Michael John Shinnick: Chief scout saw Scouting Ireland grow to 50,000 members

Obituary: ‘His vision was to have a scout group in every parish, and new troops are springing up at a rate of 20 a year’

Michael John Shinnick

Michael John Shinnick

 

Michael John Shinnick, who has died of cancer at the age of 62, was the former chief scout of Scouting Ireland for nearly seven years, during which he presided over the fastest growing youth movement in the country, an organisation with nearly 50,000 members.

Under Shinnick’s energetic direction, Irish scouting was transformed and moved rapidly into the 21st century. While scouts still gather around the campfire and learn to tie knots, his fundamental philosophy was that Scouting Ireland is effectively building the future citizens of Ireland, North and South. His vision was to have a scout group in every parish, and, indeed, new troops are springing up at a rate of 20 a year.

Among the projects completed on Shinnick’s watch is the €3.3 million Castle Saunderson International Scouting Centre, which straddles the border between Fermanagh and Cavan and was opened by President Higgins in August 2012.

Shinnick was originally from Fermoy, Co Cork, where he attended national and secondary school and fly-fished for trout in the river Blackwater with his brother Brynley. At the age of 18 he was secretary of Fermoy Soccer Club.

After joining the local scout group in 1967, he went on to serve in every key position at national level before taking on the role of chief scout on a temporary basis in 2008 and since then was elected and re-elected.

Battling cancer

Shinnick stepped down when he fell ill 18 months ago, and last month went public about his battle with terminal cancer. In an emotional online farewell to fellow scouts, he said:

“Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of a wonderful medical team, my own and my family’s strength and positive thoughts, and of course, the prayers and well wishes of my thousands upon thousands of Scouting friends across Ireland and further afield, my journey is drawing to a close.

“I joined Scouting in Fermoy in 1967 and have not looked back since. I have had the privilege of being able to contribute to the development of young people through Scouting in various roles over the years, both locally and nationally, and I cannot express how honoured I was to be elected as Scouting Ireland’s chief scout in 2008.

“In all the roles I have held, or projects I was involved with, and indeed in my own endeavours outside of Scouting, I have tried to let the Scout Promise and Law be my compass, and I can say that ‘I did my best’.”

A successful businessman, Shinnick moved from Fermoy to nearby Glanworth more than 30 years ago.

He worked as an executive and director of Micro Bio, a Fermoy-based company that manufactures chemicals for the pharmaceutical, chemical, dairy and service sectors.

Membership surge

On Shinnick’s watch, membership in Scouting Ireland increased dramatically from just over 30,000 to nearly 50,000 today. This surge came about despite a 23 per cent cut in Government funding by 2013.

According to Shinnick, those cuts were bound to hinder the personal and social development of young people. Since Scouting Ireland’s work was deeply rooted in their nonformal education, he argued forcefully that besides helping to develop “confident self-assured young people who are able to contribute effectively to society”, scouting not only creates leadership qualities but develops problem-solving skills and teaches young people to cope with daily life stresses, such as bullying and low self-esteem.

Significantly, Shinnick also called on the Minister for Justice to follow the example of Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Malta, Italy and the UK by enacting legislation to block access to child abuse material on the internet in Ireland.

Michael John Shinnick is survived by his wife Marian (née Ryan), daughters Aoife and Emma, and by his brother, Brynley.