Minister expresses confidence in Scouting Ireland board over ‘handling of abuse’

Katherine Zappone says future funding for organisation will depend on progress report

Minister for Children Katherine Zappone has expressed her confidence in the new board of Scouting Ireland in relation to their work in dealing with the "shocking and distressing" issue of past child abuse within the organisation.

She also told the Dáil that future funding of the scouting body would depend on the outcome of the progress report she has commissioned on its child protection reforms. The report is due in March 2019.

An ongoing review led by child safeguarding expert Ian Elliott into past abuse within the organisation has to date identified 317 alleged abuse victims and 212 alleged abusers.

Mr Elliott will prepare the progress report and will work with Scouting Ireland to establish a safeguarding team.

Ms Zappone told the Dáil on Thursday: “I do have confidence [in the board ]. . . I have witnessed what they’re doing in the short-term since they have taken on the leadership.”

It was “shocking and deeply distressing the issues that the new board is dealing with”.

Ms Zappone added that "things change every day as Mr Elliott continues his work in terms of investigation and alleged victims and abuse survivors are contacting the organisation, Tusla and the Garda.

“I do believe that as they are continuing to manage that that we ultimately will have a deeper sense of the extent of the damage and the abuse and the horror.”

The issue was raised by Fianna Fáil TD for Cork North-West Aindrias Moynihan, who had asked the Minister if she had confidence in the organisation and what her plans were for future funding.

Mr Moynihan said: “I’m also conscious that right across the country there has been so much good done within Scouting Ireland and parents don’t want the whole lot wiped out.”

Restoration of funding

Ms Zappone told him: “I’m awaiting a progress report in March 2019 in order to make an assessment about restoration of funding in terms of April 2019.” Funding had previously been withdrawn from the organisation over the abuse allegations but has since been restored up to the end of April next year.

The Minister said she would only consider a review of current funding “if I received any information pertinent to the ongoing review of the historic files that would draw into question the current services and the consequent governance problems”.

She said it was, however, “really critical” for Scouting Ireland to hire a safeguarding manager, a post which has been advertised for some time.

Earlier this week, the organisation said it would conduct an inquiry to identify if any of its current members had previously covered up alleged child sex abuse in scouting organisations.

Fears were expressed at a private meeting of the organisation that if large numbers of alleged victims took legal action the costs would “sink” the organisation.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is a parliamentary reporter with The Irish Times