Chief scout says board made ‘wrong decision’
Minister suspends funding to Scouting Ireland after board voted for Christy McCann to chair meeting on reform
Christy McCann: ‘I shouldn’t chair that meeting, the optics would be all wrong’
Chief scout Christy McCann has said the board of Scouting Ireland made the “wrong decision” in voting for him to chair the organisation’s upcoming extraordinary general meeting (egm) on governance reform.
Following revelations of the decision in The Irish Times, Minister for Children Katherine Zappone yesterday suspended State funding to Scouting Ireland, until the current board of directors is replaced.
Speaking on RTÉ Radio One on Friday, Mr McCann said “nobody was more surprised than me to be asked. The decision was made by the board. To be honest it is the wrong decision. I shouldn’t chair that meeting, the optics would be all wrong.
“I will not chair the meeting. I haven’t had the opportunity but will notify them today. I don’t believe it’s the correct solution,” he said.
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.
He said he welcomed the external investigation to see what went wrong. “I need to find out if there was any wrongdoing. I’m happy to stand aside and await the outcome,” he said.
Mr McCann said it was unfortunate the 50,000 members and volunteers of Scouting Ireland had to “experience this whole situation”.
Yesterday Ms Zappone said she had been “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.
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”.
The Elliott report said Mr McCann’s decision to hold a meeting with the male volunteer accused of rape while the man was suspended from Scouting Ireland over the claim, “demonstrated a blatant disregard” for safeguarding policy.
Defending his actions on Friday, Mr McCann said “I don’t believe that what I did was wrong or inappropriate, I did my duty as chief scout.”
Mr McCann did concede that the issue was “mishandled” and said “people do make mistakes.”
“There is no guide book, that’s what we need now, so in future people will know what to do. Good governance means following due process,” he said.
Scouting Ireland had suffered reputational damage over the controversy, Mr McCann said, adding that “all of this started with a leak to the media”- a reference to reports in The Irish Times back in February detailing the findings of Mr Elliott’s confidential report.
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.
Last night the board held a meeting for several hours to discuss the recent controversy.
The organisation’s members will vote to ratify an overhaul of their governance structures at the egm on October 6th and are due to elect an entirely new board of directors.