Scouting Ireland: How the scandal unfolded

Timeline of the controversy over safeguarding standards in the youth organisation

A report in June concluded there was a ‘deeply rooted dysfunction’ at the top of the organisation, due to a lack of transparency, and a culture of ‘blind loyalty’ to certain senior figures.

A report in June concluded there was a ‘deeply rooted dysfunction’ at the top of the organisation, due to a lack of transparency, and a culture of ‘blind loyalty’ to certain senior figures.

 

On Wednesday morning, Minister for Children Katherine Zappone informed an Oireachtas committee that an internal review by Scouting Ireland had identified 108 historic cases of alleged child sex abuse, and 71 alleged abusers.

The historic audit was recommended by child protection expert Ian Elliott, who the youth organisation had hired to review their safeguarding structures last year.

How did we get to here?

Back in February, The Irish Times broke a story that revealed Scouting Ireland’s handling of a rape allegation, concerning two adults, had been “deeply flawed.”

In 2016 a female volunteer made an allegation to Scouting Ireland, claiming she had been raped by a male volunteer, on a camping trip in 2009 when she was 18-years-old.

In 2017, Scouting Ireland asked Mr Elliott to conduct a detailed review of how the organisation dealt with the allegation. His confidential report criticised the actions of four senior volunteers; chief scout Christy McCann, chief commissioners David Shalloo and Thérèse Bermingham, and former national secretary Ollie Kehoe.

The review found the male leader accused of rape had sought to put pressure on staff managing the case. The man was suspended from the organisation following the allegation. The gardaí investigated the matter, but the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) directed against prosecuting, after which the male leader was reinstated.

Mr Elliott’s report also made several recommendations on how to address overall safeguarding failings in the organisation, including advice that an audit of how historic child protection cases were handled should take place.

At a crunch board meeting on March 4th, an internal team tasked with managing the now-public controversy over the rape allegation, recommended chief scout Mr McCann should stand down. However the board voted against him offering his resignation.

In another Irish Times report in April, it was revealed the male leader accused of rape had not undergone Garda vetting before being readmitted into Scouting Ireland, despite recommendations from gardaí that this take place.

Funding suspended

In response, Ms Zappone decided to suspend State funding to Scouting Ireland, worth nearly €900,000 a year.

In the days that followed, the four senior volunteers criticised in Mr Elliott’s review temporarily stepped aside, pending an independent barrister’s inquiry into the handling of the case - which is expected to be finished imminently.

Ian Elliott, Safeguarding Consultant Scouting Ireland
Ian Elliott, Safeguarding Consultant Scouting Ireland

Former Senator and children’s rights expert Jillian van Turnhout was appointed by the Minister to carry out a review of the organisation’s governance.

Scouting Ireland appeared before the Oireachtas Committee on Children and Youth Affairs on May 9th, where the board apologised for the “anxiety and hurt” caused by safeguarding failings in the organisation.

In late June, Ms van Turnhout’s report was published. It concluded there was a “deeply rooted dysfunction” at the top of the organisation, due to a lack of transparency, and a culture of “blind loyalty” to certain senior figures.

The board of Scouting Ireland committed to implement a series of recommendations made by Ms van Turnhout, including that an entirely new board be elected. Following these commitments, Ms Zappone released three months State funding to the organisation, worth €220,000.

While the public controversy was playing out, Mr Elliott, who Scouting Ireland had retained as an interim safeguarding manager, was conducting the review of past abuse cases in the organisation.

The review would include an audit of historic case files held in the organisation’s headquarters at Larch Hill, interviews with former members, and information from past victims of child abuse who were beginning to come forward to the organisation.

Chief scout reinstated

Scouting Ireland members were due to ratify an overhaul of their governance structures, and elect an entirely new board, at an Extraordinary General Meeting (egm) on October 6th.

However, in the weeks before the key egm, the existing board voted to reinstate Mr McCann to chair the meeting. On foot of the decision Ms Zappone again suspended the organisation’s funding, until a new board had taken office.

Upon the election of a new board at the egm, funding was restored provisionally until next April, pending continued governance reform progress.

On Wednesday, November 21st, the initial findings of Mr Elliott’s review of past child sex abuse in the organisation were revealed to the Oireachtas Committee on Children and Youth Affairs. The review identified 108 alleged victims of abuse, and 71 alleged abusers, who had operated mainly between the 1960s and 1980s.

What next?

Mr Elliott told the committee he expected the number of known victims to increase “considerably,” as past victims were now coming forward at an “increasing” rate.

Scouting Ireland is examining setting up some type of compensation fund for abuse victims, and Mr Elliott’s review of past abuse is still ongoing. Ms Zappone has sought an urgent meeting with Scouting Ireland officials to discuss the matter.

The organisation is continuing to reform its current child protection standards and plans to hire additional safeguarding staff. The organisation recently advertised for a safeguarding manager, to take over from Mr Elliott in a full time capacity.