Scouting Ireland funding suspended until board replaced, Zappone announces

Safeguarding expert Ian Elliott ‘appalled’at recent board vote to reinstate chief scout

Minister for Children Katherine Zappone making a brief statement on recent developments at Scouting Ireland on Thursday.  Photograph: Bryan James Brophy

Minister for Children Katherine Zappone making a brief statement on recent developments at Scouting Ireland on Thursday. Photograph: Bryan James Brophy

 

State funding to Scouting Ireland has been suspended until the current board of directors is replaced, Minister for Children Katherine Zappone has announced.

The Irish Times reported on Thursday that the board had voted to reinstate chief scout Christy McCann to chair the organisation’s upcoming extraordinary general meeting (egm) on governance reforms.

Mr McCann is one of four senior volunteers under investigation over the organisation’s handling of a rape allegation, and stepped aside in April pending the findings of an ongoing barrister-led inquiry.

Ms Zappone said she was “very concerned” to learn of the recent developments. She received correspondence on Thursday from the organisation’s interim board chair Annette Byrne, which she said caused her “great concern”.

“The interim chair has indicated that she can no longer stand behind assurances previously given to me with regard to the delivery of future change, essential to ensure robust governance of the organisation,” Ms Zappone said.

A separate vote at the board meeting last Saturday to reinstate the other three volunteers under investigation – David Shalloo, Thérèse Bermingham and Ollie Kehoe – was tied, before Ms Byrne broke the deadlock to vote against the proposal.

Volunteers

The four volunteers were criticised in a report by safeguarding expert Ian Elliott, which found the handling of an allegation in 2016 from a woman who claimed she was raped on a 2009 camping trip when she was 18, was “deeply flawed”.

Funding worth €900,000 a year was suspended in April over the controversy but in June the Minister released an interim €220,000 following reform commitments.

Ms Zappone was due to make a decision on fully restoring funding on foot of a progress report this month, before the reappointment of Mr McCann came to light.

In her letter to the Minister, Ms Byrne said following the recent board decision, she could not have “confidence in the current board to act impartially when the current independent investigation is completed”.

Ms Zappone said she had also received correspondence from Mr Elliott, who is acting as interim safeguarding officer for the organisation, in which he stated he was “appalled” at the vote to reinstate Mr McCann for the egm.

Essential change

Mr Elliott said the decision “reinforced for him the view that there are directors who have consistently sought to obstruct essential change within the organisation”, according to Ms Zappone.

“Mr Elliott pointed out his strong view that bad governance generates risk to young people. As Minister I cannot accept such a situation,” she said.

“It is plainly wrong that any publicly funded youth organisation would be led by directors who do not put the interests and safety of young people to the fore.”

Ms Zappone said she was also considering placing a State representative on the youth organisation’s board in future.

The organisation’s members will vote to ratify an overhaul of their governance structures at the egm on October 6th, and was due to elect an entirely new board of directors.

However, at least five board members have refused to sign their resignation letters, according to sources.

Ms Byrne said there was a “clear majority” in Scouting Ireland who wanted change, but the organisation had a “problem at board level”.