Scouting Ireland future in doubt over abuse scandal costs

Options considered to fund victims’ support include asset sell-off and membership levies

Scouting Ireland is considering a range of emergency financial measures, including the sale of scout dens, to meet the cost of a deepening historic child sex abuse scandal that threatens to potentially collapse the organisation, an internal meeting on Monday heard.

An ongoing review of historic abuse has now uncovered 317 alleged victims of child sex abuse, and 212 perpetrators alleged to have abused children in the organisation. The cases primarily range from the 1960s to the 1990s, and there is also evidence emerging to suggest abuse had been covered up.

Options the organisation’s board is considering include a sell-off of assets, an extra fee levied on members, and potentially selling local group scout dens – if the numbers of survivors coming forward continues to increase, a meeting of senior volunteers was told on Monday night.

During the meeting the organisation's board briefed provincial and county commissioners, who represent areas across the country, at the national head office in Larch Hill, south Co Dublin.


Funding injection

The organisation will need an emergency injection of funding to help pay for a victims’ support scheme, set up to fund counselling for survivors coming forward, the meeting heard.

Aisling Kelly, chair of the organisation's new board and a practicing barrister, warned those at the meeting Scouting Ireland was "talking about if we as an organisation can survive".

If Scouting Ireland took a “legalistic approach” to force victims to sue for redress through the courts, the number of legal cases would “sink the organisation”, she said.

“If all of these poor souls who have been so wronged litigate, there is no possibility of this organisation existing,” she told the meeting. The organisation also had a moral obligation to past abuse victims, she said.

Every individual who contacted Scouting Ireland claiming to have suffered past abuse had received an apology, the board told the meeting.

The board said it was not confident any additional State funding would be provided by the Department of Children, to help meet the costs of supporting survivors.

Scouting Ireland formed in 2004 following a merger of two legacy organisations, the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland and the Scout Association of Ireland.

Financial reserves

Separate to the costs of a victims’ scheme, the organisation would need about €350,000 to adequately staff its safeguarding office, to ensure current child protection standards were robust, the meeting heard.

The organisation did not have the financial reserves to bear the cost of a support scheme for the growing number of alleged victims, the board said.

Ms Kelly said she would “like to be able to say that a red line would be drawn” to rule out selling local troop dens.

“But I don’t know if in the next two to three, or six weeks, if the number of victims grows to a point where I couldn’t make that promise,” she said.

During the meeting the board affirmed that nothing would be hidden as it dealt with the unfolding abuse scandal.

In a statement Scouting Ireland said it was taking all allegations and information related to abuse within previous legacy organisations seriously.

“Emergency financial measures are being considered by Scouting Ireland to provide resources and support” to victims, the statement said.

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is acting Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times