Former chief scout takes legal case against Scouting Ireland

Christy McCann seeks to take defamation case following expulsion from youth organisation

The former chief scout of Scouting Ireland is taking a legal case against the youth organisation, which expelled him from its membership earlier this year.

Christy McCann was expelled from the organisation after an investigation concluded he and three other senior officers had acted inappropriately in the handling of a rape allegation, concerning two adult volunteers.

In recent days Mr McCann has filed a case in the High Court against Scouting Ireland, court records show.

Mr McCann told The Irish Times he was taking legal action against Scouting Ireland over “reputational damage and defamation of character”.

Mr McCann has also issued a legal action against The Irish Times claiming defamation, arising from some of its reporting on the issues.

A spokeswoman for Scouting Ireland said as it had not yet received notice of legal proceedings filed by Mr McCann, it could not comment on the matter.

It is understood Mr McCann’s solicitor had written to Scouting Ireland in recent weeks. However, a number of board members were unaware the former chief scout had formally begun legal proceedings, when contacted this week.

In early 2018, The Irish Times reported a confidential review by child protection expert Ian Elliott had found the youth organisation's handling of a rape allegation had been "deeply flawed".

Four senior volunteers criticised in the review included Mr McCann, David Shalloo, Thérèse Bermingham and Ollie Kehoe.

State funding suspended

The four stepped aside in April 2018 as the controversy facing the organisation deepened, with the then minister for children, Katherine Zappone, suspending its State funding.

A subsequent independent investigation by barrister Lorna Lynch, completed in 2019, concluded the four had acted inappropriately in the handling of the allegation.

The allegation related to an incident on a camping trip in 2009, involving an 18-year-old female leader and another adult volunteer, which she reported to Scouting Ireland in 2015.

Following a lengthy disciplinary process, the board of Scouting Ireland decided to expel Mr McCann, Mr Shalloo and Mr Kehoe from its membership earlier this year. Ms Bermingham was suspended for two years from holding any position outside of her local scout group.

Scouting Ireland’s board said it had taken the decision following findings of misconduct against the four former senior volunteers, under the organisation’s disciplinary process. Appeals challenging the disciplinary action and findings had been unsuccessful.

Legal challenge

There had been some concern within the youth organisation that the decision to expel the three former senior figures could lead to a legal challenge, sources said. It is understood Scouting Ireland took legal advice at several stages of the protracted disciplinary process.

In a statement from the four volunteers, following the board’s decision in February, the group said “no due process has been properly afforded” to them.

Scouting Ireland had left the volunteers “with little option but to seek justice and truth by external means”, the statement said.

Mr McCann was first elected as chief scout, the voluntary head of the organisation, in 2015. He had been re-elected for a second term amid the governance and safeguarding controversy in April 2018.