Scouting Ireland faces having to put staff on notice

Scout body prepares for redundancies and creditors calling in loans as fund crisis looms

Scouting Ireland estimates it has two months before funding runs out, after Minister for Children Katherine Zappone suspended  finance in April, following the organisation’s handling of a rape allegation.

Scouting Ireland estimates it has two months before funding runs out, after Minister for Children Katherine Zappone suspended finance in April, following the organisation’s handling of a rape allegation.

 

Scouting Ireland has warned it will be forced to place all its 34 staff on protective notice in the coming days, as the organisation faces a funding crisis.

It estimates it only has two months before funding runs out, after Minister for Children Katherine Zappone suspended State finance in April, following the organisation’s handling of a rape allegation made in 2016.

In an email to its membership, Martin Burbridge, a former chief scout who is overseeing the organisation’s response, warned it will run out of money by late July or early August if State funding was not restored.

The consequences of having to let go all 34 professional staff, who are entitled to eight weeks’ notice, would mean all national events, including an international camp due to take place in Stradbally, Co Laois, next month, would have to be cancelled.

The organisation has also has set aside emergency funds in the eventuality any creditors call in their loans.

If the organisation is forced to lay off all staff, 'it is possible that the insurers would refuse to continue to provide cover' to its 40,000 juvenile members

Scouting Ireland has an annual income of about €3.5 million, including State funding worth nearly €1 million a year, with the rest coming from members’ subscription fees. State funding for the second half of the year worth €438,169 is being withheld.

The correspondence, seen by The Irish Times, said Scouting Ireland has had to set aside more than €1 million to prepare for redundancies.

Members and volunteers

If the organisation is forced to lay off all staff, “it is possible that the insurers would refuse to continue to provide cover” to its 40,000 juvenile members and 13,000 adult volunteers, Mr Burbridge said.

Hundreds of past child-protection case files are held at Scouting Ireland’s national office in Larch Hill, Tibradden, south county Dublin. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
Scouting Ireland has significant loans it is repaying, including for a recent €1m refurbishment of its headquarters in Larch Hill, south Co Dublin. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

An international “Jamborí” camp set to host 5,000 scouts in Stradbally this July, that has been organised over several years, “could not proceed” without national staff, he said.

The organisation also has significant loans it is repaying, including for a recent €1m refurbishment of its headquarters in Larch Hill, south Co Dublin.

The organisation needs to ring-fence money to cover potential redundancies and fully repay creditors, Mr Burbridge said.

Failure to do so could leave board members open to “the possibility of criminal charges” and reckless trading penalties levelled against the company, Mr Burbridge said in his email.

Four senior volunteers criticised in Mr Elliott’s review have temporarily stepped aside pending the findings of an internal inquiry

The picture painted of the organisation’s future was not “scaremongering”, Mr Burbridge told members, adding “it is because of issues like those I describe below that businesses fail”.

The controversy began after a confidential report by safeguarding expert Ian Elliott found Scouting Ireland’s handling of a rape allegation made in 2016 was “deeply flawed”.

Internal inquiry

It is understood Ms Zappone’s move to suspend funding related largely to how the board responded to Mr Elliott’s report.

Four senior volunteers criticised in Mr Elliott’s review have temporarily stepped aside pending the findings of an internal inquiry being carried out by barrister Lorna Lynch. The volunteers have defended their actions.

To address Ms Zappone’s concerns about how the organisation is run, an extraordinary general meeting to vote on an overhaul of Scouting Ireland’s governance structures will be held on June 30th.

Proposals to be voted on would change how the board is made up and introduce independent directors. Approving the reforms “would go a long way to satisfying the Minister”, Mr Burbridge said.

The correspondence comes amid heated internal divisions over the reforms, with senior Dublin members backing a statement calling for the meeting to be postponed until Ms Lynch’s inquiry is completed.

Ms Zappone appointed former Independent senator Jillian Van Turnhout to review the governance of Scouting Ireland. Her report and the egm vote will inform the decision on whether to restore State funding, expected shortly.