Changes to Scouting Ireland structures backed by ‘clear majority’

Body had State funding withdrawn amid controversy over handling of rape allegation

Scouting Ireland are in the middle of a controversy over the handling of a rape allegation made in 2016, concerning two adults from an incident in 2009. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Scouting Ireland are in the middle of a controversy over the handling of a rape allegation made in 2016, concerning two adults from an incident in 2009. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

 

The membership of Scouting Ireland have approved an overhaul of the organisation’s governance structures at an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) held in Dublin on Saturday.

Some 482 members voted to accept the changes, with 133 rejecting them.

The reforms include changes to how their board of directors is made up, including introducing independent board members, assessments of candidates based on competency, and reducing the size of the board.

Scouting Ireland is in the middle of a controversy over the handling of a rape allegation made in 2016 concerning two adults, which dated back to an incident in 2009.

A confidential report by child protection expert Ian Elliott found the handling of the claim was “deeply flawed,” and four senior volunteers criticised in Mr Elliott’s report temporarily stepped aside.

The governance changes have been in train for several years, but were accelerated after Minister for Children Katherine Zappone suspended the organisation’s State funding in April, following controversy over the rape claim.

Ms Zappone last week released three months worth of State funding, some €220,000, on foot of commitments to safeguarding and governance reforms.

‘Clear majority’

In a statement following the vote, the organisation’s board said it welcomed the “clear majority” of 78 per cent who voted in favour of the changes.

The decision “recognises that a new model of corporate governance is needed at a national level to support the future growth of Scouting Ireland,” the statement said.

“The new governance structures, together with a new approach to safeguarding will strengthen our organisation as we continue to serve young people across Ireland,” it said.

The EGM took place at the Helix in Dublin City University and more than 600 delegates attended. Chief Scout Christy McCann, one of the volunteers who stepped amid controversy over Mr Elliott’s report, attended the meeting.

The organisation has 40,000 juvenile members, 13,000 adult volunteers, and 34 professional staff. Their State funding is worth nearly €1 million a year, and Ms Zappone will make a decision on fully restoring funding following a progress report in September.

In April, four senior volunteers temporarily stepped down from their positions, pending the outcome of an internal inquiry into their actions by a barrister, which is still ongoing.

The governance reforms will need to be ratified at a second EGM in October, when a new Scouting Ireland board will be elected.

There had been opposition to the governance overhaul from several local groups and volunteers. Particularly one of the proposals to have each individual scout troop register as a charity, which is with a view to complying with charity regulation legislation.

Liability

At a meeting on the proposals held earlier this month, several members expressed concern at the added administrative obligations and liability this would place on local volunteers.

Brendan Doyle, commissioner for Mountpelier Scout County in south-west Dublin, said the extra legal responsibilities the changes would place on local volunteers was “madness”.

Mr Doyle said members were “being bullied” into believing if they did not vote to approve the changes, State funding would be suspended again.

Ahead of the vote, the board issued a circular to the membership warning the “continued campaign” against the reforms had the “potential to threaten the very future of our organisation”.

“Any attempts to defer the EGM, or to defer the vote on the governance proposals will be a serious breach of the hard won trust we have re-established with the Minister and her officials,” the statement from national secretary Charles McGuinness, and interim chair Annette Byrne said.

If the reform package was rejected, it would likely result in an immediate withdrawal of further State funding, without which the organisation could not operate, the statement said.