He indicated that he agreed with the assessment by Ms. McManus. Tusla has also written to the Department to indicate its satisfaction with current safeguarding practice in Scouting Ireland, particularly as it relates to the agreed Scouting Ireland / Tusla Action Plan.
In conclusion, Minister Zappone stated:
“All of us are responsible for the safety of children. I have put Children First on a statutory footing and introduced the mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse in December 2017. We have to remain vigilant. I would like to echo Mr Elliott’s words in this report in the context of all youth organisations in that their “primary reason for existing is to serve the best interests of young people, not to provide a hobby or past time for adults. The young person is supreme.”
Mr Elliott submitted his review to Scouting Ireland in March 2020. The delay by Scouting Ireland in publishing the report was due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the concern that the report would have had a negative impact on vulnerable groups (especially the victims of child sexual abuse) at a time where access to counselling and health services may have been severely curtailed given the significant restrictions, and before such services had had the opportunity to reorganise access to such provision in light of restrictions.
The publication of this report may be distressing for some. If you need to talk to someone NOW call the Samaritans (Free to Call Number – 116 123) for confidential, non-judgemental support 24 hours a day or visit www.yourmentalhealth.ie
for information on mental health support services near you.
Scouting Ireland's Helpline is open Monday to Friday 9–5 pm: 1800 221 199 freephone from ROI or 00353 87 093 4403 From N.I. (This is currently not freephone due to the ongoing Coronavirus situation not permitting maintenance).