Scouting Ireland hires senior garda for safeguarding role

Gearóid Begley helped set up a multi-agency unit for dealing with sex offenders

Scouting Ireland has hired a senior garda with experience investigating sex crimes to head up the youth organisation’s safeguarding office. File photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Scouting Ireland has hired a senior garda with experience investigating sex crimes to head up the youth organisation’s safeguarding office. File photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

 

Scouting Ireland has hired a senior garda with experience investigating sex crimes to head up the youth organisation’s safeguarding office.

Det Supt Gearóid Begley, currently in the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB), will leave An Garda Síochána to take up the new role on April 8th, following a recruitment process by the scouting organisation.

Safeguarding expert Ian Elliott had been acting as an interim safeguarding manager on a part-time basis for Scouting Ireland since early last year.

Mr Begley previously worked in the Garda’s Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Investigation Unit, where he was the designated child protection officer for the force. He has worked in CAB since 2015 as the assistant chief bureau officer.

He was involved in setting up Soram (Sex Offender Risk Assessment and Management), a multi-agency unit responsible for dealing with certain types of sex offenders after their release from prison. He was also a Garda representative on a number of committees which examined services that dealt with sexual abuse, and the introduction of Children First legislation.

Eleven candidates had applied for the Scouting Ireland position, and five had progressed to an interview stage.

Commenting on the announcement, Mr Begley said “extensive work” had been undertaken at Scouting Ireland to improve safeguarding standards under Mr Elliott.

“I look forward to continuing to advance safeguarding and ensuring Scouting Ireland continues to be a safe organisation for all its members, volunteers and staff,” he said.

In a statement announcing the appointment, Scouting Ireland chief executive Dr John Lawlor said the garda’s reputation was “exemplary”.

“His seniority and experience in the area of Children First and in dealing with sexual abuse will be of critical importance to the management team and the board of Scouting Ireland,” he said.

Speaking at an Oireachtas committee on children and youth affairs on Wednesday, Mr Elliott said the organisation had recruited “a very strong candidate” for the role, who was never involved in scouting, and had “a very good safeguarding track record”.

Increased funding

Last month Minister for Children Katherine Zappone increased Scouting Ireland’s State funding by €220,000, to help the organisation adequately staff its safeguarding office.

A previous attempt to recruit a full-time safeguarding officer was unsuccessful last year, due to a lack of applications from viable candidates.

Current child protection standards at Scouting Ireland are under intense scrutiny, following sharp criticism from State child protection agency Tusla over the organisation’s supervision standards for overnight trips, and its lack of compliance with child protection legislation.

The youth organisation will meet Tusla officials on Thursday to discuss a six-point action plan to bring standards into line with Children First legislation, and review its handling of several recent youth-on-youth abuse cases.

The organisation is also dealing with a major historical sex abuse scandal, after an internal review identified 313 alleged abuse victims, and 237 alleged perpetrators, across a period of decades. The abuse primarily occurred between the 1960s and 1990s in legacy organisations which subsequently merged to form Scouting Ireland in 2004.

The review has uncovered evidence that past abuse was covered up, perpetrators were permitted to move between scout groups, and abuse case files may have been destroyed in the mid-1990s.