Scouting Ireland condemns ‘abhorrent’ attacks on chief executive

Board warns it will have to close its office in coming weeks if State funding not restored

 Dr John Lawlor, chief executive, Scouting Ireland. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Dr John Lawlor, chief executive, Scouting Ireland. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Divisions within Scouting Ireland in the wake of a rape controversy continue to grow, with management condemning “abhorrent” attacks on its chief executive by members.

It was reported in The Irish Times on Saturday that several local scout leaders had distributed a letter asking troops to back a statement saying they were “completely upset and dissatisfied” with how Scouting Ireland and its chief executive, Dr John Lawlor, had dealt with the controversy.

On Sunday the group’s interim chairwoman, Annette Byrne, and its national secretary, Charles McGuinness, issued a statement to members defending its handling of the controversy.

They also rejected claims Scouting Ireland had “shafted” Christy McCann, its chief scout who has temporarily stepped aside while an investigation continues.

The statement, which was issued on behalf of Scouting Ireland’s board, also warns that the organisation will be forced to close its offices and stop providing services to local troops if Government funding is not restored in the coming weeks.

State funding

In April, Minister for Children Katherine Zappone suspended all State funding, worth nearly €1 million a year, after The Irish Times reported on Scouting Ireland’s mishandling of a rape allegation made in 2016.

Brendan Doyle, commissioner for Mountpelier Scout County in southwest Dublin, said he believed Dr Lawlor should resign.

Addressing this, the board of Scouting Ireland said it had full confidence in Dr Lawlor who it said was leading efforts to ensure the organisation was a safe environment for volunteers and members.

“In doing this he has displayed considerable courage in challenging practices that do not meet the required standards of a leading organisation like Scouting Ireland.”

The statement continued: “The unprovoked attacks on John Lawlor are abhorrent to the board and all right-thinking members of Scouting Ireland.”

There is still strong support for Mr McCann, who stepped aside as chief scout shortly after 623 delegates out of 773 voted at their national council to re-elect him as head of the organisation. He was one of four volunteers to step aside after a confidential report by safeguarding expert Ian Elliott found the handling of the 2016 rape allegation was “deeply flawed”.

Garrett Flynn, former board member and chairman of 115th Ballinteer scout group, said there was a sense from a lot of members that the volunteers who stepped aside “have been shafted” and that Mr McCann had been “caught in the crossfire” of the controversy.

The board said it was “wrong and irresponsible” to suggest any member of the organisation had been shafted. “Indeed, the whole purpose of this investigation is to ensure that this does not happen.”

Investigation delay

There is considerable frustration among members that the investigation, which is being carried out by barrister Lorna Lynch, into the actions of the four senior volunteers was not finished, despite initially being expected to be completed by late May.

The board said the investigation was taking longer than expected and “this is not unusual in an inquiry of this nature”. It said it was in the best interests of the organisation and the volunteers that Ms Lynch be given the time to complete her inquiries.

Local scout leaders have also criticised how Scouting Ireland “communicated and dealt with the current issues surrounding our organisation”. It called for clarity about what steps the organisation was taking “in plain English so as to allay growing fears and rumours”.

In response, the board apologised “unreservedly” to members who felt they had not been proactive enough in updating them on the investigation. “We commit to doing a better job of communicating with members in the future.”