Scouting: Taoiseach says statutory inquiry into abuse may be considered

Major historic abuse scandal involves 321 alleged victims and 247 alleged perpetrators

The Government is to decide shortly on the best way to proceed in dealing with historical child sexual abuse, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has told the Dáil. File photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

The Government is to decide shortly on the best way to proceed in dealing with historical child sexual abuse, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has told the Dáil. File photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

 

The Government is to consider setting up a statutory inquiry into allegations of historic child sexual abuse within legacy scouting organisations, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the Dáil on Wednesday.

Scouting Ireland has been engulfed by a major historic abuse scandal since late last year, involving 321 alleged victims and 247 alleged perpetrators.

Mr Varadkar was responding to questions from Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin who said it was not acceptable the youth organisation was conducting the review itself.

“In relation to a commission of investigation or statutory inquiry of some nature that’s certainly something the Government will give consideration to,” Mr Varadkar said.

But he warned that any statutory investigation must not prejudice criminal proceedings against alleged abusers.

Mr Varadkar said he would discuss the matter with Minister for Children Katherine Zappone, but added “when it comes to statutory investigations we do need to get them right and tread carefully”.

He said it was “harrowing” to hear survivors speak of what had happened to them “when they should have been safe”.

Mr Martin was speaking in advance of an RTÉ Investigates programme aired on Wednesday evening, which features interviews with three men who say they were abused as children in former scouting organisations.

Letter from Scouting Ireland to the Minister

The men have called for an independent public inquiry into the alleged incidents, and expressed dissatisfaction that the current review was being led by Scouting Ireland.

Child protection expert Ian Elliott is conducting Scouting Ireland’s review into allegations of historical abuse and is due to complete a final report by February 2020.

The alleged abuse primarily took place between the 1960s and 1990s in legacy organisations, the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland (CBSI) and Scout Association of Ireland (SAI), which later merged to form Scouting Ireland in 2003.

Geoffrey Shannon, a prominent child law expert, told The Irish Times any review “must be independent, prompt, effective and transparent”.

“I have concerns about any organisation trying to audit its own practices… What we need to do is to provide assurance to parents. My view is any inquiry needs to have public confidence,” he said.

Mr Shannon, the former Government special rapporteur on child protection, said his call for an independent process was “not to undermine the work of Ian Elliott”.

“I think we may see momentum build for an independent process, regardless of the calibre of the internal reviewer,” he said.

Evidence from Scouting Ireland’s internal review that past child abuse had been covered up was first reported by The Irish Times last December.

In response to the media report, Scouting Ireland chief executive Dr John Lawlor wrote to Ms Zappone advising her there was evidence scout leaders who preyed on children had been protected, and files related to abuse were destroyed.

The letter, the details of which were reported by The Irish Times this February, said known abusers had been “facilitated” in moving between different troops by others in the former organisations. There was evidence emerging of “extensive, prolonged and organised child sexual abuse,” his letter said.

Mr Elliott was first brought in by Scouting Ireland in mid-2017 to review the organisation’s handling of a rape allegation, which he found to be “deeply flawed”. Up until this April he was employed part-time as its interim safeguarding manager to oversee an overhaul of its current child protection structures.

Fine Gael TD Alan Farrell, who chairs the Oireachtas youth affairs committee, said Mr Elliott was “not known for pulling his punches,” and a decision on a State-backed inquiry would be “premature” before the findings of his report were published.

However if his report was found to be “deficient” in providing answers then Mr Varadkar and Ms Zappone would have “no choice but to pursue some form of statutory inquiry,” Mr Farrell said.