Zappone to seek child protection report from Scouting Ireland

Scouting Ireland chief executive to be called before Oireachtas committee to answer questions

Minister for Children Katherine Zappone said  she ‘expects all groups supported by her department to meet every standard on protection and safety’. File photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Minister for Children Katherine Zappone said she ‘expects all groups supported by her department to meet every standard on protection and safety’. File photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

A full report on child protection standards in Scouting Ireland is being sought by Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Katherine Zappone “as a matter of extreme urgency” following a confidential review that found serious gaps in the organisation’s standards.

In a report completed in January, Ian Elliott, an expert child safeguarding consultant, raised serious concerns about gaps in child protection policy within the organisation and called for a change in culture.

He said he had not considered Scouting Ireland “a safe organisation” after he began his inquiry last year, but he said he had been “heartened by the apparent willingness to change” as his inquiry continued, according to minutes from a January board of directors meeting.

The report found Scouting Ireland’s handling of a rape allegation from a camping trip eight years ago was “deeply flawed”, and senior members had lobbied on behalf of the volunteer the sexual assault complaint was made against.

Camping trip

The complaint related to a female scout leader who claimed to Scouting Ireland in 2016 that she had been raped by a male leader during a scout camping trip held in 2009 when she was 18 years old.

In a statement Ms Zappone said she “expects all groups supported by her Department to meet every standard on protection and safety”.

Fianna Fáil spokeswoman for children Anne Rabbitte TD said it was “not acceptable” that Scouting Ireland’s safeguarding standards were not in line with legal requirements.

She said she would be asking Dr John Lawlor, chief executive of Scouting Ireland, to come before the Oireachtas Committee on Children and Youth Affairs and answer questions on what steps they have taken in response to the report.

Alan Farrell TD, chair of the Oireachtas committee, said he found details of Mr Elliott’s review “alarming,” and would also be raising the issue at their next committee meeting.

Proud heritage

Mr Farrell said Scouting Ireland has a proud heritage, but the “priority now must be to ensure the safety of our young people”.

Defending the organisation, chief scout Christy McCann told The Irish Times: “It is my belief that Scouting Ireland is a safe organisation.”

He said as a volunteer and a parent with two children who were scouts, he has “seen first hand the many advances of our policies, procedures and training to comply with current legislation and best practises”.

In a message to all members on Friday, Mr McCann said he wanted to assure them that “the safety and protection of all our members and volunteers is, and always will be of paramount importance”.

Scouting Ireland has already begun to act on Mr Elliott’s recommendations. New systems have been put in place to store documents, and work on drafting new policy rules is under way. A target date of April 14th has been set for “significant work” to improve internal policies to be carried out.