Department aware of Scouting child protection flaws six years ago

Report in 2012 found interference from volunteers in case of man accused of child abuse

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Katherine Zappone at 168th St Aengus Scout Den, Tallaght.

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Katherine Zappone at 168th St Aengus Scout Den, Tallaght.

 

The Department of Children and Youth Affairs was aware of serious flaws in how Scouting Ireland handled child protection cases as early as six years ago, documents show.

In 2012, Scouting Ireland conducted an internal investigation that found interference in a child protection case by volunteers, who had lobbied on behalf of a leader accused of child abuse.

The internal report, obtained by The Irish Times, raised “significant” concerns about how child protection cases were handled and said they need “to be addressed urgently”.

The report related to the case of a male leader, who had faced child abuse allegations more than 40 years ago, Scouting Ireland sources said. The man was removed at the time, and gardaí had investigated the allegation.

At some point the man rejoined the organisation, but “should not have been let back in”, and was removed again in 2012, a senior Scouting Ireland source said.

The report found the actions of three senior volunteers had constituted “unwarranted interventions” in the case. Volunteers had lobbied on behalf of the man, placing “unwarranted pressure” on child protection staff in the organisation handling the matter.

Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act show the department received the full report in 2012.

The board 'resolved that there would be no involvement of volunteers in the management of safeguarding cases'

The report was independently assessed by senior Girl Guide Elspeth Henderson, who said it raised “significant” issues with how child protection cases were managed in the organisation.

The department did not respond to questions on what steps were taken on foot of the report.

Scout camp. Gardaí are investigating a scout leader who allegedly abused a 12-year-old boy on a camping trip more than three years ago. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
A decision on the release of another €220,000 in funding for the final three months of the year will be made in September, based on the progress of reforms. File photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

In a statement Scouting Ireland said that following the investigation the board “resolved that there would be no involvement of volunteers in the management of safeguarding cases”.

Funding

On Monday, Minister for Children Katherine Zappone announced she was partially restoring State funding to Scouting Ireland for three months, after suspended its grants in April.

State funding was suspended over the organisation’s handling of a rape allegation made in 2016, concerning two adult leaders from an incident in 2009. Last January, a confidential review by safeguarding expert Ian Elliott found the handling of the allegation was “deeply flawed”.

On Saturday the organisation’s membership will vote on a package of governance reforms at an egm in Dublin

Ms Zappone said “significant progress” had been made in governance and safeguarding reforms, and released €220,000 of suspended State funding.

The decision followed an expert review by former senator Jillian van Turnhout, which made a series of recommendations to improve the organisation’s management and governance.

In a statement, the board of Scouting Ireland said it “fully accepts” Ms van Turnhout’s proposals, which it was “committed” to introduce.

A decision on the release of another €220,000 in funding for the final three months of the year will be made in September, based on the progress of reforms.

“Scouting Ireland has said they will be providing me with a report in September, and on the basis of that, I would hope to be in a position to be satisfied with the governance arrangements, to restore the funding in full,” Ms Zappone said.

On Saturday the organisation’s membership will vote on a package of governance reforms at an egm in Dublin.

Under the changes, members running for board positions will be assessed on their competency for the role, and independent directors will be co-opted onto the board to fill skills gaps.